How to Depict the Heavenly

“The method of Divine revelation is twofold; one, indeed, as is natural, proceeding through likenesses that are similar, and of a sacred character, but the other, through dissimilar forms, fashioning them into entire unlikeness and incongruity. No doubt, the mystical traditions of the revealing Oracles sometimes extol the august Blessedness of the super-essential Godhead, as Word , and Mind , and Essence , manifesting its Godbecoming expression and wisdom, both as really being Origin, and true Cause of the origin of things being, and they describe It as light , and call it life. While such sacred descriptions are more reverent, and seem in a certain way to be superior to the material images, they yet, even thus, in reality fall short of the supremely Divine similitude. For It is above every essence and life. No light, indeed, expresses its character, and every description and mind incomparably fall short of Its similitude. But at other times its praises are supermundanely sung, by the Oracles themselves, through dissimilar revelations, when they affirm that it is invisible , and infinite , and incomprehensible ; and when there is signified, not what it is, but what it is not.”

From: The Celestial Hierarchy Dionysius the Areopagite (1st or 5th Century), Works (1899) vol. 2. p.1-66.

Dionysius is a great read for artists with a desire to depict the ‘super-essential’. In this article he ponders the many manners in which the Divine Godhead is revealed. Positing that a revelation as light, sun, stars, and fire and flowing water may be very reverent, but it is too obvious and therefore mundane, falling short of the true essence. He compares these to the supra-rational depictions, such as those clothed ‘in forms of wild beasts, and … identity with a Lion, and Panther, and say that it shall be a Leopard , and a rushing Bear … or even a worm’. (Dionysius, pg. 3). He claims that these undefined and dissilimar forms of holy things are apt in that one cannot rest in the thought that this image is true or even close to being true of God.

Angel wings; parachutes
St Michael approaches
Rockets land softly.

NASA litters the solar system, detritus.
Little sparks of Sophia, thrown out in human souls.

St Michael and the Super Sonic Parachute [Pigment Watercolour and Gold on Paper, 2014]
St Michael and the Super Sonic Parachute [Pigment Watercolour and Gold on Paper, 2014]

“… and so Divine things should be honoured by the true negations, and by comparisons with the lowest things, which are diverse from their proper resemblance. There is then nothing absurd if they depict even the Heavenly Beings under incongruous dissimilar similitudes, for causes aforesaid.”

Full article: The Celestial Hierarchy

Geometric Meditation: The Mandorla

The ALL begins with a point.

Yet the point is in ZERO / NO dimension.

Do not yet make the point. The point does not exist. But please contemplate what is before the point….

It is WILL, and INTENTION, and LOVE. It is explosive DESIRE.

You want to create, to start, to begin the journey, to make a mark. You really want to express!  But you must first choose a place to begin, and a direction to go. Because once you select your origin point – there is no going back – your point will immediately activate and create the FIRST dimension. A line is being drawn.

Please take a moment before you place your point. You must first conceive exactly where your point begins, and which direction it is going.

I am waiting for you to choose your origin.

I am waiting for you to choose your direction.

 

A LINE is drawn. It is called the FIRST dimension – but it is not the first thing!

The ‘point of origin’ will become a memory. We forget our beginning so quickly in our material race through the dimensions of time and movement. Can we hold both in our head? Try …  hold the place you are going, and the place you have come from.

… remember the point.

 

©G. Barnes 2016

 

The Cosmic Christ of the Transfiguration, is Present

“Cosmic Christ of the Transfiguration” [60x45cm]

The Transfiguration is the event when Christ’s two natures are made clearly visible. In front of human witnesses – Christ exchanges his temporal earthly form for his eternal divine form for a moment…

The Transfiguration was not a phenomenon circumscribed in time and space; Christ underwent no change at that moment, even in His human nature – the change occurred in the awareness of the apostles, who for a time received the power to see their Master as He was, resplendent in the eternal light of the Godhead. The light which Christ radiated on Mount Tabor is eternal and is visible through reflection, introspection and the silence of inward prayer – waiting upon God in emptiness and quietness.

The Transfiguration is one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian revelation, and one that is important to icon painters – it gives us permission to attempt to portray the divine light of God – which is in the likeness of Christ. A mystery is something that while it may be revealed for our understanding, we can never understand it exhaustively. It leads us into the depth, and into the darkness of God. The eyes are closed – but they are also opened.

And Christ was transfigured before them (Peter, James and John): and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was as white as the light. …[Peter then expressed how good it was to be there and suggested perhaps they build some sort of altar] … While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I Am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were sore afraid,” (Matt 17:2-7, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36)

Byzantine Archetypes and NASA Navigators

Following an exhibition in July I have been continuing with my exploration of the Cosmic and the Byzantine Archetypes and have created several compositions. Below are a few small thumbnails of my favourite ones. I have been making quick sketches of these using the traditional ‘cartoon’ technique of gum arabic and dry raw umber pigment with colour washes. It is a fabulous medium – so viscose, able to be layered, more forgiving than watercolours and quick – so I’m able to work on a much larger scale more easily.

I find I keep returning to the traditional Byzantine interpretation of Celestial Beings, I have tried others – but there is something about the simplicity, the directness, and the abstract naturalism – that holds the mysterious.

I’m walking a fine line. Negotiating a territory that could easily slip into fantasy art, new age art, science fiction art.  And I am also wrestling with the orthodoxy of an established canon of Byzantine imagery – which I respect, try to understand, and work with sincerely. I do feel that my work is perhaps a small representation of an evolving cosmic spirituality – I see that Eastern Christian Orthodoxy has something to offer, as much as NASA has (!) – in helping us along this journey. I’ll leave it at that for now.

Just as I try not to tamper with the archetype as handed down by generations of Byzantine Icon Painters, I also try not to tamper with the recordings made by our modern high-tech celestial navigators. I’m forever hopeful that in this way the truth of both is maintained – even while a new original story – full of possibilities is created.

Rare Creatures

G. Barnes, 2013. 'Cosmic Christ Transfigures on Mars'
G. Barnes, 2013. ‘Cosmic Christ Transfigures on Mars’

I have started a painting – it features a byzantine Christ transfigured on a Moon landscape. I’m thinking of calling it “Rare Creatures”. It is in all respects a ‘Cosmic Christ’ I suppose, although that intention was never explicit in my thinking through the design. That, in one of those lovely ‘oh yeah’ moments, comes later….  The Cosmic Christ is a mystical archetype most succinctly expressed by one of my favourite theologians, Fr. Matthew Fox, who also reiterates one of my favourite female artists – Hildegarde of Bingen:

… the “Cosmic Christ Archetype” is a universal way of seeing the world. The Cosmic Christ Archetype is a way of seeing the splendour and divine grace in all things. Hildegard of Bingen, the twelfth century Christian mystic, said, “Every creature is a glittering mirror of divinity.” In terms of John’s gospel, this is the light of Christ in every creature.

If I try to relate in terms of today’s sciences, I think of photons (a tiny indivisible quantity of electromagnetic energy). We know that there are photons in every atom, in every being. Therefore, the Cosmic Christ is the divine radiance that’s present in every galaxy, in every star, every porpoise, every blade of grass, and every human. (see http://www.christpathseminar.org/who-is-the-cosmic-christ/)

Universal archetypes are under threat today. Religious fundamentalism exploits them for its own dubious reasons, modern science continues to expand, evolve and fragment – forgetting the intitial unifying impulse, and even capitalism has nearly totally divorced itself from it’s ‘real’ foundation (gold). We live in slippery times, in a post-nihilist modernity that  ‘unabashedly rejects discourses motivated by sentimental allusions to universals’ (Archive Fire; Nihilism)

The advent of hypermediation via communication and digital technologies has combined with what Ray Brassier has called “the negative consummation of the enlightenment”, as well as the ever-expanding assaults on the living flesh and ecological stability of humans everywhere to create a crisis of legitimacy for every existing linguistic and normative institution on the planet. We do not inhabit a modern or even ‘postmodern’ world, we subsist in an advanced industrial calamity. (see http://www.archivefire.net/search/label/nihilism)

While I think the sentence ‘we subsist in an advanced industrial calamity’ is a beautifully framed phrase that nicely sums up our current state of being, here in 2013, and approaching the brink of several ecological collapses  – I personally reject the entire nihilist framework.

We, as artists, have I believe heightened sensitive instincts – and these should be trusted. So when I read this above, and then the following below – I look to what lightens my soul. Matthew Fox goes on to say how the Cosmic Christ archetype can be employed to help ‘save the environment:’

…it is not about duty; it’s about pleasure and delight. That the earth is a garden, radiating with a divine presence. When it is in danger, it is like the crucified Christ; the compelling urgency here is born out of the experience of beauty and grace, not out of duty. Beauty and grace inspire us to let go of our lifestyles that are hostile to the health of the environment, and to recreate our lives in terms of politics, economics, education, worship, all of it. So that’s one of the practical implications—in terms of the ecological crisis, it gets us moving and awake. (Fox; Cosmic Christ)

Moving, and awake. Compared with the ‘post-nihilist’ environmental strategy:

The future of our species will depend entirely upon the willingness of people to abandon our previous and varied delusions for intensely reflective strategies of praxis and collective habitation. We have to design new delusions for vastly more pragmatic ecologies.

‘Beauty and grace’ or ‘new delusions’? I’m a simple soul, I listen to what is ‘enlivening’. When I begin to read some writers of this ‘nihilistic epoch’ – the post-modern and post-structuralist writers who have rejected theism – I find that a small greyness descends.

I avoid the grey; in search of colour –  verdaccio and subtle glazes of blue and green.

 

The Assumption of the Golden Record

G. Barnes, (2013) ChristCrack: Angel in Time. Unfinished
G. Barnes, (2013) ChristCrack: Angel in Time. [Unfinished]
In my artwork I have been layering materials, seeing into cracks, peeling back surfaces, exposing origin layers of ‘chaos’ beneath the paint – perhaps trying to get to the bottom of something ‘hidden'(?). And then conversely I have also been painting traditional sacred medieval icons, where the revelation of God is open, ‘present,’ revealed – where there are no ‘shadows,’ where heaven is directly engaged, where the large eyes of saints and prophets and saviours stare boldly, directly, unashamedly into our own broken souls. A sacred icon painter once referred to his practice as ‘wrestling with icons’ – and I can understand why. They force the ‘painter of God’ to examine deeply his own relationship with the divine realm.

IMG_1508
G. Barnes, (2013). “Origin Orante – She Whose Womb contains Him Whom even the Heavens cannot Contain.”

An artist who has consciously decided to ‘Paint God’ is forced to ask at every step ~ can it be done?

I wonder if it is inbetween these places of light and dark, in the boundaries between the ‘hidden/shadow’ and the ‘revelation/present’ that is the most interesting place to seek and work. This place, between the darkness and the light, is full of richness ~ tis neither one nor the other. I can swing on the fringes of God’s robe and explore! In this place I can see God in Everything, and love the ritual and mystery of the Church, but I can also look and see God Nowhere – I can even say that forbidden word – Atheist – and honestly ask that question – does God exist? A real problem, because the tiny kernel of faith I possess is always, immediately, and simultaneously confronted with a mammoth terror – the scientific statistical possibility of our aloneness on earth. Our little blue planet, in an eternal galactic dark. I wonder where is God hiding in all this? I think it’s a great place to start ~ with terror ~ the Terror of Aloneness. The terror is real and faith reflected in that dark, is somehow more colourful, with multi-dimensional possibilities.

This video, a slightly mediated compilation of found footage primarily from NASA, is my response to the pathos of the human condition: The deep loneliness we all share, alone here on this Earth. We send our greetings out to the aliens in space, in every language, reaching out in a vain, almost comedic hope of NOT being alone. We share our music, images, codes, formulas, science. This probe has been travelling for over 40 years, it is only just leaving the solar system, about to enter interstellar space. This is the farthest physical reach into space of all known humanity. Two bits of space junk. It is a bit sad, slightly pathetic. But actually if we were to accept this ‘aloneness’ of humanity as a uniting force, as husbands of the Earth and all her creatures – then I feel that maybe we would appreciate how important is is for us to ‘just get along’ a bit better perhaps? Take some responsibility.

G. Barnes, (2013) Origin Orante Alone: She Whose Womb contains Him Whom even the Heavens cannot Contain. [tempera and gold, unfinished]
G. Barnes, (2013) Origin Orante – Alone
Beyond that, the more we learn of our world, our cosmos and the creation – the bigger God gets. If God is truly ‘beyond all that exists’ as early Christian mystic, Dionysius the Areopagite would say, then He is truly immeasurable. Yet if God IS all that exists – then likewise – immeasurable. The question then for us artists is this: Where is God that He can be drawn?

“One must abandon all that is impure and even all that is pure. One must scale the most sublime heights of sanctity leaving behind you all the divine luminaries, all the heavenly sounds and words. It is only thus that one may penetrate to the darkness wherein He who is beyond all created things makes his dwelling” (Dionysius the Areopagite; sourced from Lossky; 1944, p. 27)

Yet it is the journey that is key. Our desire for assumption into the unknown. Our wish to travel between realms. This is the place we can dwell, and explore. The place artists inhabit ~ at least until revelation.

FURTHER READING

Lossky, Vladimir (1944). The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press: New York.