The VEIL and ICONS IN SPACE

Retrieving a dusty copy of “The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross” from my shelf, I read:

“The less distinct is their understanding of him, the closer they approach him, as Prophet David says: he made darkness his hiding place [Ps. 18:1.1] Thus in drawing near him you will experience darkness because of the weakness of your eye. You do well then, at all times, in both adversity and prosperity, whether spiritual or temporal, to consider God as hidden, and call after him thus: “Where have you hidden, Beloved?” (St. John of the Cross, p. 483)

St John, a Spanish Carmelite monk (1542-1591), postulates that the bosom of the Father, the divine essence, is alien to every mortal eye and hidden from every human intellect. This is called ‘negative theology’ – a theology where God is beyond all that exists and that it is by unknowing that one may know Him, by drawing near to the Unknown in the darkness of complete ignorance. A first century Christian mystic, Dionysius the Areopagitic (a disciple of St Paul) first put up the concept:

“For even as light, and especially abundance of light, renders darkness invisible; even so the excess of knowledge, destroys the ignorance which is the only way by which one can attain to God himself.”(Lossky; 1944, p. 25)

Wonderful dichotomy; beautiful and mysterious. Satisfying the dark and the morbid, as well as the craving and the light of my soul – all at the same time. Considering these themes, (as well as one can in a busy urban contemporary life!), led me to wonder how one might draw God, as part of my Sacred Art investigation, if he is thus Unknowable? Obviously – to really understand this requires a lifetime of mystic reflective work – which is just not practical in my life at present. This is why I love being an artist. We are practical beings. We make stuff. Things that can express half formed ideas and pre-conceptions. So, this led me to two practical and physical concepts to work with – the VEIL, and GOD IN SPACE.

1. THE VEIL: Painting it, using it to cover, to hide, to suppress. It’s seductive power – our longing to see what’s beneath. Repression of desire and and subversion of rampant voyuerism. The ‘covered image’ has another voice, beyond the voice the ‘image’ has – what is hidden and why? Another story is created.

I stumbled across this beautiful photographic exhibition of Robert Stivers called Veiled Images at the Akron Art Muesuem (Akron Art Museum; 2012)”. A reviewer, Starr, comments “—we pass back and forth between historical periods; we are sometimes left between them, or in a zone freed of chronological placement all together.” (Starr: 2012)

“This search for context ultimately drives the whole show. It’s Stivers’ device for turning us in upon ourselves, because the only context that we’ll find is the one we create as we follow the numbered sequence of surprising images that leads us around the room.” (Starr, 2012)

Robert Stivers, Head in Mirror, 2002. Toned gelatin print, 20 x16 in. Gift of Noemi and Daniel Mattis, Akron Art Museum. Courtesy, Akron Art Museum

I like the idea of a story within the shadows. That context isn’t made immediately obvious, that there is a mystery to be uncovered. This was encouraging – maybe in this way I can present work that travels between histories, between realms, revealing hidden desires.

During the exhibition of my work in April, I received comments that they were ‘intimate’, that people were excited to be able to get up close to ‘history’, to see something usually reserved for musuems. There was a desire to view and examine.

“art tempts its audience with desires to come closer, to inhabit or to possess the art they see and admire.” (Starr, 2012)

Perhaps I could subvert this desire by preventing close examination, by hiding the beauty of these strange little ‘windows to heaven’, close it up with a veil, allowing only a peek – to tempt desire? Maybe.

According to Polish theologian and architect, Jerzy Uácinowicz, the revival of Christian icons began in the early 20th century, when old ones were ‘wiped clean of their historical dust’ to reveal a ‘feast of colours’:

“Once again it became the “window to eternity”,a glimpse into the other world. There was no “curtain” covering it any more. There was no black.” (Uácinowicz; 2010)

Not sure how that relates, but there it is. I’m not sure about this line of inquiry, although I have downloaded alot of fascinating literature on the veil. If I have time, I will revisit this.

2. GOD IN SPACE. In an expressionist splurge on photoshop I have designed a series of four large paintings of ‘Icons in Space.’ They are a ‘mash-up’ of worlds that I love. Loving the landscapes of Mars, Moon and Venus and other science fiction themes, ie the skies of deep space, and also the beauty of the byzantine figure. I will enjoy working on these, and hope to finish them by July. I’m not going to show you the designs online, you’ll have to visit me in my Christchurch studio if you want to see them… : )

REFERENCES (to be completed)

Lossky; 1944

“The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross”

Starr, 2012. Review of Veiled Images at the Akkron. Rretrieved from http://starr-review.blogspot.co.nz/2012/10/robert-stivers-veiled-images-at-akron.html

Uácinowicz, Jerzy; 2010. NEW LIFE OE ICONS IN ARCHITECTURE: APPLICATIONS VERSUS SYNTHESIS. Faculty of Architecture of Biatystok University of Technology: Bialystok, Poland.