July 30 - September 3, 2016
AFTER IMAGES was initially inspired by the works of Spanish poet and philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno. I turned to his book, ‘The Tragic Sense of Life’ to find a better understanding for the complexity of the human condition. And in his poetry, I found is solace. A portrait of the poet can be found in my painting, 'The Snowfall Is So Silent' titled after his poem.
THE SNOW FALL IS SO SILENT
The snowfall is so silent,
bit by bit, with delicacy
it settles down on the earth
and covers over the fields.
The silent snow comes down
white and weightless;
snowfall makes no noise,
falls as forgetting falls,
flake after flake.
It covers the fields gently
while frost attacks them
with its sudden flashes of white;
covers everything with its pure
and silent covering;
not one thing on the ground
anywhere escapes it.
And wherever it falls it stays,
content and gay,
for snow does not slip off
as rain does,
but it stays and sinks in.
The flakes are skyflowers,
pale lilies from the clouds,
that wither on earth.
They come down blossoming
but then so quickly
they are gone;
they bloom only on the peak,
above the mountains,
and make the earth feel heavier
when they die inside.
Snow, delicate snow,
that falls with such lightness
on the head,
on the feelings,
come and cover over the sadness
that lies always in my reason.
With that sensibility as a foundation, I began this series of paintings attempting to weave the particulars of a personal narrative into a universal prayer for healing and transformation of the troubled relationships in all their many forms around our world today.
The large painting, ‘Heirlooms’ is the centerpiece of the other works and might be considered the major Arcanum of the exhibition. The definition of “arcana” is described in the Oxford dictionary as: “secrets or mysteries”. But over time in my study of pictorial symbols, I’ve come to understand the term to have a more specific definition when associated with certain works of art.
“Arcana” as explained by theologian Valentin Tomberg, “are neither allegories or secrets. Allegories are only figurative representations of abstract notions, and secrets are facts, or practices, or whatever doctrines that one keeps to oneself for a personal motive… Arcana (on the other hand) are authentic symbols. They conceal and reveal their sense at one and the same time according to the depth of meditation. An Arcanum is that which it is necessary to "know" in order to be fruitful in a given domain of spiritual life. “
Based on Tomberg’s definition, I’ve come to think that certain works of literature might be read as Arcana. Consider ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tart, or ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doer. In the case of ‘The Goldfinch’ perhaps the small 17c painting at the center of the novel by Dutch Artist, Carel Fabritius is the Arcanum, and Donna Tart’s 784 pages are an exegesis for what is embedded in the brushwork of the painting. Of course, I don’t mean to imply that my work is at any measurable scale to what these authors achieve in their fiction. But I have been informed and inspired by how they construct a complex, multi-layered narrative into a cohesive multi dimensional framework. And I appreciate how their books require effort and concentration on the part of the reader to mine through the text.
As mentioned, ‘Heirlooms’ functions as the major Arcanum and the iconography here informs the rest of the works in the show in one-way or another. Following are a few notes on the major components of within the painting.
1. THE DEPRESSION GLASS PLATES are part of a set of dishes passed down to me from my Grandmother. These dishes were given to her and my biological Grandfather as a wedding gift in 1929. The form of the Depression glass repeats and evolves in other paintings in the exhibition. And the decorative pattern etched into the glass serves to symbolize and contemplate the deeper meaning of biological & spiritual inheritance and evolution.
2. THE WOODEN CHAIR is one of a set of four chairs that were placed around my Grandmothers kitchen table where my siblings and I would gather throughout our childhood to have meals and play cards. Painted on the back of the chair is an emblem of a TREE which levitates in the middle of the composition, wedding what is above - to what is below within the world of the painting. THE TREE as a symbol manifests in other paintings within the exhibition in multiple ways. Some of its interpretations are obvious: the family tree, tree of life, etc. But the white-trees, in their bone-like representation, make a reference to the permanent scar pattern that sometimes marks itself indelibly on the skin of a person who has been struck by lightning.
3. Shifting between abstraction and recognition out of the pattern of contrasting values of color within the FLOOR TILES are 6 pointed stars. This hiding and revealing of the sacred symbol sets a foundation for the inherited objects to be placed upon.
4. THE SHADOW BOX DIORAMA OF THE LITTLE SWEDISH KITCHEN was given to my Grandmother as an anniversary gift from Papa Oscar in the late 1940’s. The little kitchen was housed on the living room wall of their apartment on the Westside of Chicago. And as far back as I can remember, when visiting there I would beg to be lifted up so to be eye level with the little room and enter into its perfectly contained world. This beloved heirloom is now in my home in Seattle and hangs on a wall in my studio. In a very oblique way it points to the principal of adoption in its most deeply spiritual sense. Papa Oscar was my Grandmother’s second husband and through his kindness and sweet spirit, he came to be the St. Joseph to we four small children. Returning to the subject of Arcana, it is clear to me after some 60 years of viewing little kitchen - the symbols contained within it have acted on me as Tomberg instructs they might. He says, "An Arcanum is a ferment" or an "enzyme" and whose presence stimulates the spiritual and the psychic life. And its symbols are the bearers of these” (proteins). The representation of the little kitchen here records the actual object on the wall in my studio. The only thing I’ve altered is the view outside the windows. I’ve extracted the horizon line and altered the pallet to reflect the exterior view beyond the Gate in my painting, ‘Transfiguration of the Fist Boy’. The horizon line is now located in the landscape paintings included in this body of work. These paintings bear ever changing weather patterns above the mythical field of Spark Gap.
5. Finally, the Avatar positioned on the seat of the chair is multi-colored and composed of a hybrid of parts. In its simplest explanation the little figure is a way to give form to the inner life.
As a final point of point of entry into the work, I’d like to close with a quote from Miguel de Unomuno’s, 'The Tragic Sense of Life'.
"Every supposed restoration of the past is a creation of the future, and if the past which is sought to restore a dream, something imperfectly known, so much the better. The tread, as ever is toward the future, and (they) who forge ahead are getting there, even though the promenade is walking backwards. And who knows if that is not the better way!"
- Laura Lasworth 2016