Division and the Constructed Nature of the World

The light above and the depths below are two primal archetypes which alter and diffuse our consciousness in ways which are often as mysterious to us as they are potent. Sea and sky, the corresponding symbolic representations in their turn dominate the inner latitudes of the mind more than almost any other symbols.

A Pyramid Rising Out of the Sea
A Pyramid Rising Out of the Sea, 2015

In Jungian theory, the watery deep is considered a psychological symbol of the unconscious; or the depths of the unknown that paradoxically exist both within us and beyond us. It is a threatening concept, and one that calls into question the very fundamental idea of self-hood as envisioned by the conscious mind. For the existence of an internal other is fundamentally inconsistent with a unified and stable entity, and indeed there is a primordial, irrational terror of being swallowed by this self-within-a-self; the great serpent of the unknown that wants and thinks of its own accord.

The burning sky above is likewise a near universal embodiment of divinity, and represents an outside that comes to dwell within, rather than an inside that seeks to escape. The powers of heaven, which even as they exist beyond us are felt with immediacy, and through their embrace allow a transcendence of that same self that fears the below. This division may even be conceptualized as negative or positive relations of the consciousness to the essential experience of other.

Self and other, and their connectedness are the keys to understanding these symbols which so permeate our psychological lives. The reality of our consciousness is that it exists in a constant state of flux. The boundaries of our awareness and very self-hood are consistently both waxing and waning. As we integrate, subsume, repress, and sublimate we are internally clarifying and classifying ourselves as a conceptual object. We are defying the boundaries of our consciousness, and by doing so ourselves.

A Storm and the Serpent at the End of the World

On one side of the perceived duality between upper and lower is the internal that threatens to shrink the consciousness, on the other the external that promises to expand it. Such duality itself is ultimately misplaced however, as both the sea and sky are components of the same otherness, and illustrate the futility of all such limited conceptualizations of self.

While the self-concept may be expanded to an extent that is inclusive of both heavens and chthonic hells, in doing so it remains weighted by the oppositional dualities themselves. The illusion is broken when it is understood that the essence of duality is conceptual, and there are no mental construct whatsoever for experiences which are existential ineffable. Confronting such radical expansions necessitates a letting go of the calcified and static echoes of the past, and demands existence instead as a momentary and timeless experience of now.

The world as it appears to us is constructed of thought, an edifice of understanding against the tumultuous waves of pure, unfettered reality, unsculpted, and lacking inherent meaning. An empty and pure thing, unfathomable in unalterable clarity and depth, that is carved like canyons that run without thought. Words are the chisel out of which towers are built to keep the deluge at bay, but they are a prison for beings of capable of transformation, and of light that may learn to swim. There is no ark for the whales and the fishes.

Consciousness | Unconscious Aproaching Unity
Consciousness and Unconscious Approaching Unity, 2018

Nor is one needed. To embrace direct experience of the external is to discard the perception of differentiation. To embrace the other is to embrace both internal and external aspects of otherness, to see self equally in the darkness of the night sky as in the face of another. The totality that emerges out of this is one of unity of opposites, that discards self-identity into a light that coexists without diminishing the darkness.

– Originally published in Wake Up Screaming  #17!: The Mind

Sin

I’m excited to be showing at four openings this month. Especially fun, I’ll be part of two different group shows focusing on different aspects of the concept of sin. Here is the summery:

-A solo show at Float On as part of their visual arts program
Sin? at Art at the Cave
The Seven Deadly Sins and the Lovers Eye at Splendorporium
First Friday Open Studios at East Creative Collective

Its going to be a busy month next month as well as I work on an new environmental piece to be part of the For the Seventh Generation. A collaborative eco-mural for the Elizabeth Jones Art Center.

500 Seasons

Pieces from my “Seasons” series shown and sold at the Big 500 show

“Spring”
This piece is the first of a four part series on growth and collapse. It covers the emergence of civilization and equilibrium in the natural world.

“Summer”
This piece is the second of a four part series on growth and collapse. It covers the growth of civilization and the withering of the natural world.

“Fall”
This piece is the third of a four part series on growth and collapse. It covers the collapse of civilization and disappearance of the natural world.

“Winter”
This piece is the fourth of a four part series on growth and collapse. It covers the disappearance of civilization and reemergence of the natural world.

Disorder, Ecstasy, and the Divine Spark

Dionysus, Apollo, Ecstasy, Sublimation, 2018

Despite its central role in either facilitating or obstructing the act of creation, the internal state of the artist remains one of the most esoteric topics in discussions of the artistic practice. The successful invocation and use of states of intense concentration and passionate release however are tools that can be as critical to the artist as brushes or pallet knives. Even when such aspects are considered, the focus is most often relegated to highly refined states of productive focus. Far less frequently discussed, and perhaps less frequently invoked, are the states of disorder, dissociation, and frenzy.

Ultimately, the tempests of the unconscious mind are the source of the well-spring of creativity, and in the realm of the spirits there are many muses eager to speak to the attentive listener, or else howl in ignored fury. While the hidden interplay between feeling, symbol, and desire is, by definition, difficult to consciously navigate, it also contains the keys to accessing this fire in its depths.

One of the clearest representations of this source is found in the Greek god Dionysus. Often miscast as the ‘god of wine’, this portrayal mistakes the method for the source. A far more revealing descriptor of his essential character would be ‘god of intoxication.’ Considered dangerous and subversive to the social order, before its brutal repression by the Roman state cultic worship of Dionysus centered on the embrace of states of altered consciousness through intoxicants, forbidden sexual practices, and omphagic frenzy. Despite the diversity of these rituals, they shared a common purpose as a bridge to states of ritual madness.

While self-sparagmos is possible as well, for the artist such states of divine ecstasy may also manifest themselves as a surrender to the pure expression of creative energy. While application of this passion often takes the form of wild extremes of expressiveness, it can also result in sparsely proficient application of familiar techniques in subtly radical ways. This should come as no surprise when one considers that the physical skills governing artistic practice are almost always most effectively subconsciously learned and applied. It must also be cautioned though that the creative potential inherent in these unstructured states is balanced by the danger of a work being overtaken by chaos.

When this chaos emerges in a greater context however it can fulfill a direct aesthetic necessity. Even in works whose emphasis is harmony, the contrast provided by discord may elevate a work to new heights. The Nietzschean aesthetic framework for instance considers that for an artistic endeavor to reach its highest potential it must embrace both the frenzied passion of Dionysus, as well as the subtle harmony associated with the god of light and beauty: Apollo. Indeed, just as imperfection is a necessary component of the perfect phenomenon, it is ultimately the fusion of states that permits the greatest realizations of beauty.

For a culture that consistently elevates the rational and orderly at the cost of the intuitive, often to the point of suffocation, utilizing the disordered madness of Dionysus can seem foreign and uncomfortable. However, the use of ecstatic states has by no means been a limited experiment. Examples of similar practices are familiar enough that their absence appears as the aberration, rather than than the norm. Sufi mystical dancers and poets, accounts of viking-age berserkers, indigenous shamanic ceremonies, and Buddhist Tantric practices all share similar of states of intoxicated passion. Indeed, even the earliest known human story is suffused with the motifs of ecstatic ritual; as Gilgamesh attempts a resurrection he does so with shamanic drumming and a ritual invocation to the spirits.

Regardless of whether the artist chooses to directly commune with the spirits of Dionysus, the dynamic life of the discordant can not be ignored. Even as a subset of the creative act, all outpourings of feeling originate in movings of the psychic depths, and creative endeavors that fail to provide access to this reserve fail the most basic task of art. In the creative deserts of rationality, it is the leviathans of our own abysses that offer us water.

Night Visions and First Friday

It’s been an exciting few months!

  • I’m excited to announce that my piece Hati Hróðvitnisson has one second place at the annual NightVisions show at the Coconino Center for the Arts!
  • I’ve taken over organizing the First Friday Art Walk in Portland. Myself and the other organizer Sara, are excited for the future of the Art Walk. Check it out at FirstFridayPDX.org.
  • New paintings! Included is the first “postcard painting.” If you’d like one they are available for commission here.

Akko II – Art Knows No Borders Blog 11/11

Unknown date

In Akko I find the places of my dreams, winding corridors, and open expanses, naked stones and presences that I partially recall, half-remembered, half imagined. We sleep that first night beneath the stars, high above the city on decayed walls, awkwardly huddled. She sleeps in an new sleeping bag, layered above an inflatable, sleeping pad, and her childhood pillow. I lay beside her on the ground, among the weeds and stones, covered, mostly symbolically, in her large, purple travel towel. It carries the fresh smells of the first flowers of spring.

She is young, pretty, stubborn, German, and deeply open. Come across the sky to this desolate place for some private reason, unknown perhaps even to her, this is her first great adventure. We meet as I am tieing a bandage around my ruined and blistered feet, stained in iodine. Despite a spattering of eastern Europeans, and the odd American, the hostel has been conquered by Germans. Here neither English nor Hebrew is the common language, but the dark guttural tones of central Europe abound. And in her inexhaustible pursuit of electronic dance and synthetic drugs, she is not alone.

The rhythms of Tel Aviv are seductive, and the truths, history, and lifeblood of this dry land are quickly drowned out by the cascading rhythms and delirium of the hot night. Is the connection so easily accounted for by the economics of international air travel, or is there something darker in this link? If the restless ghosts of Polish forests and abandoned cattle cars still so profoundly haunt this modern country, what then of the grandchildren of the perpetrators? What stains of the collective soul draw them here, into the Judean wastes of history?

Inside her exhausted heart; too open, too abused by cocaine and MDMA, too innocent and well-intentioned for these cold expanses of conflict and suffering, my companion nurtures deep reserves of Christian faith. Though she revels in the hedonistic extremes of Tel Aviv, the ancient names of Galilee and Nazareth draw out something perhaps not altogether disconnected. Her ecstatic descriptions of the drug and exhaustion fueled unity of dance are almost religious in their undertones. And most significantly, she carries with her sacred treasures; the written prayers and notes of loved ones. The scraps, are not destined for any monastic house or church however, she will deliver them instead into the yawning cracks of the Western Wall.

-Alex

Akko I – Art Knows No Borders Blog 10/11

Unknown date

There is a carefully delineated path, hung with delicate balance among the stars where all things are possible, where the aligned mischief of uncertainty is overcome by a perfect amalgamation of steps. A philosophers stone for every undoing, where the patron saint of lost causes, despite tragic apotheosis, at last escapes the manifest reality of the true constellations, hard and cold in their insistence of predestined failure.

When we mark our course by such an ephemeral north star, we must not be surprised when the way points at last evaporate before us, and we are left to reckon our folly instead by the unchecked onrush of the ground. Guided falsely, how could we ever follow such narrow perfection along the shrinking curve of a descending horizon. The true reality that confronts us is coldly probabilistic, and faced with the collapsing weight of the past, the quickened band of transcendental flight is unreachable in its physicality, made all the worse by its own receding tangibility.

The gentle pressure of a finger and a single bullet capable of rupturing the tendons of unreckonable struggle; as if the smallest blotting of the sun might destroy the endless eons of checked expansion marked in struggle against gravity.

-Alex