Cosmogony of Consciousness
I intend to express my experience of being in this world, from what my senses can perceive, to what I understand of the infinitesimal to the infinite. My thoughts developed as a reaction to both my personal struggle and against traits I have sensed in today’s post industrial society. Particularly, the lack of genuine experience due to meaningless overstimulation, the surrender to monotony and an over-mechicanization of life, as well as the dominance of ineffective solutions which do not conquer problems, simply avoid and cover them. It is also an environment from which fakeness, which, of course, has long existed, to further manifest. I believe that these tendencies are much attributable to the impact of technology and progress, which results in alienation from our bodies and ourselves if we are unaware and apathetic. One must be conscious of what is lost when a new convenience is gained.Technological replacements have devalued mental engagement with our physical world. In my paintings, persons, often solitary, are depicted within a natural tableau and forms. They are trying to reconnect with the essence of being beyond the distractions and trivialities of “everyday life.” To reflect, but also feel what it is to exist, and to feel meaning in that existence as a human. To some extent, my themes resonate with those of Romanticism--which was certainly a response to an earlier phase in man’s breach with nature, the Industrial Revolution. My response takes influence from this, however, also a new perspective, in which one also embraces all that can be more deeply understood and therefore appreciated because of the advances in discovery. It is through this that we can truly rebel against the tendency for apathy in a post-modern society.
My artwork embodies this rebellion as a yearning for authentic experience. By creating paintings I am laboring and touching something real, with intensity and focused passion. I aim to express an all encompassing experience in which one feels a reconnection to what I call the "essence of existence," through a sense of being filled with the infinite, but grounded in the finite— their body, surroundings, and the ability to act within and through them. I read a book in 9th grade called "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," by Stephen Chbosky, in which the main character describes an experience where he felt infinity. This became part of my understanding of how to describe such an experience. My artwork also represents an appreciation for the contrast of opposing forces in nature that make existence possible. I understand that chaos, friction, and even destruction are necessary for creation and ‘order,’ as expressed in astronomy, physics, earth science, and biology. I apply this concept in nature to the human experience, in which one must maintain balance between opposing forces in order to have a unity of self. That struggle is necessary for defeat, darkness is necessary for light, and that, as ‘evolved’ as we are, we must also remain connected to our instinctual and intuitive power, that which stimulates momentum, in balance with our questioning and reflective power. The relationship between what is given— what we are made of, where we come from, and what we are part of, and that which one creates are perhaps the most difficult to understand and balance. Throughout the work, I am dealing with the dialogue between what we are, our bare existence, and what we create in our minds and through action. I also believe that my personal persistent curiosity to understand the world and universe in which I live can be felt throughout, which is significant, because the drive of curiosity seems to come from both the instinctual and reflective.
The Romantic philosophers articulated some of the antinomies that have evolved into my understanding of existence, as manifested in my paintings. The opposing forces, an idea adopted from Fichte (which continued to be used through existentialism) were expressed as the subjective and objective, infinite and finite, active/spontaneity and passive/necessity, striving, counter/striving, and unconditioned, conditioned. One pulled oneself into existence within these opposing forces, the counter force giving “traction” to the striving. Fichte’s idea of a self positing its own consciousness was criticized, but, instead of saying the self has no reality between these two, a negation of the self, a “death of the subject” found in post-modernism, Romantic philosophers, poets and artists recognized there was no absolute, but felt that one could experience of a sense of it, a feeling of unity within the self and the external world, an experience as an organic whole, by reconciling these dualities in creative expression. Admittedly, there is also a kind of longing for the past, but I interpret this as a longing for either previous experiences of such passions, or the feeling that one is out of their time, because this sense of the absolute is found in another era. My response is that this nostalgia can then be channeled to bring life to the past in the present. Of strongest influence to me were the writings of Holderlin and Novalis.
For me, the strongest creative expression flows from a place in which I feel connected to this “essence of existence," a life force between the depths of my soul and that beyond me--from what I experience on earth to what I comprehend of the micro to macro. I sense an energy and pulse of existence within the connections between rhythms and patterns I see in nature around me, even in that which is not living. In this state, I feel a strong relationship between that which is internal and external to me. I recognize that it is my consciousness that experiences these connections or the external at all; however, I celebrate the fact that this is possible. And, although science is an equally strong influence in my work, one could argue that, in a sense, I am dissecting, deconstructing, or what, in the 1800’s was referred to as “atomizing” nature, this is simply another duality to balance. The human striving to understand the world does not have to take away the wholeness of experience. Knowing how a sunset is created does not replace its beauty, it should instead create more awe that such a phenomena is possible. In a sense I aim to romanticize science.
To accept the necessity of the struggle to unify these opposing forces this state entails, and to create a sense of self from which one can find meaning and balance between them, I have also been influenced by ideas of existentialism, which evolved from Romanticism. In particular, I am influenced by the notion of a vital life force or will, as articulated by Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Nietzsche (although they all have significant differences in their views), concepts of self constitution and creating one’s own meaning, without forgetting the significance of coming from and out of something. Camus’ literary work “The Myth of Sisyphus” was also of influence, in the choice to not only accept but embrace the opposing forces. I relate the pulling oneself into existence mentioned by Fichte, to this striving to embrace life. More in line with other existentialists, which place more emphasis on the long term as well as the immediate, in order to create a sincerely passionate, authentic self, the sense of the infinite and possibility, one must be grounded in their relationships, surroundings, biology, and history, including a personal history, which involves a traceable string of dedications.
I will now relate this to my personal journey, the idea of rebirth through this reconnection with existence, and the artistic choices I have made to express and visualize this. Many of these ideas have been brewing since my days in high school. However, after my sophomore year at Pratt Institute, I took a semester off and traveled. Of profound influence were my experiences modeling in vast volcanic and desert landscapes, in which I expressed my psychological experience in relation to the environment. This was my first true experience, at least recognition, of vastness and my relation to it. I also traveled to Central and South America, where I experienced a different way of being, which, despite its many problems, felt much more natural. I felt a creative rebirth through the power and symbolic possibilities of nature. I later ventured to Scandinavia, Ireland, Iceland and Venice, which most directly affected the light and landscapes of my artwork. I also began to exercise rather intensely, as well as continuing the yoga I had been doing since high school, which further reinforced the ideas of unity with one’s body and the conquering of necessary suffering and obstacles through strength and passionate determination.
Thus, I turned to dramatic landscapes and sky, as well as space and the deep sea, as symbolic of the depths and journey of the soul, in relation to the suffering, strength, rebirth, and the beauty and unknown beyond us as I have explained. I draw a symbolic comparison between personal rebirth and the birth of the universe and the formation of earth. From the big bang, to the clumping of matter, to the early earth’s beginnings, in which I use much warmer colors, to its continued reformation, with a cooler palette, some mosses and hot springs, the heat still contained from within. The volcanic imagery symbolizes a feeling of the earth’s essence as an evolving creation, making a comparison between its geothermal heat and magma and our internal heat and blood. In depicting volcanic landscapes, moody skies, colliding galaxies, and such, I intend to evoke the incredible and intense power of nature, which makes me feel empowered from within as I relate to it, while simultaneously reminding me of its greatness beyond me. Also, referencing how, for example, although colliding galaxies are a violent and chaotic event, this creates beauty. I also started to distort the landscape horizons in order to create a further sense of dynamic motion, an exaggeration of perspective due to one’s individual perception, and the curvature of the earth which relates to its vastness, and the vastness beyond that. I avoided tight cropping, because I felt it represented a cutting off of the wholeness of an all encompassing experience—instead we have a peripheral, represented also by the fisheye effect, when used. The use of vast open spaces also references Salvador Dali’s dreamscapes, which have been a long underlying influence in my artistic development. My style and intention have come to greatly differ, however, because, although I am also concerned with expressing a psychological experience through selective distortion, I am more focused on consciousness and unity, opposed to unconsciousness and dissection. Also, I wish to represent that which seem surreal and dreamlike, but are based in real experiences, places, and phenomena, which amaze me.
I continued to use the figure as the subject within many of the landscapes, in some cases also including aspects of the internal anatomy, in order to express the connection between the expressive powers of one’s whole physical being and that of nature. Not to mention, painters of the Romantic tradition were not shunned for including figures as appropriate—we are part of nature. I chose, instead, to use nude figures, however, because the cultural implications of clothing were not part of my message, that of the true essence of being, human and otherwise. One could describe the figure’s poses as dramatic and theatrical. I intend to create an epic and intense quality, from the figure poses to their environments and light within them (which I will discuss next) to give the idea of a full expression, taking greatest influence from the art of the Baroque and Renaissance periods.
Of undeniable significance to evoking this symbolism and mood is my use of light, color, form, and texture as appropriate. I am most inspired by times in which the light feels surreal, often in the transition between light and darkness, or during extreme weather. I use perspective and atmospheric effects to create a sense of depth and place, in order to express the depths of the soul, a wholehearted experience, and the magical qualities of light and color in nature, that which my understanding of photons and wavelengths only enhances. Appropriate to a return to the essence of existence, as expressed through landscape, I have primarily used either earthy or fluorescent (blacklight sensitive) colors which represent the unknown enigma, such as that in the deep sea and outer space, referencing both bioluminescence and wavelengths of light beyond the visible spectrum. I intended to create a sense of emergence from either light or darkness, a luminescence from within the canvas. The paintings the Venetian Renaissance, as well as my personal experience of the refracting, warm light of Venice, in contrast to my experiences of the cool light of Scandinavia and Iceland can be felt in my paintings. I am also influenced by my experiences of glowing light in darkness, and the images I have seen of space and the deep sea. Paintings outside the Venetian Renaissance that have also been of greatest inspiration to my light, color, and form include those of Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and their followers, Romantic artists Casper David Friedrich, Turner, and Delacroix, artists of the Hudson River School, particularly Fredrick Edwin Church and Thomas Cropsey, as well as various Northern European landscape painters.
These artists, among many others, have also affected ideas about paint application. In my attempt to show the duality between the immediate and expressive emotion and a reflective and contemplative mood gathered over time, I have applied the paint in a variety of ways, from the use of broad expressive brushstrokes, to brushy ones, to very detailed areas, with a range of paint thickness and application, however, applying with many layers over time, to show variation in temperament, as well as to create the desired effects of light and color variations within it. I also intend this to strengthen both the illusion and feeling of depth. I ground much of the paint myself, particularly that used in the ground, and in the case of the fluorescent, as this felt more appropriate to my message. When I started making my own paint, I also had the idea to use rocks and dirt I have collected in the places I have painted. So, I have used volcanic rocks/sand and other visceral textures, particularly in the foreground to give a sense of it being closer to the touch, and also not to disturb the illusion of depth. Other textures I have used include a real egg, crackling paste, metallic leaf, as well as gel and sticky mediums. In the painting “Into Essence After Eden,” the multi colored metal leaf shown exploding from the supernova references how supernovas have dispersed the elements that make our being possible, and that this is my “holy,” alluding to the use of gold leaf in Byzantine artwork. I have also done many drawings directly from experiences in nature that inspired me. I used pastels because they are particularly effective in quickly capturing the atmospheric effects of light and color. These drawings help me to internalize these experiences, which I bring into the larger scale paintings. They are also indicate my desire to capture my surroundings as a way of understanding them.
It is important to mention that all of these artistic choices also strongly reflect my musical interests, particularly Melodic Death Metal, Power Metal, and Folk Metal. This music expresses the acceptance of struggle but intention to empower, the dramatic intensity, often contrasted with a dark tranquility, and a harsh and epic, but also selectively refined beauty. This epic refined beauty can also be found in classical music, which, I highly appreciate. Also of influence, especially in the blacklight paintings, were darkwave, psychedelic, and certain industrial music, which give a sense of the “pulse of life” and the strange beyond us, the surreal in the real.
Of special importance in my recent work has been the reassessment of physical reality through the prism of particle physics. This was the theme of an independent study with Ágnes Mócsy, who is a theoretical physicist at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven, Long Island, where they are colliding heavy nuclei at nearly the speed of light to recreate the superhot, dense conditions of a millionth of a second after the big bang. It has particularly challenged my creativity to imaginatively construct images for particles and processes not capable of being seen in the visible light spectrum. This has led me to new mediums, particularly glitter and sequins, wire, and an increased use of metallic colors, in order to express my concepts. It was fortunate that RHIC uses gold nuclei, as this was rather appropriate for furthering the Byzantine reference I began in “Into Essence after Eden.” In my efforts to depict phenomena at subatomic scales and incredibly high energies, I have more deeply explored the micro in relation to the macro, as this research, on the smallest of scales, directly brings insight into questions about how everything has come to exist on the largest of scales. I hope to show the reaction against the wasting of the natural world does not require an anti-scientific posture. Instead, science can give us a lens from which to envision a more enlightened future.