Abstractions

Although they are encountered mostly as decoration for journal covers and kitchen magnets, I remain fascinated by the abstractions of Klee, Kandinsky, and, more recently, Hilma af Klint. For me, beyond being icons of gift shop kitsch, each of these artists seems to be painting a map of an unseen world – a world of metaphors, symbols, and patterns that exists right underneath our ordinary world. The abstract relationships between the lines, colors, shapes, and textures speak to the synchronistic relationships between real-world objects and imaginary objects. Most literal (or “realistic”) images can’t as easily speak about these webs of interconnected metaphors and intuitions.

So, with all that in mind, I draw my own “Maps of Unseen Worlds.”

A mandala is a geometric figure representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. In Jungian psychology, a mandala is a symbol in a dream, representing the dreamer’s search for completeness and self-unity. Generally speaking, the mandala is a symmetrical image that incorporates a central circle or square with an image of a deity at its center. 

With mandalas in mind, I have been drawing images with a black disc at the center, one that represents a paradoxically unrepresentable void or empty space at the center of consciousness or The Self. Beyond the border of the disc are patterns that represent only semi-ordered multiplicities and only semi-symmetrical patterns. It is a “Black Sun” or an inverted mandala. Just as there is a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, there is a void or emptiness at the center of consciousness. This is my way of meditating on that void – drawing it over and over again in different ways.

What I’m seeking in these images is not a sense of completeness or self-unity (ala Jung) that would fill up the void, but rather the kind of inner awareness that keeps this void open. As I draw the boundary between self and void, it shimmers with an eerie glow. Flashes of line, shape, and color emerge from the boundary, patterns that then unfold and circulate in the spaces beyond. There is no creator of these patterns so much as there is a witness who observes and transcribes them. 

In these abstractions, I’m drawing the gap between binaries, and I’m hoping that the viewer might linger in the empty hole that is neither subject nor object, inside or outside, past or future. It is a gap, fissure, or void that opens up between things, beneath things, and deep within their core.

Of course, the images I make aren’t always abstract or inspired by early 20th Century Modernism, but the void always seems to show up in the center.

Undergrid Four (of Fifty)

Undergrid Four – Pastel on paper, digitally manipulated

The abstract images I’m making for undergrids are probably a bit bland and puzzling for you, so here are a few things that might put them in context.

  • Each picture titled “Undergrid” is a visual representation of the ideas behind Undergrids (see definition.) It is a representation of the complex, fractal, grid of relationships each of us has with other people and foreign objects, a grid that determines identity and meaning. So, each “Undergrid painting is a picture of my undergrid and in that sense, a self-portrait.
  • Each picture with its overcrowded multiplicity of shapes and connections represents how I experience the world. I often feel overwhelmed and overstimulated by too many things, people, and complex systems. (In future articles, I’m planning to write about Concentration Deficit Disorder.) The world seems to generate an overwhelming surplus of objects, and I have trouble screening out the noise to get to the signal. So, the images look jam-packed with “noisy objects” and it is hard to know which one to look at.
  • Each picture is a kind of Mandala. So making them is very calming and meditative. The way some people color in mandalas with colored pencils in coloring books, I draw “Undergrids.”
Image From Mandala Coloring Book

Notice that Undergrids do not have the formal balance and geometric structure of Mandalas. Despite studying mathematics and formal geometry, my raw phenomenological experience tends to be more disorganized and chaotic.