Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Saboteur to Visionary; In Search of New Terms for a New World

This was written as a response to a call from the Hannah Arendt Foundation for papers on the subject of sabotage, also stressing terms such as "intervention" and "disobedience". Being a bit argumentative by nature, though making efforts to do this in ways that are at least of interest if not constructive, and previously having mulled over the main term, "saboteur" for several decades, writing about this came easily. I was reminded of this by the New Museum's Triennial title recently. Since I have not posted here in a few weeks, I hope my audience will find this timely and of interest.

Widely used terminologies of intervention and rebellion as desirable are symptomatic of a value system implementing fragmentation and chaos rather than unity and clarity. And so because of this, our task becomes to flesh out a new way of being, and renew an undergirding value system where all may participate, without conflict, and begin to use a more direct and constructive terminology. Art at its core and artists by nature are uniquely experienced in ways helpful to these transitions, if the freedom to do so becomes of value enough to be accessible.

Intervention is a term denoting a pseudo affective institutional action that generally, at its best, acts as a strategy for permitting and/or streaming creative process rather than a true description of art processes. Intervention is an old paradigm term relating to power and force rather than creative art processes and, whatever its noble precedences, so is disobedience. Disobedience is better thought of as the integrity of a questioning separate self, which our present culture places little or no value on. The myth of Prometheus is punitive in a way that is no longer useful. We need new myths.

The “poetics of fire” may usefully be applied to alchemy myths in the Taoist traditions, which are internally centered on personal transformations, rather than the exterior material transformations of that discipline in the west. We are all crucibles of transmuting fire expanding divinity through the temporal experiences of life’s infinite core.

The relationship of critique to intervention may more helpfully be termed as a critique of societal structures whose operations are based upon assumptions coming from out worn and no longer useful mythologies. A hierarchal dominator value system will implement punishment before implementing change and label creativity, especially of new thought or value systems, disobedience. Disobedience as a social term is aligned with an outmoded value system in an unfree society.

Art is a term denoting spiritual practice originating in individual experience, taking place in congruence with life’s animating inspiration(s). Art has saved the lives of some of its practitioners, and may also serve as a centerpiece to a new way of living that serves all of us as visionaries and facilitators rather than interventionists and saboteurs. 

Definitions that may compel in a contemporary sense feed a widespread hunger for spiritual experiences that also fuel our desire for meaning. This is a personal matter, a journey which it is only possible to take in conditions of the personal freedom that time and space provide, rarely accessible by most of us today. 
Providing each other with these considerations may well be a matter of species survival. Must the practice of art always be associated with rebellion? Only in a society that places no value on spiritual well being is this so.

If primacy of the sanctity of living breathing life undergirds our decisions and structures, as would be the case in a new and possible value system, the nature of theory will change, as will our mythologies and terms. What is ubiquitous in our naming of art practice in institutions will change to more positive orientations rooted in joy, healing and empowerment. Long ago an enlightened one came forth propagating love, and a mythology of blood sacrifice was instituted instead. A partial result of this are values based in punishment rather than cultivation.

It is transformation rather than intervention that is the more useful term now. This change is made possible through ethical vision rooted in a new value system that places the integrity of life’s animating spirit as the largest consideration to any action. It is in reverence for, and practice centered in life’s animating pneuma that a truly ethical new paradigm may come into place. It is by integration of and consilience with all of life’s social concerns that relationships of opposites may reach unity, or at least a peaceful balance. Through art, these relationships are primary conduits of change, infinite with possibility.

Critique is only useful when definitions are coherent. In a value system that it is not working in service to us, such as ours now, terminology becomes unhelpful in part because that which is primarily valued is a logistical tool rather than the higher absolute undergirding life, which we have yet to understand fully.

Theory may undergird practice, though many times it may be very long before a theory that serves as this armature is fully revealed to the artist. It is in the nature of art practice to provide these revelations, with time. In all other logistical and more materially oriented areas of life, theory may, if it is to be useful, function to create sustainable and satisfying outcomes, such as provision of the spaces and times required to engage in creative explorations and practices, without which, life loses its meaning and pleasure. Pleasure is of more importance than the punitive in a sane world. The conscious use of theoretical practice is a vital element missing in logistical structures of our culture other than the accumulation of profit. We worship false idols.

Creative research at its best is the search for that knowledge, corresponding with infinity, which makes possible the propagation of widespread joy, which is beyond the realms of intervention, punishment and false idols. The new world is confirmed in art practices and explored in related fields, such as alchemy, prayer, meditation and other metaphysical studies.

In the best of all possible worlds, in the world we long for, critique, theory and art practice are all servants of that which is greater than self, the undefined, eternally mysterious, supreme divinity, source of all life and being, recognizable through a unity of opposites yet to be attained by us.

Virginia Bryant 
May 2013 
Naples Florida 

Saturday, November 25, 2017

David & Takenaga, Solidarity & Concurrence

Intertwined in some of the most satisfying art viewing experiences of the last few weeks there is a unity of orientation within seeming disparity as artists continue their practices in times that seem to push us all toward annihilation and so within, away from phenomenal surroundings and so inside to contact with the seemingly disparate traditions of our respective histories.
Everywhere art has long utilized spiritual aspirations, practices and religious myth as a raison d’ĂȘtre, recent lapses into irony and pomo cartoon aesthetic notwithstanding. The ascendance of base materiality and worship of profit seemed for a while to obliterate these functions, however as the the situation of our species becomes more dire, some artists find themselves on the front lines of this dichotomy and so in the work they are called to practice, reaches to the depths of their spiritual histories and orientation to give form to an integration that goes beyond particulars of personal history.
The stars of Michael David’s navigator, and the cosmic dots of Takenaga embody this integration in seemingly different ways.
This is concisely evidenced in Michael David’s statement of painting as a “secular spiritual practice”  which “actualizes the state of being larger than ourselves.”
David is a long time veteran of the world of painting in New York, considered a prodigy he was the youngest artist to be awarded a Guggenheim in 1981. His work is considered one of the last links to the New York School.
“Where the abstract expressionist paintings of the forties and fifties seem like modern cave paintings, as their crude, unfocused, often meandering, turbulent painterliness suggests, and as such to reinstate prehistory, David seems to turn the cave into a temple, as his more considered, concentrated, indeed, dense, contemplative painterliness indicates, so that his paintings have the aura of post history.”
David’s recent exhibit this fall at John Davis, Navigators, Golems & Geishas contained works of presence, the sort of presence that signals connection to things larger than the work itself, which attribute both of these artists share.
In David’s case, as in Takenaga, this is partially achieved by literal reference to the infinite. David’s starscapes are of rougher stuff, both materially and in terms of content, referring as they do to a navigator not always sure of his cartography on this earth, in densely layered spaces of beeswax and other materials.
I inquired of a friend, who is an ordained minister well studied in the Abrahamic traditions about the meaning of golems. When he explained the protective function of this object in the Hebrew tradition it made sense as a metaphor for the protections that art, molded from inert matter as it is, bestows on its practitioners.

While checking the definition on wikipedia there is also mention of the word inscription, on the forehead (the seat of the visionary sixth chakra, or “third eye”) which may read emet for truth which signifies life, or, with its dissolution, met for death. The congruence of truth with life is useful, connecting as it does truth, which is eternal with life, which is an attribute of awakening from this dream.

Night Falls, 2016-17, Encaustic and Mixed Media on Wooden Panel, 22.5 x 28.5 inches

An interesting side note glimpsing the hope art engenders, is a young art teacher who is Palestinian and likes, NIGHT FALLS, a funereal and transcendent work, one silent in its smooth blackness and matt surface. This young person stakes his life on art’s ability to connect that which is seemingly opposed, as do many of us in seemingl;y “safer” environments ( I can only speak as a painter) in these times of seemingly irreconcilable differences.
The geisha is David’s Beatrice, represented by fragments of paper hanging (as worn, torn and discarded parts of kimonos?) This is where most of the chromatic elements of this show are seen, exhibiting a delicate and profound color sense.
The person accompanying me remarked that some of these pieces are reminiscent to him of bomb fragments. As a veteran of war he would know. Who can argue that we are, indeed, engulfed in a war on all levels, both material and spiritual now? As this last election proves, bombs are not always physical.

By The Lake, 2016, Encaustic and Mixed Media on Panel, 7.5 x 7.5 inches

When The Soul Leaves The Body 2, 2016-17, Mixed Media on Paper, 12 x 16 inches

David and many of his artists by no means a homogenous group, where he co-directs the David Schweitzer Gallery in Brooklyn, share a seasoned toughness germaine to the spiritual experience that is painting, in what may be the most materialist and fast paced environment in the country, if not the world.
For both of these artists, objects & mythologies are armatures for the story less non materiality and harmonies pervasive in the best abstract art.

The work of Barbara Takenaga delineates the realms of space in a more patterned, obsessive dot matrix which is organic rather than mechanical. Rather than punchinello or raster dots, these dots, the main armature of the paintings, are reminiscent of bhuddist prayer beads. They are applied and conceived by the artist as the growth patterns found in nature are and not mechanically with drafting processes.
Takenaga has stated the prime imperative of labor in her process. and so the meditative aspect of this process is central, every drop a fall or letting go. In the earlier work many of these spheres are hand painted. As the work progresses in time, more of these spheres are dropped onto the surface, the unknown known, in spaces of pouring infinity, like the mala beads monks use to pray with.
Takenaga’s history is that of growing up in the far reaching spaciousness of the midwest, which manifests in her themes of space hinting at infinity which is a prime attribute of spiritual practice. I heard the word “infinite” evoked several times during my brief visit to her interview with painter Tom Burkhardt at the installation at William’s college. Burkhardt referred to a “Locus just above center” in her work and she responded to this as “an artificial vantage point of reference into the infinite”.

Harmo, 2013, Acrylic on Linen, 42 x 36 inches

She then spoke of three themes of placement in her oeuvre, first a slightly elevated portrait orientation with light at its center, directing the gaze upward, secondly the horizontal of the vast plains, and finally the enormity of no horizon at all, a “ginormity overwhelming placement” which is made clear in the most recent and largest works shown here.

Black Tryptich, 2016, Acrylic on Linen, 72 x 108 inches

The artist has expanded on the earlier mandala meditations to inhabit places that are less structured and more evocative of space. Counter acting these fathomless spaces is a geode effect using free flowing jagged and curvilinear bands of color, reminiscent of similar elements of Tibetan Thanka painting panels.

Red Geode, 2015, Acrylic on Wood Panel, 24 x 20 inches

Takenaga teaches printmaking at Williams, and this process is leaking into the painting processes. White Grid on Silver was commenced with a rorschach doubling process which, along with the pouring process contrasts with the more tightly generated dots and the structures they make.
Just as grey makes bright colors sing more sharply, the loosely painted elements in these works give juice to the hard edged aspects of these compositions. The chromatic and tonal balances in these paintings add to their strength of impact.
It may be useful to compare works in terms of dichotomy & oppositions, and how balancing these may be prerequisite to accessing states beyond duality, which are “end of the road” spiritual quests. The work of these two artists, on the surface so very different, embodies, in differing methods, this quest. Takenaga’s, reminiscent of eastern traditions, emphasizes meditative labour and processes rooted in humility. David’s, oriented in the roots of the western tradition, places emphasis on action and exploration. What gives life to both of these bodies of work is a commonality of purpose, a moving toward and acknowledgement of higher spiritual states.
Barbara Takenaga, which runs through January 28 2018, at the Williams College Museum of Art   is accompanied by a generously illustrated catalogue including a poem by Geoffrey Young.

Thursday, June 11, 2015



Joan Snyder  "Amor Matris"  2015  63x84.5"  at  Franklin Parrasch Gallery thru June 20

I had three providential art experiences recently, for my first sortie from my new home in upstate New York to NYC, the paintings and reception of Joan Snyder, the last day of Bill Jensen’s paintings exhibit, and a three part program of the LINES Ballet.

Joan Snyder detail "Amor Matris"  2015  63x84.5  at  Franklin Parrasch Gallery thru June 20

Snyder’s work may be viewed as feminist in the best sense of the word as expressions of fecundity, blossoming, flow and infinite array . These works have a dance quality as do Pollock’s, with very different rhythm structures. There are waltz structures and semi narrative aspects which are painted in balanced groupings throughout the compositions. 

Ceremonial rose icons, passages evocative of bird’s nests, glossy pools, auricular pilings of paint roughed up with organic matter, glitter, word letters more painterly than literal, the warm rose pink wine palette pushes a generative feminist view.

Joan Snyder   Reqium Redux 2014 60x72"  at  Franklin Parrasch Gallery thru June 20

Sub Rosa, the title of the exhibit, is in opposition to the feeling of the show in some ways. A google search of the term shows that this is a term signifying secrecy and silence. Yet in the multitude of exuberant expression shown here, these works are anything but silent.

These are generous works that reward lots of close inspection.

This exhibit is on view at Franklin Parrasch Gallery 53 East 64th Street New York until June 20.

Joan Snyder detail "Really" 2015 36x120"  at  Franklin Parrasch Gallery thru June 20

Joan Snyder detail "Really" 2015 36x120"  at  Franklin Parrasch Gallery thru June 20

Joan Snyder "Winter Rose" 2014  64x30"  at  Franklin Parrasch Gallery thru June 20

for more writing on the Joan Snyder exhibit, Hovey Brock for Brooklyn Rail
and Roberta Smith for the New York Times


Bill Jensen END OF ORDINARY REALM 2013-14oil/linen 61x41"  at Cheim Read April 9 May 9

I caught a glimpse of the large exhibit of Bill Jensen’s paintings at Cheim & Read on the last day of the formal exhibit. These paintings continue traditions long associated with the masculine in western art such as romanticism and the distortions of figurative surrealism. That said, there are also works, my favorites, from the “Dark Dragon Blood” series influenced by oriental thought.

I caught a glimpse of the large exhibit of Bill Jensen’s paintings at Cheim & Read on the last day of the formal exhibit. I saw these works late in the day, during which time a friend of the artist’s dropped by and encouraged me to return during midday, when the skylights in the gallery heightened the glow of the works into completely different visions. Perhaps this was why I had the feeling these particular works were evocative of silence, though I think this is also intentional.

Combined in contrast with the subtle wet richness of this deepest dark combinations of complementary hues were textured pale grey brush work on matt white segments, dry, rough, as desert rather than a pool, or even perhaps even aged skin. The combination of opposites here feels inevitable, absolute and yet new.

Bill Jensen detail of STILLNESS 2012-14 54x75"  at Cheim Read April 9 May 9

There are three distinct bodies of work in these galleries which are pulled together with triptych and diptych formats. The first, “Transgressions” are corpuscular figurative fragmentations, line drawings appearing first as lyrical abstract line drawings before coming into focus as figurative abstractions said to be based on Micheangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel. There are the multicolored and layered abstractions we know this artist for. The final and most moving paintings (for me), the DARK DRAGON POOL series, feature the use of the doxilene purple used in recent years, now shown darkened and made rich by combination with its complementary, orange, probably with a deep amber making a smooth glossy, silent deepness. 


LINES Ballet combines masculine and feminine into new forms. Choreographer Alonzo King mixes gender types and conventional roles with dancers that are “athletes of god”. Men fly extend and whirl, sometimes wearing skirts. 

The lighting and costumes, as always with this company, are subtle and supportive of the dancers, never overwhelming them or the choreography. King, internationally acclaimed and awarded, has collaborated with Shaolin Monks, tribal Africans and an international roster of many musicians and artists of world renown. As always, it is his collaborations with his dancers that are primary.

The program opened with an ensemble of CONCERTO FOR TWO VIOLINS,

The second work on the program MEN’S QUINTET, taken from “Radius of Convergence”  could do for men what Balanchine (one of choreographer King’s primary influences) did for women in ballet. Certainly when I was studying dance few were the men dancing this way! They are all exquisite masters as are the women. 

the final work on the program, WRITING GROUND

“She was cut off from her own past. She was not able to situate herself in history. The entire art of her past became a political issue. To abandon this life. To wash the sheets”
Ballet/poetry collaboration from “Writing Ground” poetry by Colum McAnn for LINES BALLET


Wednesday July 15 through Saturday July 18, 8pm 
Saturday July 18 and Sunday July 19, 2pm

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

proposal(s) for new paradigm spaces & places to be

                                                                                  John Pawson St Moritz Church Augsberg

          notes for new community based models-

To provide places of refuge in art, within walking distance as a sustainability strategy & so the very young and old have access.

24 hour open access open art & craft studios with painting as the featured modality. Full time artist(s) on staff for consultation only at specified times.  

Rotating live in staff for consultation and information purposes. As a community venue, upkeep is contributed by participants. Every one cleans their own messes.

Small theatre on premises for plays, lectures, poetry readings.  Full time artist/event directors on staff to create social performance based programs.

Kitchen and garden on premises. Most foods available are grown in the gardens, which has purposes of focusing on sustainable eating and food preparation. Full time organic gardener and kitchen receptionist on staff.

Space allotted for neighborhood  re-use and exchange.

Space allotted for crafts for use in the community and trade with other communities.

Space allotted for clean and sustainable energy systems and their storage.

Why This Is a Good Thing

To establish the sanctity of life as our highest value. To continue with profit as our most important value, with the sanctification of violence to keep this value primary, is to commit atrocities and risk our survival as humans.

To heal the fears, anxieties, & general numbness resulting from lifestyles that have become too busy for contemplative acts. Art is a bridge contemplative act between the yogis and the layperson. It is through these processes being more widely available to all that we may begin healing as a society. Any who believe this healing is not needed can stop reading.

Space & freedom, necessary components of good living, as with everything else of any value in a commodity culture is not accessible by the majority. Fear has taken these elements of living well from our children. Since the open spaces to play and explore have become rare, we propose creating new spaces for these explorations through the portals of art & local community.

Where are these spaces?

These spaces may be begun in private homes as neighborhood salons, gardens etc. 

They may also replace the ubiquitous places selling poisonous foods, some originating in concentration camps for animals. We ere if we think eating in this way does not damage us spiritually and it has been proven to hurt our physical health. In addition, it pollutes the earth and is not sustainable.

The larger box stores selling cheap junk made by slaves in China may be retrofitted. We cannot support this without doing harm to ourselves. It is not sustainable on the physical plain either. These stores may serve as garden and design labs also facilitating community creativity in dealing with the logistics of daily living in sustainable ways that serve the community or communities they inhabit.  

each quarter mile in suburban and more in urban communities may have a larger community building either retrofitted from apartment building or built utilizing biomimicry processes where the young and others without access to space to do so may practice art. 


January 2015

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Town & Country

New York, Summer 2014

Part One

I start this post with mirror images as a bridge from the rorschach/mirrored symmetries post and as a device for indicating how much more involved I became in the process of mirroring that is a part of being actually seen so that real communication is possible. It was a relief to be in places where I did not feel like a total misfit and with those so much more similar to myself in intent and interests. In short, I love New York, both town and country.

Brooklyn Art Museum, a beautifully installed wall of mirrors combining contemporary and period mirrors.

self portrait in Fred Wilson's exquisite black mirror in the same installation

Brooklyn Art Museum figure from African Art Exhibit

Looking through these images, I was surprised not to see more in the way of abstract images, which are my forte, however, much of this trip was about contact and encounter, so these images, most of them of new friends and other figures, serve as a fitting memoir. For some such as myself, it is through the lens of art that encounter is often most interesting........

Isaac Hecker, work in progress by Fr Frank Sabatte, Director of Openings Art Collective and  the art residency at the Paulist Father's house at Lake George.  Fr Hecker was the  populist priest who founded St Mary's.


Mary, at St Mary's on Lake George, upstate NY & black angel in the Frick garden NYC

The angel and the mother. the dark and the light, the ever present polarity of existence on this plane. It is said that in China white is the color of mourning. Meanings and definitions fade into each other. Love and its lack manifesting in fear, wears all forms and hues. These elements of our existence, love & fear, are the opposites we seek to balance and finally transcend into the absolute supreme reality of love.

In the western tradition of alchemy, it is fitting that love should be replaced by gold, the symbol of wealth, yet another metaphoric symptom of the pathology of our (hopefully) passing paradigm. And yet,  material abundance aligns with love, but its primacy over it is a perversion that may yet destroy us.

More universally, the alchemy process results in the creation, from the combining of opposites, into the philosopher’s stone, said to be the emblem of immortality. 

The infinite love of the immortal creator, the lapis lazuli stone, ground to color the mother of god’s robes, and philosophy the questions that begin the journeys to understanding………

Sigmar Polke detail of painting at MOMA

Forever amber- the old alchemist Polke at the MOMA, many of the paintings have so much more strength in the flesh than in books. 
As a painter, i would have liked to see more paintings.  The proliferation of film and video comes off as a populist branding of a contemporary star, good humored and charismatic, which strategic technique is prominent now in contemporary practice to engage the masses in art viewing these days……

We painters love that amber resin, it historicizes and warms whatever is encased in it...........

Joachim Marx  b115

Said to be the “ultimate in postmodern painting” by fellow painters, utilizing the integration of figurative and experimental painting practices, the paintings of Joachim Marx are a fulsome juxtaposition of these elements.

Eric Jiaju Lee

Probably the artist closest to the process oriented practices of my own painting is Eric Jiaju Lee
Eric executed several of these experimental works in the time we were at the residency, & set up the outdoor studio over looking the lake. Eric's work is included with lots of other painting luminaries in the Brooklyn gallery  Life on Mars exhibit "Never Mind the Bullocks",  This gallery is run by painters Michael David and Fran O'Neil and is a PAINTER"S gallery in the best sense of the word.

Another work by Eric.

and more! Cooking!

Work in progress by master wood carver and scientist/engineer Anthony Santella, when finished this will be shown at the Opening's exhibit this fall in NYC. There will be a computer screen in this ladies upturned hands. I can relate! Too well!

Monday, June 9, 2014

         Notes on the Contemporary Iconography of the Rorschach

#3384 acrylic on stonehenge by virginia bryant @ ANON Studios June 2014

The fascination that the rorschach holds for contemporary artists touches several elements, first the process, secondly the aesthetics of balance, and finally its metaphors.

Artists as varied philosophically as  Bruce Conner, Andy Warhol, Sigmar Polke and Victor Hugo were practitioners. Now, in addition, many other artists are now involved in these processes through the new auspices of photoshop, such as Paul Cook and Tamorah Thomas, and of course there were the noteworthy tapestries of Gerhard Richter,  Paul Eberle's series "Flowers (for Richard)" utilizes flowers and growing things photographically to great effect using this process.
As any artist living in Florida in recent years has, I thought of Rauschenberg, realizing that this rorschachness is so integral a part of the print making process, central in this artists' oeuvre, that making rorschach images may have seemed redundant to him.
Along with my interests conceptually with Rorschach, these processes are woven into my work since the early 80's as a fabric designer and painter through the most recent MIRRORED SYMMETRIES digital series..

       #3388 acrylic on stonehenge by virginia bryant @  ANON Studios June 2014

from "MIRRORED SYMMETRIES" by virginia bryant @ANON Studios  2009

And so, back to our dialogue, if Arts’ manifestations are to lead to meaningful conversations about how we live, note of the rorschach iconography as a metaphor for balance may be useful. Who would not argue that most of our worst logistical issues would not be healed with balance? This may only be possible in a new age where justice is truly no longer blind.

from "MIRRORED SYMMETRIES" by virginia bryant @ANON Studios  2009

The imbalances of a dominator culture worshipping the false gods of the material and disregarding (the very real) requirements of spiritual life, which disregarding threatens our survival as a species. Our attractions to the rorschach are not exclusively decorative. These designs may serve as icons of balance.