June 11th, 2010
May 30th, 2010
“Some texts of Tibetan Tantrism mention technical details pertaining to specific visualizations. I will mention two exercises. The starting point in both exercises is the realization of the form of the vacuous body, which contains the caduceus formed by the pingala [the masculine, solar channel of life force, or prana, found in occult corporeity], ida [the feminine, lunar pranic channel], and sushumna [the channel through which kundalini ascends after having been awakened]” (p171).
Tibetan short a, p171.
“In the course of the first exercise, some letters of the Tibetan alphabet are used as the support and as the instruments of the magical imagination. These letters are the short a, which corresponds to Shakti [the feminine form of the divine], and the long a, written ham and pronounced hum, which corresponds to Shiva [the masculine form of the divine]… The two letters, shown in the illustration[s] above [and below, respectively], must be visualized in this fashion. The feminine a is inside the muladhara-chakra, at the base of the spine, and is brown. The masculine a is located in the sahasrara-chakra, at the top of the head, and is white. In the course of this exercise, one performs a short retention of breath between inspiration and expiration. During inspiration the apprentice should visualize his breath to run down, through the pingala and ida, and finally to reach the letter a that is located in the muladhara-chakra. When the breath reaches the muladhara-chakra, the letter takes on a more vivid color and becomes bright red, just like a fiery charcoal turning into flame. The apprentice is supposed to concentrate on this image and to feed it with prana especially during the retention of breath. After that, he must exhale, while imagining his breath ascending along the sushumna in the form of a blueish current” (p171-2).
Tibetan long a (ham), p171.
“In a second set of exercises the apprentice must imagine a vivid, vertical flame rising vortically from the letter a located in the basal center (chakra). After each breath this flame grows by an inch, so that after ten complete breaths it has reached the chakra located at the naval. After ten more breaths it has reached the heart; after ten more, the larynx; and thus all the way to the top of the head, where the apprentice must visualize the flame becoming one with the masculine letter ham…
“The second exercise differs from the first only in a variation of the visualization process. Soon after imaging a flame emanating from the muladhara-chakra, the apprentice imagines that the letter situated on the top of the head is beginning to melt, dripping a substance that feeds the flame and that makes it rise higher and higher. Eventually the flame fills the entire sushumna up to the sahasrara-chakra, in which the fusion, of better, the transfiguration, of ham takes place. The forced then assumes the nature of bodhichitta, according to Vajrayana terminology” (p172).
“In the abovementioned Tibetan exercises, the repeated visualizations are supposed to originate a process of induction and of arousal. The images, which are prefigurations of the real process, work to make this process real. Thus, at a given moment, they are substituted with real states and with real manifestations of powers. The texts insist, however, that between the prefiguration and the experience there will always be a hiatus, and that the moment of awakening represents something discontinuous and unforeseen. The images will be transformed and act of their own initiative, as if they were animated and carried around by an extraneous force. When the process of visualization eludes the control of one who starts it, awakening is near” (p173).
May 3rd, 2010
“How can we describe a picture by Poliakoff? It is, for instance, a surface in which are incorporated a rounded and a right-angled shape. But all about it is asymmetrical. It is a fact that this type of painting is very hard to describe; for it is made up of nothing. No memory of known shapes can be found in it. It is the world of silence and of ‘pure painting’. How can one describe silence?” (p12-13).
Oil painting, 1952 (p19). Click for larger version.
“A Poliakoff picture generally comprises a few simple shapes. A kind of light emanates from a central mass. The passage of the colors from dark to light and the effort of vibration in the texture are two characteristics of his pictures.
“A Poliakoff picture has no depth, no ‘sky’, no perspective. Thus, in the same picture, a yellow may be hollow or in relief. And a red placed next to that yellow can likewise be hollow or in inverse relief.
“The reason is that his forms stem from space, and space, as he likes to say, ‘creates the form’” (p31).
Oil painting, 1953 (p23). Click for larger version.
“Next to space comes the matière. Poliakoff covers his canvas with successive layers—three or four at most—of thin paint, applied with extreme sensitivity. His creations, which owe nothing to organic forms, thus produce a curiously sensorial impression.
“This effort to bring the paint alive is characteristic of Poliakoff’s work.
“‘The matière of all the great painters lives’, he says, ‘even in the case of Malevitch. I was much struck when I saw his famous white square on a white background. It proved to me once again the outstanding part played by the vibration of the paint. Even in the absence of all color, a picture whose paint vibrates, remains alive’” (p34).
Oil painting, 1956 (p41). Click for larger version.
“This ‘pure painting’… is the painting of silence. The Poliakoff miracle is that he knows how to make silence vibrate.
“‘When a picture is silent, it means it is all right. Some of my paintings start making an infernal din. They are explosive. But I am not satisfied until they have become silent. A form must be listened to, not seen’” (p36).
April 18th, 2010
Mountain-Blocked Clouds, ca. 1700 (plate 10). Click for larger version. The inscription is a couplet by Du Fu followed by a commentary by Tao Chi: “It is good not to have any houses here, / Yet to have mountains blocking the clouds. / These words are unusual, and this painting is also raw! There is a feeling beyond feeling, and yet no hint of an ordinary painting.”
“The unifying principle Tao-chi advanced for the understanding of painting as well as cosmic creation was called i-hua, which means both ‘the single stroke’ and ‘the painting of oneness.’ I-hua was at once the symbol and realization of primordial growth—the process of nature in both the general and specific senses. I-hua also constituted the very practical operating procedure in painting: the completed design depended on the direction and configuration of the first single stroke from which everything else grew. The accidental effects that Tai-chi sought in his work were directly related to this concept of ‘single stroke’ painting, or painting of ‘myriad strokes that are ultimately reunited in oneness’” (Fu’s & Fong’s introduction).
Said Tao Chi: “When the brush is united with the ink, yin-yün (cosmic atmosphere) is created. When yin-yün is undivided, it is like chaos. In order to open up chaos, what else should I use except the ‘single stroke’? Even if my brush is unlike the usual brush, my ink unlike the usual ink, and my painting unlike the usual painting, there is always my own identity in it. It is I who use the ink, the ink does not use me; I who wield the brush, the brush does not wield me; I who grow out of the womb, the womb does not discard me. From one, ten thousand thing come, yet from ten thousand things I must come back to one. By transforming the ‘single stroke’ into yin-yün, all things under heaven may be accomplished” (Hua-yü-lu, chapter 7).
April 4th, 2010
Brumes, 1992 (p229). Click for larger version.
“Miotte means his gestural structures to exist between states of solidity and liquidity, between the physical and the evanescent, the tangible and the elusive. His investigations arise out of his preoccupation with that gap in perception that occurs between memory, which seemingly solidifies everything, and seeing, where the world can in certain circumstances remain liquid, always be in a state of continuous change and transformation” (p17, Yau’s introduction).
“From this [Miotte] concluded that artistic work, the ‘making,’ as he unpretentiously refers to it, takes place between the ‘will to an action and the content of the gesture that articulates it’” (p27, Ruhrberg’s forward).
Au delà, 1956 (p67). Click for larger verison.
“It becomes clear that… space—although diversely treated—is a dominant theme. The unfamiliar, the previously unknown, the individual cosmos of the sensibilities beyond rationality, are given visible shape by the liberated gesture, by form. The profound and immediate experience of the distilled emotions within the painting allows pure energy to become concrete and produces an echo in space of the magical powers of the universe. Titles such as Au delà [above]… clearly point to this” (p27-28, Ruhrberg’s forward).
Carré d’or, 1954 (p63). Click for larger version.
Says Miotte, “I see my work as a projection, resulting from intensely experienced moments, the consequence of confrontation with experience, and from internal conflicts. Painting is not a rational theorizing or intellectual observation, painting is an action, a sequence of movement carried within one’s self and whose origin is internal” (p33).
March 28th, 2010
A woodcut diagram by Giovanni Battista Nazari from his 1599 Three Dreams on the Transmutation of Metals (McLean’s edition, translated by Doug Skinner).
Narrates the dreaming protagonist before Raymundus’s arch: “Although I looked over this construction with great delight, and reflected upon its occult secrets, my mind could not climb high enough to discover its meaning. Lost in these thoughts, I raised my eyes again toward the divine edifice; and saw, in the circular frieze of celestial lapis lazuli, these words, engraved and gilded: OUR SON THE KING HAS THREE FATHERS: THE FIRST CAUSES GENERATION, THE SECOND MULTIPLICATION, AND THE THIRD PERFECTION; AND OUR SON IS A POWERFUL KING, WHO FEARS NO OTHER KINGS.
“These words stimulated my desire to understand all of this; so that I could go no further. I gently asked the blessed Damsel to explain the structure, and she replied, ‘Pilgrim, follow me behind the locked door, and I will show you the explanation that you ask.’
“When we arrived, she opened the door with her occult secrets; we entered, and she showed me a large stone of polished marble, on which I saw a description of the genealogical tree of the aforesaid king, with this diagram” (p119).
Nazari’s genealogical tree, p122. Click for larger version.
“The more this picture confounded me, the more I wanted to learn its meaning. Whereupon the gracious Damsel, seeing me so puzzled, said, ‘I know, my Pilgrim, that you would like to learn the meaning of the structure that you saw, and I find this desire of yours worthy of your request. Listen, then, and know that my explanation of it will also clarify the wonderful work that you saw in the middle of the flowering field; for those words engraved in the frieze of the circular lapis lazuli are the writings of our faithful compatriot N.; which concern the nature of those three fathers, who you can see inscribed on the tree, marked with the letters D, E, and F.’
“‘But come to the fundamental point of our argument: first you must know who engendered these fathers, who they are, and the nature of them. To begin with, then, let me tell you that our Chaos (B) begat the first father, and that this Chaos is the son of Nature (A). This first father was already mother of the second father of our king, Chaos (B) being the father. This mother (G) does not generate; the father does.’
“‘Let us proceed to the second father, who is the cause of the multiplication of the son, our king. And I tell you that he is the son of our Chaos (B). This son is the father and brother of the first father: thus, the first and second fathers are brothers; they are not, however, only two sons, two fathers, and two brothers to our king, but also one son, one father, and one brother. This father was also the mother of the third father, Chaos being the father: for this mother does not generate; the father does.’
“‘The third father is the cause of the perfection of our king, our son; this father is generated from the second father, by means of Chaos (B), his father and brother, but is still brother to the second father. Therefore, they are not only three fathers and three sons to Chaos (B), and three brothers, but a father to our king, a brother, and a son to Chaos (B). Our Chaos (C) has six sons, who are not only his sons, but brothers and sons.’
“On hearing the excellent Damsel’s obscure explanations, I felt as if I too had become a Chaos, from my confusion; for her words scaled the highest limits of the natural art of philosophy, to heights that reason can barely attain. Eager for a clearer explanation of all this, I humbly asked the gracious Damsel, who gently replied as follows.
“‘You will learn, Pilgrim, that these three Fathers, united with their wives (who are begotten by the fathers of our king, our son), and who are not only three, but one single wife, and one husband, beget this son, our most powerful king, who is very fertile in the begetting of countless offspring. And this divine mystery happens in this way: the first youthful father (D), united with his wife and daughter (G), who is white when hidden and black when revealed, is the cause of generation.’
“‘The second father, similarly united with his wife and daughter (H), who is red when hidden and white when revealed, is the cause of multiplication: that is, he is the reason that our king, our son, is so gifted in virtues, and so filled with good, that he can multiply the virtues and good of his other brothers, and destroy their every infirmity.’
“‘The third father, not unlike the others, united with his wife and daughter (I), who is citron when hidden and red when revealed, is the cause of perfection: that is, he is the reason that the king, our son, is born of such perfection that he can perfect his imperfect brothers by the power of his own perfection.’
“The Damsel pursues her explanation; for greater clarity she gives the meaning of each letter or number noted on the tree sculpted on the stone, as follows.
A. Nature generates our Chaos B and C. The former begets the three fathers D, E, and F; the latter generates six sons.
B. Our Chaos has three sons and three daughters, who are sisters and brothers.
C. This Chaos has six sons, who are brothers and sons.
D. The first young father, generating his wife, is the cause of generation.
E. The second father, generating his wife, is the cause of multiplication.
F. The third old father, generating his wife, is the cause of perfection.
G. The first young wife, to the first father.
H. The second middle-aged wife, to the second father.
I. The third old wife, to the third father.
K. Chaos, father of the daughters, fathers, and sons of our Chaos.
L. The third powerful king, contracting, multiplying, and perfecting his brothers.
1. The mother alone.
2. The father alone.
3. Because of them.
4. The first father, young and saffron.
5. The second father, virile and pure white.
6. The third father, old and white.
7. Chaos B and K: the same thing.
8. The first wife, born in Aries.
9. The second wife, born in Cancer.
10. The third wife, born in Libra.
11. Chaos B and C: the same thing.
12. Because of the fathers.
13. Because of the mothers.
14. The white brother.
15. The red brother.
16. The black bother.
17. The sparkling white brother.
18. The ashen brother.
19. The pure white brother.
“When the honest Damsel had finished speaking, I, unable to fully understand her explanation, asked for an example to clarify it. And she, willing to satisfy my request, replied:
“‘My Pilgrim, if you consider the profound secrets of nature, you will see that this king, our son, is generated by the first father (D), multiplied by the second (E), and brought to perfection by the third (F); although there is but one father, who generates, multiplies, and perfects. But let me offer an example.’
“‘Water and flour without yeast is not true bread; thus bread requires water, flour, and yeast. In like fashion, just as neither flour and yeast without water, nor water and flour without yeast, nor water and yeast without flour will generate bread; so too we cannot make our bread without our water, our flour, and our yeast, all first created together. We see, therefore, that our water is the cause of generation, our yeast of multiplication, and our flour of perfection; all of which bring our bread into being. And because our flour and water are created together, and our yeast with our flour and water, we can determine that our water is our flour, and that our flour and water are our yeast, except for their form…’
“‘It was not without some mystery that N. had the aforementioned sentence inscribed into the circular stone. Furthermore, you should know that Raymundus has put all of the science of my magistery into the aforesaid structure, in imitation of the alter to the god of Hermes, which you saw earlier. But this work of Raymundus’s explains that of Hermes, and vice versa; therefore, if you know the hidden secrets of the numen of Hermes, you need no further explanation. But let us move on’” (p119-124).
February 28th, 2010
A drawing by Edward Ardizzone (see previous posts) from Percy Young‘s 1957 Ding Dong Bell, a collection of nursery rhymes divided into eight taxa: Animals, Birds and Insects, Flowers and Trees, People, Places, Things, Nonsense, and Evening.
Places chapter heading, illustrating the rhyme Coming to Town (p81).
And Over the Hills, a Places rhyme (p88):
Tom he was a piper’s son.
He learnt to play when he was young.
But all the tune that he could play
Was ‘Over the hills and far away’.
Over the hills and a great way off,
The wind shall blow my top-knot off.
February 21st, 2010
“The inner need is the basic alike of small and great problems in painting. We are seeking today for the road which is to lead us away from the outer to the inner basis. The spirit, like the body, can be strengthened and developed by frequent exercise. Just as the body, if neglected, grows weaker and finally impotent, so the spirit perishes if untended. And for this reason it is necessary for the artist to know the starting point for the exercise of his spirit.
“The starting point is the study of colour and its effect on men.
“There is no need to engage in the finer shades of complicated colour, but rather at first to consider only the direct use of simple colours.
“To begin with, let us test the working on ourselves of individual colours, and so make a simple chart [figures I and II, below], which will facilitate the consideration of the whole question.
Figure I, p36f. Click for larger version.
“Two great divisions of colour occur to the mind at the outset: into warm and cold, and into light and dark. To each colour there are therefore four shades of appeal—warm and light or warm and dark, or cold and light or cold and dark.
“Generally speaking, warmth or cold in a colour means an approach respectively to yellow or to blue. This distinction is, so to speak, on one basis, the colour having a constant fundamental appeal, but assuming either a more material or more non-material quality. The movement is a horizontal one, the warm colours approaching the spectator, the cold ones retreating from him.
“The colours, which cause in another colour this horizontal movement, while they are themselves affected by it, have another movement of their own, which acts with a violent separative force. That is, therefore, the first antithesis in the inner appeal, and the inclination of colour to yellow or to blue, is of tremendous importance.
“The second antithesis is between white and black; i.e., the inclination to light or dark caused by the pair of colours just mentioned. These colours have once more their peculiar movement to and from the spectator, but in a more rigid form.
“Yellow and blue have another movement which affects the first antithesis—an ex- and concentric movement. If two circles are drawn and painted respectively with yellow and blue, brief concentration will reveal in the yellow a spreading movement out from the centre, and a noticeable approach to the spectator. The blue, on the other hand, moves in upon itself, like a snail retreating into its shell, and draws away from the spectator.
“In the case of light and dark colours the movement is emphasized. That of the yellow increases with an admixture of white, i.e., as it becomes lighter. That of the blue increases with an admixture of black, i.e., as it becomes darker. This mean that there can never be a dark-coloured yellow. The relationship between white and yellow is as close as between black and blue, for blue can be so dark as to border on black. Besides this physical relationship, is also a spiritual one (between yellow and white on one side, between blue and black on the other) which marks a strong separation between the two pairs.
“An attempt to make yellow colder produces a green tint and checks both the horizontal and excentric movement. The colour becomes sickly and unreal. The blue by its contrary movement acts as a brake on the yellow, and is hindered in its own movement, till the two together become stationary, and the result is green. Similarly a mixture of black and white produces gray, which is motionless and spiritually very similar to green.
“But while green, yellow, and blue are potentially active, though temporarily paralysed, in gray there is no possibility of movement, because gray consists of two colours that have no active force, for they stand the one in motionless discord, the other in a motionless negation, even of discord, like an endless wall or a bottomless pit.
“Because the component colours of green are active and have a movement of their own, it is possible, on the basis of this movement, to reckon their spiritual appeal.
“The first movement of yellow, that of approach to the spectator (which can be increased by an intensification of the yellow), and also the second movement, that of over-spreading the boundaries, have a material parallel in the human energy which assails every obstacle blindly, and bursts forth aimlessly in every direction.
“Yellow, if steadily gazed at in any geometrical form, has a disturbing influence, and reveals in the colour an insistent, aggressive character. The intensification of the yellow increases the painful shrillness of its note.
“Yellow is the typically earthly colour. It can never have profound meaning. An intermixture of blue makes it a sickly colour. It may be paralleled in human nature, with madness, not with melancholy or hypochondriacal mania, but rather with violent raving lunacy.
“The power of profound meaning is found in blue, and first in its physical movements (1) of retreat from the spectator, (2) of turning in upon its own centre. The inclination of blue to depth is so strong that its inner appeal is stronger when its shade is deeper.
“Blue is the typical heavenly colour. The ultimate feeling it creates is one of rest. When it sinks almost to black, it echoes a grief that is hardly human. When it rises towards white, a movement little suited to it, its appeal to men grows weaker and more distant…
“A well-balanced mixture of blue and yellow produces green. The horizontal movement ceases; likewise that from and towards the centre. The effect on the soul through the eye is therefore motionless. This is a fact recognized not only by opticians but by the world. Green is the most restful colour that exists. On exhausted men this restfulness has a beneficial effect, but after a time it becomes wearisome. Pictures painted in shades of green are passive and tend to be wearisome; this contrasts with the active warmth of yellow or the active coolness of blue. In the hierarchy of colours green is the ‘bourgeoisie’-self-satisfied, immovable, narrow. It is the colour of summer, the period when nature is resting from the storms of winter and the productive energy of spring.
“Any preponderance in green of yellow or blue introduces a corresponding activity and changes the inner appeal. The green keeps its characteristic equanimity and restfulness, the former increasing with the inclination to lightness, the latter with the inclination to depth…
“Black and white have already been discussed in general terms. More particularly speaking, white, although often considered as no colour (a theory largely due to the Impressionists, who saw no white in nature), is a symbol of a world from which all colour as a definite attribute has disappeared. This world is too far above us for its harmony to touch our souls. A great silence, like an impenetrable wall, shrouds its life from our understanding. White, therefore, has this harmony of silence, which works upon us negatively… It is not a dead silence, but one pregnant with possibilities. White has the appeal of the nothingness that is before birth, of the world in the ice age.
“A totally dead silence, on the other hand, a silence with no possibilities, has the inner harmony of black… Black is something burnt out, like the ashes of a funeral pyre, something motionless like a corpse. The silence of black is the silence of death. Outwardly black is the colour with least harmony of all, a kind of neutral background against which the minutest shades of other colours stand clearly forward. It differs from white in this also, for with white nearly every colour is in discord, or even mute altogether.
“Not without reason is white taken as symbolizing joy and spotless purity, and black grief and death. A blend of black and white produces gray which, as has been said, is silent and motionless, being composed of two inactive colours, its restfulness having none of the potential activity of green. A similar gray is produced by a mixture of green and red, a spiritual blend of passivity and glowing warmth.
Figure II, p36f. Click for larger version.
“The unbounded warmth of red has not the irresponsible appeal of yellow, but rings inwardly with a determined and powerful intensity It glows in itself, maturely, and does not distribute its vigour aimlessly.
“The varied powers of red are very striking. By a skillful use of it in its different shades, its fundamental tone may be made warm or cold.
“Light warm red has a certain similarity to medium yellow, alike in texture and appeal, and gives a feeling of strength, vigour, determination, triumph…
“Vermilion is a red with a feeling of sharpness, like glowing steel which can be cooled by water. Vermilion is quenched by blue, for it can support no mixture with a cold colour. More accurately speaking, such a mixture produces what is called a dirty colour, scorned by painters of today. But “dirt” as a material object has its own inner appeal, and therefore to avoid it in painting, is as unjust and narrow as was the cry of yesterday for pure colour. At the call of the inner need that which is outwardly foul may be inwardly pure, and vice versa.
“The two shades of red just discussed are similar to yellow, except that they reach out less to the spectator. The glow of red is within itself. For this reason it is a colour more beloved than yellow, being frequently used in primitive and traditional decoration, and also in peasant costumes, because in the open air the harmony of red and green is very beautiful. Taken by itself this red is material, and, like yellow, has no very deep appeal. Only when combined with something nobler does it acquire this deep appeal. It is dangerous to seek to deepen red by an admixture of black, for black quenches the glow, or at least reduces it considerably.
“But there remains brown, unemotional, disinclined for movement. An intermixture of red is outwardly barely audible, but there rings out a powerful inner harmony. Skillful blending can produce an inner appeal of extraordinary, indescribable beauty. The vermilion now rings like a great trumpet, or thunders like a drum.
“Cool red (madder) like any other fundamentally cold colour, can be deepened—especially by an intermixture of azure. The character of the colour changes; the inward glow increases, the active element gradually disappears. But this active element is never so wholly absent as in deep green. There always remains a hint of renewed vigour, somewhere out of sight, waiting for a certain moment to burst forth afresh. In this lies the great difference between a deepened red and a deepened blue, because in red there is always a trace of the material… A cold, light red contains a very distinct bodily or material element, but it is always pure, like the fresh beauty of the face of a young girl…
“Warm red, intensified by a suitable yellow, is orange. This blend brings red almost to the point of spreading out towards the spectator. But the element of red is always sufficiently strong to keep the colour from flippancy. Orange is like a man, convinced of his own powers…
“Just as orange is red brought nearer to humanity by yellow, so violet is red withdrawn from humanity by blue. But the red in violet must be cold, for the spiritual need does not allow of a mixture of warm red with cold blue.
“Violet is therefore both in the physical and spiritual sense a cooled red. It is consequently rather sad and ailing. It is worn by old women, and in China as a sign of mourning…
“The two last mentioned colours (orange and violet) are the fourth and last pair of antitheses of the primitive colours. They stand to each other in the same relation as the third antitheses—green and red—i.e., as complementary colours” (p35-41).
February 14th, 2010
February 5th, 2010
A sculpture cataloged in Rowland’s The Evolution of the Buddha Image.
Head of Buddha from Daianji Temple, Japan, Tempyo period, 8th century, p110. “Even in its ruinous condition this head possesses the classic serenity of expression and feeling for sculptured mass that characterized the great masterpieces of Tempyo sculptures” (p142).
“Many Japanese Buddha images… are informed with a feeling of expansive volume described by the Japanese term ryo, which approximates the suggestion of the presence of an inner breath or pneumatic force…” (p31).