Into the UltraViolet
|The Poetry of the World
I have often said of my art that I am seeking the "poetry of the world", and people just as often respond with one eyebrow akimbo, as if to say, "Whatever that means." So I'll talk a little bit about what I mean by poetry, and what I think it's good for.
We're not born knowing it all, and so to become effective adults we ask many questions and seek useful answers. Some questions are easy, like "How do I bust open this coconut?" Some questions are a little trickier - like "How do you build a nuclear reactor?" - but we can often muddle through even such complex questions with conventional speech. Some questions though, conversation-killers of the kind that address fundamental human motivations, are really quite a bit more difficult to uncover with ordinary conversational language. A question like "What is survival?" can probably get answered in a reasonably comprehensive way without metaphorical ornamentation, but more sophisticated experience - "What is sex?" or "What is ambition?" - increasingly defies mere nouns and verbs; as experience becomes even more varied - "What is communication?" or "What is imagination?" - any usual way of talking is rendered entirely insufficient to the task of genuine, meaningful understanding.
If I asked you, "What is love?", or more personally, "What is your lover to you?", many feelings, good and bad, would flood very quickly into your thoughts. One would be entirely justified, however, to simply reply, "My lover is an eating, shitting, inexorably putrefying meat sack of bacteria." Now that statement is true of all humans and so, by definition, is uncontroversially true of my wife (logically uncontroversial; emotionally very controversial, so I don't recommend it as pillow talk). But it conveys nothing of how I feel about her, how she forces me to regard myself and my station in the world, or how profoundly she affects my entire experience of this (still very sweet but) inexorably putrefying life.
What is my lover to me? If we hope to uncover any useful revelations, gain some understanding and awareness from this mysteriously emotional exercise, then biological descriptions of a complex and invisible experience (like love - whatever that is) are not going to be appropriate. The truth of meat and bacteria are utterly irrelevant to the empirical core of this rather less objective matter. A journalistic account, with dates and times and quotes and events described in lurid detail, might provide a more interesting insight into the question, but it would still miss entirely the - dare I say it - spiritual heart of this ineluctable, irrational, fundamentally human experience. What we need for such questions is a poetic description.
"She is the sun and the stars to me!" lovers sometimes say (which is indeed more poetic than the non-poetic version: "She is the ontological totality that contains my entire emotional experience of space and time and matter and energy!"). Logically, the statement is nonsense, but as a poetic expression of attachment it is beginning to suggest some emotional connection of great consequence that would be difficult to state effectively in a more clinically realistic style. This example, however, is not particularly useful poetry because it fails to convey any insight into the overwhelming storm-cloud of fear and desire that is always churning around the phenomenon in question; to understand love we need a form of communication that can grapple with the paradoxical contradictions of the intoxicating, annoying, enchanting, frustrating, vivifying, devastating, exhilarating, viscera-grinding experience we all know so well, in our uniquely personal ways. It is precisely the challenge presented by such intractably slippery questions that poetry seeks to address.
And so that is the Poetry of the Nature I'm trying to find in these images: the unseen Story of Life as told by the Woman and the Man (and, yes, he is always somehow present in these paintings, even if you think you cannot see him). These are not (I hope) mere frivolous pictures of fairy-tale mountain kingdoms or sci-fi planets; they are not empty fantasies of pretty dresses and ferocious lizards (although I do think that gown looks great). These paintings aspire to be vistas onto some Inscrutable Truth, images of an Intention that has great expectations…and, furthermore, knows they will never be achieved…
Many people acquire a vague sense that they should aspire to some nebulous higher level of human achievement (whatever that means) than they currently enjoy. This aspiration comes in many forms, and quite often evolves in character as one gets older - that is, what the 20-year old seeks and what the same 50-year old seeks is not usually the same objective - but what remains constant in this unsatisfied class of hungry seekers is the nagging apprehension that "a piece of me is missing; I understand that there is something important that I do not understand." Mythologically speaking, this great reward that cannot be named is The Unattainable, a numinous prize beyond the wealth of empires that dwells over the observable horizon, protected from unworthy usurpers by The Landscape of the Impossible. And so many an adventure fable begins, with an uncertain first step into a unknown journey looking merely for existential completeness (whatever that is): "If I do not achieve this summit, I shall never succeed in my purpose; I will have failed my destiny, at great cost to my immortal soul…"
The Hindus have an interesting notion that there are 7 secret energy centers that sleep along the spine, and if you contort yourself just the right way, awareness of some previously mysterious wisdom will miraculously blossom like lotus flowers in the morning sun. Well, I guess that could be true is some subjective sense, but blooming flowers - beauty opening into the light - sounds like, not physiology, but poetry to me - a mystical vision of some invisible but important aspect of human existence. Within the Kundalini poetry of these 7 energy chakras are surprisingly simple descriptions of a hierarchy of appropriate human aspiration, a roadmap through the labyrinthine spiritual landscape of the soul, a concrete set of comprehensible objectives we must possess to prosper and endure to the ultimate fruition of this dangerous human experiment.
The 1st step, Muladhara, is the Will to Survival - the fundamental, most ancient and primitive of desires, the killing and consuming of other living things just to continue living.
The 2nd step, Swadhisthana, is the Will to Sexuality - the urge that cleverly co-opts the need to reach out from our loneliness and find sweet communion in the warm embrace with another…to perpetuate humans and their folly through time and space.
The 3rd step, Manipura, is the Will to Power - the inclination to organize the labor of many to create large structures of permanence, the making of society and the comparative security which arises from it, and thus acquire by deeds that most lucrative of rewards: Social Prestige.
The 4th step, Anahata, is the Will to Love - the difficult comprehension of the suffering of others, and a consequent compassionate suspension one's own interests in the service of another's.
The 5th step, Vishuddhi, is the Will to Communicate - the hope to preserve the benefits found on those previous 4 steps by distributing that wisdom as universally as possible; the fall from even the 5th step is precipitous and many would not survive it.
The 6th step, Ajna, is the Will to Imagine - the dream of visualizing useful new tools and systems of thought, and devising ever more effective ways of organizing their use, for the purpose of expanding the vista of human potential to its greatest extent.
The 7th step, Sahasrara, is the Will to Be Fully Conscious - the child-like faith that there is indeed some luminous prize beyond imagination waiting for us at the summit of our potential…
These stages in the evolution of consciousness are popularly visualized as a chromatic progression: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, and, for the Crown Chakra of liberated consciousness, UltraViolet - a mysterious, invisible color just beyond the spectrum of human visual acuity. The visible color chosen to represent invisible UltraViolet is a kind of magenta-purple, and there's a good reason to choose this color to represent Beyond what can Seen.
As I mentioned in my essay LotusWood, wave phenomena like light and sound have a curious property: when the frequency doubles (the wavelength is halved), even though twice as much energy is present, the waves also have a strange sameness, a mysterious consonance that in sound is called an octave. The musical note A3 has a frequency of 220 Hertz; the completely different note A4 has a frequency of 440 Hz. And yet, even though A4 is 12 notes higher than A3, it is also somehow the same note (e.g., think of the first 2 notes of Somewhere Over the Rainbow: "Some-where…"). The same phenomenon is a little harder to discern in colors because we are not able to see an entire octave of light - a complete doubling of frequency in electro-magnetic waves. The color red has a frequency of about 7000 angstroms and at the opposite end of the visible spectrum is violet at about 4000 angstroms; a full doubling of the red frequency does not occur until 3500 angstroms - the invisible color UltraViolet - which, by the Law of Octaves, we know is simultaneously twice as energetic as red…and also the same color as red. We do indeed see a hint of this chromatic tendency in the color violet, which, as every painter can tell you, is a color made by adding red to blue, the color which precedes violet in the spectrum; that is, violet is found in the chromatic progression from blue to red. For this reason, I believe the only correct color to suggest the presence of invisible UltraViolet is a glowing magenta-purple.
So in this image we see a representation of glowing UltraViolet energy indicating a harrowing ascent through 7 stages of spiritual progression to…well, something unattainably beautiful. But what about that dragon? The word kundalini means "coiled serpent", which expresses the idea that within us is a great, but primitively reptilian, force or shakti. This coiled serpent power is very good at surviving - it has been alive for millions of years - but requires the arduous training of Kundalini Yoga to perform tasks of any subtlety or nuance. So, as the story goes, the serpent-in-training slowly climbs up around the spine toward succeeding energy centers, agitating them, opening a changing mind to new perspectives on the changeless nature it inhabits. If the kundalini should reach Sahasrara (the crown chakra 4 finger-breadths above the head), it has thus been liberated from the corporeal body, and the bliss of Samadhi is achieved. It is true that there are no dragons in Hindu mythology, but this now mysteriously airborn kundalini shakti does not seem to be entirely misrepresented by a winged serpent, an UltraViolet Dragon, decorated also with the celestial blue that has guided his ambitions from far above.
And that other dragon in the distance? Although he is a small part of the picture, I have tried to indicate with extreme atmospheric perspective that he is very far away and so much be huge. There is another even more energetic invisible color at 1750 angstroms, and another at 875 angstroms, and so on, each color-octave more powerfully energetic, each one also somehow red. Each time we summit Mount Impossible and achieve the Unattainable UltraViolet, some new shimmering reward beckons in the hazy distance, and the struggle continues…
The Entrance Foyer
The Goddess Art of Jonathon Earl Bowser