Friday, December 3, 2010
As an artist I have been especially interested in the structure of the Mandala. The Mandala form is well known in Tantric art, and is used as a visual form for meditation. The Mandala can be a two dimensional image, which is like an Icon, helping the mind to find a centre for reflection. But the Mandala is also a three dimensional form, which revolves like objects in outer space. Basic geometric shapes like the square, triangle, and sphere, are what underlie the Mandala as a plastic and visible form.
Towards the close of the solar year, we find festivals dedicated to the Light. In India we have Diwali, when lights are lit in every home, inviting the goddess to com into the home and bless it. For Christians this is a time when festivals like All Souls, and later Christmas are celebrated. Here again we see that the idea of death, and birth, the tomb and the womb, are what concerns every human being, in a spiritual journey to discover the meaning of life. In my own home, my Father, who came from Punjab, used to make complex lantern frames out of bamboo sticks which he would then cover with transparent paper, and decorate with designs. This tradition of making lanterns for Diwali, which are called "kandeel" in the north of India, also relates to a Muslim tradition of making "Tazias" at the time of Moharam. I used to help my Father make these lantern forms, and then we would keep the lantern up for the coming year, and link it also with the symbols of Christmas. Through this process I learnt that all festivals are in a way inter connected, bringing people of different Faiths together in a celebration of life and light. This year I decided I would make a lantern Kandeel with decorative panels which use metaphors from the poetic tradition of the fifteenth century mystic and poet Kabir. Kabir was himself an inheritor of two important mystic traditions of North India; the Sufi world of Islam, and the Bhakti traditions of Hinduism. It is in this way that he is particularly significant for us today, as we try to find what is common to different religions, in a search for a spiritual and also social and political peace.
The psychologist Carl Jung was very interested in the structure and image of the Mandala. He believed that this form is archetypal, that is it transcends the particular culture in which it can be found, linking up with a similar structure to be found in all cultures. He thought that the Mandala is the form we give to meaning itself; it is a shape that emerges from the very way in which we think, and understand the world in which we live. Dreaming the Mandala with Kabir, is to recognize that the poetic world of this Indian mystic, has links to the spiritual language of metaphor that we find in all cultures around the world. In that sense it is particular, and connected with the concrete and everyday world of each place, and people, but is also universal, showing that essentially the most important images that we try to explore through our spiritual quest, are what link all peoples and cultures in a common pilgrimage towards an experience of the Divine.
Kabir spoke of the Gagan Mandala. This term 'Gagan' could mean just the sky, or atmosphere, or the seasons. It is the wholeness, or coming together of all the elements, comprising of earth, water, air and fire. It is the totality of experience. The word "Mandala" simply means a circle, but it is a circle in which all is contained. It is also an expanding circle. At the centre of this circle is the seed, or Bija. But from this point there are radiating lines of force. Thes are like rays of light. But these rays not only go outwards, they also circulate. And it is this circular movement within the Mandala structure that gives rise to the outer circumference of the Mandala form.
Creation is born out of the Cosmic womb of the Divine. The imagery of Kabir can be traced back to Tantric symbols which are concerned with the process of birthing. In the Vedas we are told that in the beginning all creatures emerged from a primordial egg, or golden germ. This egg was floating on the waters, and the gods observed it with wonder. They asked what it could be, and this question "what?" or "Ka?" was the name they gave to it. It is the zero, the nothingness, which is the basic unit from which all enumeration (samkhya) became possible.
Kabir often returns to the concept of emptiness, Sunya. He finds this emptiness in space itself. But without space, there could not be creation, because space and time are what creation is drawn from. Space is like the loom on which the threads of reality are stretched, and the shuttle goes back and forth, making the fabric that is woven out of vertical and horizontal strands. But always space lies at the heart of everything that we see as form. Without space, there would be no possibility for growth. So all visual or tangible forms are a combination of emptiness, or the boundless, and that which gives boundary, or outer form to this inner space.
Kabir was a weaver. In that sense he was a person who was interested in patterns. Benares is famous for its fabrics, which are richly ornamented with many designs. One of the famous patterns that we find in India is the mango pattern. This could be understood as the shape of the fruit of the mango tree. This tree is associated with sweetness, and also with love. The Mango tree is auspicious, and is used by Kama, the god of love, to make his arrows with which he pierces the heart of human beings. The mango pattern could also be related to the form of the heart.
Though Kabir was concerned with a reality which is beyond name and form, he uses elemental images to express what is "nirguna" or abstract. Images are constructed out of natural elements like earth, stone, or wood. Like the masks which actors on the stage wear, we have many faces, which represent our different moods, and changing identities. In one of his poems, Kabir says that the clay speaks to the potter, saying "just now you are kneading me into a lump from which you make your vessel, but a time will come when your body will also be kneaded, and will return to the clay from which God has fashioned you". It is this process of becoming, but also eventually returning to the original substance from which we have been made, that the mystic understands as life's journey.
One of the most fundamental symbols of Indian folk culture is the Full Vessel, or Purna Kumbham. The image of the full vessel is often found in Indian temples on the top of pillars. The full vessel, is related to the mind, in which the elexir of eternal life (amrit) is stored. At the beginning of time the cosmic oceans were churned. Out of this process of churning, the vessel of life emerged. This process of transforming what is changeable, and in a constant state of flux, like the waters of the ocean, into something that is everlasting, and beyond death, is what the process of Yoga is about.
Kabir lived by the river Ganges, in Benares. So water is an important metaphor for Kabir, symbolizing the source of life. According to myth, the river Ganges has descended from the heavens to bring fertility to the parched countryside. To fetch water from the holy river, people would come with earthen vessels to carry the water to their homes. This earthen vessel Kabir related to the body itself. He said that though there are many types and shapes of vessels, the water they carry is the same. Finally the earthen vessel breaks. That is what happens to the body also.
There is a sufi story about a well in a persian garden where a sufi saint would sit to meditate. During the day time the gardener would draw water from the well for the plants. One day he came to find that the garden was flooded with water. He was very surprised and angry, and suspected that it was the sufi monk who was sitting in the garden who had done this. So the gardener decided that the useless old man who spent his time praying in the garden was spoiling plants. So he threw the sufi out of the garden. But then to his surprise the tree under which the sufi used to sit, uprooted itself and followed the saint. Then all the plants seemed to pull themselves from the earth, and also began to follow the sufi. Even the well lifted up from the ground, and left the garden, in pursuit of the man of prayer. Then the gardener realized that the whole garden depended on the prayer of the sufi, and it was his inner life that brought the water up from the depths, and sustained the beauty of the garden. Then the gardener followed the Sufi, and begged him to return, so that his garden could once again be re-established.
Kabir is known for his up-side-down metaphors. He creates images out of opposites. So in one of his songs he speaks of a tree which is full of fishes. Fishes are meant to be in the waters, and are not like birds that live in trees. But in a sense a tree is like a river flowing upwards to the heavens. The sap which flows through the branches of the tree, is like a stream of life that instead of flowing downwards, defies gravity, and reaches for the skies. We are even led to believe that birds were originally fish that developed wings, whose scales turned into feathers. So what is below will come up, and this in fact is the basic principle underlying Kundaleeni Yoga, where the energy that lies at the base of the spine, slowly is lifted up, transforming the whole body.
In one of the songs ascribed to Kabir, we hear of a story that is found in the Jatakas, or former lives of the Buddha. There was a parrot who lived in the branches of a sandal wood tree in the forest. One day a fire spread from a clump of bamboos in the forest, and engulfed the whole forest. All the animals and birds fled. But the parrot refused to leave the tree which had been its home. The tree spoke to the bird, saying: You have wings, so fly away. I am a tree rooted in the ground, so I have to perish." But the bird refused to leave the tree that had been its dear friend and companion. However, seeing that soon both tree and bird may be destroyed, the parrot decided to fly to a nearby pool, where it flapped its wings in the water, and carried some drops that it sprinkled on the sandal wood tree. Back and forth the bird went carrying a few drops of water from the pool in the hope of quenching the forest fire. The gods were watching this brave effort of the parrot, and Garuda, the Sun bird came down to earth to see what this little bird was doing in the burning forest. Garuda was so moved by the love of the bird for the tree, that tears began to fall from his eyes. When Garuda weeps, the clouds begin to rain, and so finally the forest was saved from the fire, and the sandal wood tree was not consumed.
Kabir spoke of burning the home. The home is like the nest of the Cosmic bird. In mythology there is always a tension between the heavenly bird, and the serpent that has its home in the earth. The serpent is sometimes called the "Vasthu Sarpa" or serpent of the inhabited place. The Bird attacks and destroys this serpent with its fiery wings. The home is now taken up and consumed by the fire of the spirit.
Kabir refers to Sunya Shikhara, or the mountain of emptiness. This is like the high peaks of the Himalayas, over which the Hamsa flies. In the heart of the mountain there is a cave, which is also a symbol of the heart. This cave or Guha, is between heaven and earth. It is here that we can hear the cosmic sound, or unstruck note which could be related to the Word that brings all creation into being. The Shabda, or Primal Word, is also the sound AUM, which the sacred Name of the Divine. The Hamsa has a particular cry, which is like Ham--sa--ham--sa--ham----. This could be interpretted as the sanskrit 'Sa ham' which means "I am that". Here the soul discovers its identity in the Divine Presence that resides in the cave of the heart.
One of the most important images that we find in the poetry of Kabir is that of the Hamsa, which is a bird in flight. This bird crosses over the Himalayas, and is known to circle round Lake Mansarova at the foot of Mount Kailash. It then descends to the Indian planes. It becomes a metaphor for the soul.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
The image of the “Cross of Light” which is a non-figured Cross, relates I feel to an approach to Christian iconography in Asia that has a cosmic dimension. The Cross of Light, which is the Cross that the emperor Constantine saw in a vision before he decided to become a Christian, is a cosmic sign, which the early Church understood as being the inner mystical significance of the cross on which Jesus died. This Cross relates to the Buddhist understanding of the Mandala, and can be understood in the context of what might be termed the “Yoga of Christ”.
During the first thousand years from around four hundred to fourteen hundred of our common era the Nestorian Church of Persia sent out missionaries who reached as far as China. As mentioned earlier, the Venerable Alopen, left behind “Twenty seven standard books. These set forth the great conversion for the deliverance of the soul”. The Nestorians believe that there is a profound link between the teachings of Zoroaster, Buddha and Jesus about this inner path to enlightenment. The “way of Light” could be understood as an inner journey to self realization.
In India we have the Syrian Christian Church, which has an extremely complex history of Church architecture and objects like standing crosses, lamps, and so forth. The fact is that the Nestorians were declared heretical by the Catholic Church, and part of the reason why they had this mission to the Far East, was precisely because they were pushed out from the Western Church. Also their idea that there was a link between Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Christian doctrines, was considered syncretistic from a Roman Catholic position, and therefore dangerous. The whole debate about what was heretical about the Nestorians, and what was the real issue concerning he natures of Jesus both human and Divine, is now much debated. The idea of a cross which is abstract, that is to say has no human figure on it, relates to an Apophatic mystical tradition which insists that God is beyond the human imagination, and cannot be represented. We can only speak of this Divine dimension through symbols which are pointers to an Uncreated Light which has the power to transform our lives. The great standing crosses that we find outside Syrian Christian Churches are supposed to represent the Axis of the Universe, but also a ray of the Divine Light which enters into the world.
The concept of empire, was applied to a religious imagination of Heavenly rule, reaching out to all peoples. This was the basic impulse behind a belief in Mission, not just as a process of subjugating or controlling by a centralized authority, but rather as a crossing over boundaries.
However, this sense of Mission was often used by the colonial ambitions of European nations that wanted to control trade routes vital to the evolving economic growth of Western states. Christian forms of art that had evolved over the centuries in Europe were taken to Asia, as examples of what all Christian art should be like. Thus Jesus and the Saints were represented as typically European figures, taking no notice of the fact that Asian Christians had a very different cultural history, life style, and sense of identity. European forms of architecture, liturgy, music, and even language, were transported abroad to Asian lands.
The Second Vatican Council provided a new theological basis for what was termed a process of “inculturating” the Church into local cultures in the non-Western world. This process was understood as a way of incarnating the Divine Word into another cultural context, by using local forms to embody what was understood as being the Universal principles underlying the Gospel. This valuing of cultures other than what characterizes European civilization, led also to the translating of the Bible into many other languages. The process of translation cannot simply be a literal one. Words, like images, carry their own ambience of meanings, and symbolic over-tones, which draw on the memory, and mytho-poetic world from which cultures have emerged.
The Judeo-Christian or ‘Abrahamic’ Faith, arose from a prophetic interrogation of spiritual traditions. Fundamental to a Faith that reaches beyond the local, is a belief in the Universal as incarnated into the particular and historical. In this context the diversity of cultures, like the diversity which characterizes nature itself, has to be celebrated as a God-given richness, pointing to an ultimate unity beyond differences.
The Prophetic critique of “false images” which was often used to reject the images of other cultures, was originally an effort to recognize that all images, whether in Europe, Asia or Africa, are human images, and are therefore inadequate to express that Truth which lies beyond name and form. This Apophatic rejection of what is understood as idolatry, applies to the human tendency to define and contain a Reality that transcends our human imagination.
Ancient settled economies based on fertile lands, irrigated by river systems, gave rise to social structures that were highly centralized, and hierarchical. Gradually these agrarian cultures developed systems of commerce whose focus was newly emerging cities. Kingdoms extended rule over surrounding scattered communities on the fringes of established empires.
These empires evolved systems of communication, which incorporated ancient nomadic routes that linked cultures within a larger all embracing unity. This unity became civilizations, which were increasingly defined in terms of Religions with distinctive myths and images .
Trade routes function in several ways. Originally the way migrant peoples crossed the landscape, these routes were travelled by pilgrims, helping in the process of regional integration. They were also the way conquering armies extended their sphere of influence.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
ANGELS AND THE SPIRITUAL IN ABSTRACT ART.
A word of explanation.
The theme of angels in relation to the Buddhist-Hindu concept of Yakshas, or spirits of the vegetation, has been associated with New Age movements like the one that evolved at Findhorn. I have personally found the ideas of the theologian Margaret Barker and what she has to say about “Temple theology” very interesting. The basis of her Temple theology is summed up in the following way: “Temple theology traces the roots of Christian theology back into the first Temple, destroyed by the cultural revolution in the time of King Josiah at the end of the seventh century BCE.”
Personally I am very interested in Sacred Space, and how concepts of space have informed the spiritual art both in the Celtic and Syrian Christian tradition which we find in South India. The image of the Temple space has played an important part in imagining the relation of Heaven to Earth. The Temple is a microcosm, and this becomes itself an image of the “Heavenly Hierarchies”, which we find described in great detail by theologians like the Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, also known as “Pseudo-Denys”, who was a Christian theologian and philosopher of the late 5th to early 6th century. His great work on the ‘Heavenly Hierarchies’, and also on the ‘Names of God’, provided the middle ages with a basis for many of the masterpieces of Gothic art, like at Chartres. But he was also a theologian who laid the foundation for an ‘apophatic’ spirituality, that is a recognition that God ultimately is beyond all names and forms, and that the images we create are only our effort to embody an intuition of reality which is outside the domain of rational and discursive thought.
It is in this sense also that I would like to understand the angelic world as essentially abstract, or what in India is known as “Nirguna”. It was this intuition that was reinforced in my mind when I was asked to attend a small workshop of seven artists, brought together in the locality of Chorin, which is about 50 km from Berlin towards the Polish border. There, near an ancient Cistercian monastery which was founded about a thousand years ago, we were asked to give expression to our image of the ‘spirit of the place’. These pictures were later exhibited at this archaeological and tourist site.. The present ruins of the Chorin Monastery is a popular tourist attraction, and many concerts are held in the restored Church building which is itself like a musical instrument, in that it has wonderful acoustic richness. This brick built Gothic architecture became a model for a German understanding of its ancient Gothic style, which inspired a romantic idea of the ruin as a symbol of a spirituality rooted in the landscape.
While in Chorin I was shown a book containing many of the prints which Paul Klee made around the theme of the Angel. Important for him also was the image of the ‘Angel of Death.’ The following images are only an introduction to what could be expanded as an approach to the image of the Angel that points to the future of our planet earth. It is in this sense I have also tried to represent the ‘Angel of Ecology’.
An important aspect of the iconography related to Angels, is the symbolic importance of wings and flight. This includes both the idea of crossing boundaries, but also light, as the ancient image of the sun that we find in Egyptian art is of the Sun with wings which represent the rays of light. In the series of drawings which I did for the book of reflections written by Dr. Eric Lott on the healing works of Jesus, which he entitled “Healing Wings”,I used the image of the white goose, or swan known in India as the Hamsa, which is also related to the spirit, and to light (the Hamsa is nearly always shown as the finial of the Indian standing lamp.) The white wild swan is also very important in the Celtic tradition, and some have referred to the Angel as having “Wings of Desire” (for example the film by Wim Wenders, in the English version of the “Angel over Berlin”.)
In the art of the East, mythical birds like the Phoenix, or the Garuda, or Simurgh in the Persian Sufi parable, the winged creature is not only a messenger, but also a spirit that longs for the limitless, and searches beyond the bounds of human knowledge. It is this search for the Truth that crosses over cultural differences, which I feel is an important aspect of our present interest in the primal figure of the Angel.
Angels and the cosmos of Faiths.
I have been looking at the book on Angels by Jane Williams (2006). Introducing the subject of Angels, she writes : “Angels feature in all religious traditions, and people of different ages and different faiths or no faith at all have encountered them”. In Germany I found that many people are interested in Angels, perhaps because there is a kind of mythical element in angels, and they seem closer to our world than "God" which seems so abstract. In fact I think in the ‘Kabala’ it was thought that it was the Angels, rather like Wisdom, that represented the energies of God, working in nature. It was an Angel that was present in the Burning Bush, for example. It would be interested to know what Theologians think about the significance of Angels for today. In India, I have been in contact with a theologian who has interpreted the Book of Revelations in the light of political movements in a country facing Justice as well as ecological problems. What is important about our concept of the Angel, is that these spiritual Beings are inter-faith, representing a deep need in all cultures to respect the Spiritual powers and principalities that guide our political decisions. Angels have a very important place in the Islamic tradition, and we also find similar Beings in Hindu and Buddhist myths and legends. We can find a deep sense of angelic presences in the primal world of folk traditions.
Personally I have always had a devotion to Angels, and it is this angelic world that helps me as a Christian, in my encounter with those spiritual forces and symbols that mean so much to me in other religions. I feel that an understanding of the angelic can help us approach inter religious dialogue in an intuitive, and spiritual way. Angels are messengers, and in that sense they cross boundaries, reaching out to all cultures, and peoples. It is in this sense that angelic beings have featured in many of my own paintings. I would like to introduce some of these images, and what gave rise to them in the following brief reflections.
This picture represent the “Fiery Furnace” that I find an evocative image. Perhaps the Furnace could relate to culture as a whole. Here, in a Mandala form, I thought of the movements of the body that are part of a series of gestures that are known as the ‘Surya Namashkar’, or greeting to the morning sun. This cycle of yogic postures are linked to the forms that we can find also in classical Indian dance movements. Traditionally the angels are thought to be spirits that continually dance before the Creator, in an eternal circle dance of light and joy. One could almost call this dance the ‘Yoga of the Angels’. In that sense the Angels represent the energies of God, and reflect the Divine Presence within creation.
2. Three Angels
The series of Angel figures that I worked on when I was in Germany, thinking about the ‘Spirit of the Place’ in the ancient ruin of the Cistercian abbey at Chorin, developed the idea that there is an angelic presence in a Holy Place. I have been very much impressed by the idea of the “Angel of History” that the German Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin spoke of, and which the artist Paul Klee tried to represent. So I decided to think about the Angel-presence in this ruined historic building, which was first constructed by monks from Citeaux, who had been invited to come to these “Marches of the Dukes of Brandenburg”, to start agriculture in a wild and forested area. In this image I was thinking of the three angels who came to visit Sarah and Abraham, and camped under the sacred oaks of ‘Mamre’. I used the architectural forms of the brick Minster, where we find a whole series of windows, that have intricate Mandala patterns made from local clay, and then fired. The Mandala form of the window represents the open heart of the angelic presence, which symbolizes the Trinity that is both the unity, and diversity to be found in nature.
This is another picture of mine which was done in the early nineties, and was originally planned as a Tabernacle setting. Elijah, we are told, (1 Kings 19:5-9a) was deeply despondent, and in his sleep an angel appeared and laid a vessel of water beside him, along with some scones for him to eat, and then in the strength of that food he walked for forty nights and days until he reached Horeb, and there in a cave he heard the still small voice (I Kings 19:9b-16). That is a theme I have repeatedly returned to, as the image of the cave, as a place of receiving inspiration is close to the Indian tradition where we hear of the "Cave of the Heart". I have wondered if the angelic energies could also be related to moods which we have, which I feel can be transformed into ‘feelings for God.’ Monks in the desert often felt profound moods like depression, sorrow or anger. These moods are not just human impulses, but come to us through the whole of nature, and represent a deep connection which we have with the seasons, and the way in which nature also passes through different modes.In Indian aesthetics these are called Rasas, or essences, which inform our imaginative response to our human condition in this world. In fact one could even relate this to the different musical forms, that also evoke feelings which can be either joyful, or dark and despairing.
Over the last twenty years I have been particularly interested in what I have called ‘Primal Faith systems’, such as we find in the tribal cultures of India. I have been very much impressed by such powerful images that we see in pre-historic art forms, like in the caves of ‘Edakkal’ that are in the Wyanad district of South India, in North Kerala. These figures remind one of tribal art forms that we see among the Saora tribes of the East of India, or the Warli art of the West coast. I have made many sketches of these figures and from these sketches which are quite abstract, I created a series of Angel forms that represent for me the ‘Bhutas’, or spirits of the Earth, which tribal peoples in India believe in. These figures are like guardians of the vegetation, and later came into Buddhist art as the ‘Yakshas’, or presences that inhabit the sacred grove.
This image is part of the triptych of Angels that represent the Elements. It is similar in a way to the work I did on the Angel in the fiery furnace which we find in the book of Daniel, into which the three youths were thrown by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. (The fiery furnace is a passage from the Book of Daniel (chapter 3). In a sense one could say that the Vedic gods like ‘Agni’ (the god of fire) were angelic forces, that are not only physical phenomena, but are deeply numinous presences. This was the idea of Owen Barfield in his book ‘Poetic Diction’, which was to very much influence people like C.S. Lewis and Tolkein. Dom. Bede Griffiths also refers to this in his book on the ‘Marriage of East and West’.
6. The Angel of water.
The Angel represented here is like the angel that we are told stirred the waters of the sacred pool of Bethesda which was associated with healing. There are many accounts of angels who are healing energies or energies of life present in water, especially wells or springs. I tried to show that this angel comes out of the stirring of water, rather like the installation by Bill Viola which was entitled : Five Angels for the Millennium, exhibited at the Tate Modern.
7. Apocalyptic angel
I have often wanted to paint a series of pictures on the book of the Apocalypse. In fact another series of Angels which I did was on the Angels of the Churches which Mary Lewis has in her home at Welsh Poole. This image is rather like a ‘Thankha’ tapestry with the angelic Person who could also be called the “Son of Man”, a term that is applied to Jesus. Muslims also have a whole very complex idea of Angel beings, some of whom are also thought to be satanic. This was probably because they were drawn from ancient tribal cosmologies, thought to be at variance with an Abrahamic faith in the One God. This picture was originally intended for a poster which was used during Advent.
Deborah, one of the prophetesses of Israel sings a song of deliverance (Judges 5). Verses 3-11 link the giving of the Law at Sinai with the deliverance of the Israelites from the Canaanites. At Sinai, God made a covenant with Israel. But in the song of Deborah this deliverance is represented as a Cosmic event. The “stars” joined in the fight, doing battle against Sisera. Torrential rains turned the river Kishon into a raging flood.
They fought from heaven,
The stars in their courses.......
But they that love Him
Be as the sun going forth in its might.
I was very struck by a book written by Martin Buber on the Old Testament, where he discusses this ancient hymn of Deborah. As far as I can remember Buber links this hymn of deliverance to a psalm which speaks of the Lord riding on the Storm clouds. Of course it is an almost terrifying image of the God of Hosts, who does battle. In Psalm 18 we read :” He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind”. It is this cosmic vision that underlies the way in which the Angels are represented in the Bible, I feel. And it is that cosmic vision of primordial forces that comes close to the myths that are so important in the Indian tradition.
Here this angel of the storm is above the holy mountain Shiva Ganga not far from where we live--perhaps you visited it. The gods of the storm are called the Maruths in India, and the image of the storm is very important in Indian thought, related I feel to the onset of the Monsoons.
This design was turned down, because the Tribal ‘Bhils’, for whom it was made, said it reminded them of the ‘Bhuthas’, or ghosts of the forest that they had left behind them when they became Christian. Eventually this cartoon was bought by a Canadian called Klaus Klostermaier who teaches comparative religions. I do feel that it is important that when visualizing the image of the Angel the figure is not just sweet and pretty. For me that is often what is most dissatisfying in the Angels that the Pre-Raphaelites like Burne Jones painted. The angels were awesome, and could inspire dread.
This does lead us to the question of ambiguity in the Angelic Beings. Lucifer, who carried the light, was also the source of darkness and evil. In Indian mythology we have the Asuras as opposed to the Devas--both represent elements of the divine energies present in Creation. By simply discounting the dark forces that we experience in the world around us, like rejecting the negative feelings we experience in anger or despair, we risk turning the world of the Angels into something that has no depth, and becomes only decorative.
Going back to the Abbe Jules Monchanin, who was the first to found ‘Shantivanam Ashram’ as the “Sat Chit Ananda Ashram” dedicated to the Trinity, there has been an effort among Indian theologians to relate the concept of Trimurthy, which is particularly important in the Shaivite tradition, to the Christian understanding of Trinity. Monchanin spoke of India as being the land of the Trinity. Raimondo Panikkar wrote an important essay on the Trinity in the World Religions. Dom Bede Griffiths introduced me to this concept, and as a result I painted many images of the Trinity as Trimurthy over the years.
This picture is perhaps one of the first attempts I made, when I was with Dom Bede Griffiths in ‘Kurisumala Ashram’ in Kerala.The figures of Abraham
and Sarah are dressed in the Syrian Christian tradition.
This was done two years ago in Chorin, and represented the crucified angel in the primal forest. In a way this is like a Primal Person in the forest, who could also be a crucified Angel, like the one that St.Francis of Assisi had a vision of at Alverno,, and from whom he received the Stigmata. The Indian concept of the Primal Person or Adi Purusha, could be related to the Angel. Often a human being can be seen as an Angel, as St. Benedict suggests in his Rule for monks, where he says that we should offer hospitality to everyone, because on many occasions those whom we entertain, may in fact be angels in disguise. The line between the human and the angelic is not clear. In fact we can suggest that the Angelic Presence is where the human meets and interacts with the whole of Creation.
This image of the Angel in the flames, was related to the red bricks of the Church which were fired by the monks using the trees which they cleared in order to do agriculture, and the very rich clay which is in that place, related to the ancient lakes that go back to the ice age. I think what I was particularly thinking of was the sacred place as almost an oven, or place where matter is being transformed. In the past I have done a number of pictures on the angelic persence that was in the great fire which was constructed to consume the three youths Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3). I found that a story explaining the origin of the Indian ritual of ‘Arathi’, or the waving of a lamp before the mystery of the Divine darkness, also spoke of the Divine Presence which was sensed by the three great mystics of the Vaishnavite tradition who are known as the Alvars. This mystery of the fourth Being, which is the Divine presence who comes to join those who are his true believers, is perhaps behind the idea that where “two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst.” This idea of the Angel that is present in the community of believers, could also explain the “Angels of the Chrurch’s” which we find described in the Book of Revelations.(Revelation 1:11)
13. Angels of the past.
As I mentioned earlier, the idea of Walter Benjamin concerning the “Angel of History” which looks both forward and backwards, has inspired me. According to Walter Benjamin, “This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward.” It is this vision of history as determined by angelic forces that the artist Paul Klee represented in his 1920 painting Angelus Novus.
Here in this picture of mine, I wanted to represent the presences that I felt particularly in the inner space of the ruined monastic Minster at Chorin. Here I felt that the angels were almost like the spirits of the ancient monks who had chanted there. In a way the monastic tradition arose from an idea that to be a contemplative monk was like living the angelic life here on earth. The angels are contemplative presences around the throne of God. They are always overshadowing, so to say, the Holy place, as in the Temple that Solomon built, where angels were represented as enclosing, or covering the Tabernacle, or the place of reconciliation between God an the human community. The Holy of Holies is the place of the Angelic presences.
14. Angel of Ecology.
This is another of the series of Angels that I worked on in Chorin.
There were many lakes in that area, and the place has become very much concerned with ecology. So I thought of a kind of green man who is also an angel. Here the heart of the angel is related to the waters. I also related the idea of the angel to the ruin. Owen Barfield in his book on ‘Poetic Diction’ devotes a whole section to the Ruin. He says that the word derives from an ancient root which means something flowing like water, that is constantly in a state of flux, and changing. Earlier, I had done angels related to the elements. In fact I had thought that one could see the three angels Gabriele, Raphael and Michael as very close to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The Angels in the Biblical tradition were ancient Canaanite gods who were absorbed into the mythic world of the Hebrew peoples.
15. Angel of the Landscape.
I have represented Angels as part of my interest in the landscape. In the image of the three Angels as part of an Indian landscape, with a Banyan tree, and again a mountain from which is flowing a stream of water, I was thinking of the whole landscape as filled in a way with angelic forms. I suppose that some people might feel that this is an almost pantheistic way of understanding the angelic as the inner spiritual dimension of nature. But as I have tried to suggest, what I am hoping to express through my art is what some theologians have called a ‘panentheism’ which is also a Cosmic world view that goes beyond nature as we experience it around us, to encompass a universal vision that includes the whole of creation as being in a way the “Body of God.”