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Painting the Numinous

of or characteristic of a numen; supernatural; divine
having a deeply spiritual or mystical effect
Webster’s New World College Dictionary

I made the distinction between what initially inspires me to paint and any subsequent claims about what the work does or achieves. With this in mind, the idea for the title of my series ‘Painting the Numinous’ came from a book called ‘The idea of the Holy’ by Rudolf Otto:

‘The book defines the concept of the holy as that which is numinous. Otto explained the numinous as a “non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self”. He coined this new term based on the Latin numen (deity.)’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Otto

Beginning with my automatic poem ‘Known in the Unknown’ I launched this series of works which explore the dynamic between freedom (automatism) and control (decision making.)

Drawing entitled "Known in the Unknown"

Known in the Unknown (2006)

I worked ‘toward an unknown end’ navigating a path between failure/destruction and resurrection/renewal. During the painting process I looked for an inner weight to begin to establish its presence. Although very subjective, I felt this begin to occur when the balance/tension between abstraction and figuration seemed to evoke in me the relationship between the physical and spiritual. In my mind this was mediated in the exploration of the relationship between control and accident in my handling of paint. When I sensed the weight and solidity of this relationship with visual clarity the painting was complete. Ultimately I allowed compositional control/accident to either make or break the work, and enable me to engage with the mystery and precariousness of painting.

I fuelled my imagination through reading and solitude (rather than visual stimuli) wanting to paint the essence of an idea; an internal rather than external vision. John O’Donohue’s book Divine Beauty talks about visiting beauty, and I held on to this concept as I reached out to the unknown, believing that the truth came unexpectedly. Technically this project involved attempting to work on a larger scale using mainly canvas or board and achieve the same intensity of vision I felt was possible when working on a very small scale using paper (as I had done previously.)

From the outset I have been inspired by a painting by Arnulf Rainer called ‘Wine Crucifix’ 1957/78 the installation of which, according to the Tate website, involved light shining through the cloth to reveal the shape of the cross: tate.org.uk It explores the relationship of the physical and spiritual dimensions from a Catholic perspective; the sacramental wine transformed into the blood of Christ (transubstantiation.)

I’m fascinated by the notion of materials as mediators of spiritual truth when processed through human hands as if the separation between the physical and metaphysical is grey and interconnected. It’s interesting that the artist felt compelled to rework the image years later, as if through repetition he sought to re-enter more deeply into the experience. I sense the rhythm of this idea expressed beautifully in a song by Van Morrison called ‘Behind the Ritual’

Spin and turning in the alley, spin and turning in the alley
Like a Whirling Dervish in the alley, drinking that wine
Drinking wine, making time in the days gone by


Painting entitled "Impermanence"

Impermanence (2007)

I like the inclusion of the whirling dervish which perhaps alludes to the mystic tradition behind the surface of the song. With the repetition of the words and images the real is concealed behind the banal, so that the implicit message of the song is expressed by explicit ordinariness. We find that the spiritual is discovered behind the ritual of everyday encounter.

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