Donnerstag, 3. Januar 2008
This essay is published in ARCHITEXTUREN
The Promethean Integral Artist
Philip Rubinov Jacobson
»Let the beauty we love be what we do.«
I first became aware of De Es Schwertberger in 1971. It was a year after I had seen reproductions of the art work of his Austrian mentor, Ernst Fuchs. Not long afterwards, at the tender age of 19, I found myself at Castle Wartholz, in Reichenau, Austria, working under the tutelage of Ernst Fuchs and his assistants, De Es Schwertberger and Wolfgang Männer. In the 35 years that have passed since meeting De Es, our relationship has continued to grow, evolve, change and expand; not unlike the remarkable evolution of his multifaceted artistic life. I have observed the evolution of De Es' work and have become intimately acquainted with his creative process, artistic intentions, psychological, philosophical and spiritual transformations. Qualities that I personally value and highly admire in the artistic domain include versatility, artistic growth, creative courage and spiritual transformation. These are all qualities that De Es possesses in great abundance. Versatility and artistic growth have both become extremely rare and nearly vacant in the arid wilderness of contemporary art. There is a lack of change and genuine growth in self-awareness in most artists. And hardly any recognition and acknowledgement of evolutionary qualities in the administration and handling of finances in the contemporary art scene.
This lack of growth and creative courage can be found in all media of the fine arts, the fads and fashions that fly by overnight like the exhaust from so many passing automobiles on a road with a short destination to a stagnant pond. In addition, too many artists continue to produce the same imagery, decade after decade. The spiritual impetus and inspiration behind the initial intentions of artists are all too often abandoned, cashed-in, for the formulas and fads that serve as a carte blanche at the Bankomat, or ATM, of the Art Market Machine.
In contrast, De Es has remained true to his »calling« as an artist, as surely as the priest has been »called« to his faith. Perhaps, the most remarkable thing about the evolution of his work, despite the seemingly dramatic and radical changes in his art, is the continuity behind his artistic metamorphosis and that this is something that the public has been, in general, unaware of, which can finally be remedied through this premiere exhibition and catalogue on his latest works. His works of the past fifteen years, in particular, offer us a fresh vision, a beacon of light. His paintings assist in the melting away of the repetitive fall of acid snow of art that is all too often vulgar, violent, and vacant. The chilling scams of anti-art-»art« and the »art for art's sake« philosophy crumble alongside the work of De Es. When genuine truth and beauty is seen, the superficial is exposed and its inevitable decay and death gives way to the Tree of Life. As an artist, De Es, with his new paintings, bring us a nourishment of artistic light and life.
The over-emphasis on becoming a »specialist« in the ever-expanding fields of human activity has also spilled over into the domain of art, encouraging an »icon-nomics« of style that generates artistic profits, instead of creative prophets. Underlying both the personal impulses to growth and creative enterprise are the fundamental impulses that seek a unity of consciousness. This integral impulse has been the very »terra firma« upon which De Es stands. The simple »secret« behind the diversity and creative courage that De Es expresses in his art is that there has always been this philosophical and spiritual quest that remains a constant matrix to his artistic motivation. It cannot be overstated that upon close examination of De Es' whole body of work, it becomes increasingly apparent how each of his so-called »periods« are truly integrated. The past, as it proceeds into the present and even announces the future of his artistic life, becomes obvious. For De Es, this creative process takes the form of a scientific-like laboratory of aesthetic experiments. I asked him about this lab-like approach that he engaged in his creative process, and he replied: »I always did this. As soon as I had found a new idea I did little sketches where I tried to find every possible placement of things and figures in relationship to each other; to find out the best way to express the essence of the idea.« In his pursuit of »essence«, there is a paradox: That which is »born of intuition« seems to almost contradict that which is a result of scientific method, or of »the rational«. In contrast to his earlier works, his recent work reveals a more fresh and free expression, and yet his inner creative process and production of aesthetic ideas remains relatively unchanged. The difference, in my view, is that his creative process has undergone a refinement, allowing more of the »moment« to take on a significant role in his creative productions. At such times, at its apex, even preconceived ideas may be abandoned altogether, or modified so much, that the original idea becomes swept away by a wind much greater than his personal breath of vision. For De Es, this artistic dance between will and surrender draws ever closer to a rhythm and musical flow, a visual language that is both personal and universal, indeed, an integral art of »essence«.
For example, in one of our informal discussions on art, I brought up his »Stone Period«, and conveyed to him that there was a wonderful methodology in his creative process. From my view, it seemed to come into play even when he was dealing with ideas and imagery that came from another realm, non-ordinary states of consciousness; or from invisible forces behind the visible planes of matter. This exquisitely grounded practice of painting, that also reveals an evolution in consciousness within De Es, and for that matter, any responder to art, was of particular interest to me at the time. In talking with De Es he responded very directly: »Once I have something I squeeze it very methodically and thoroughly.« He then mischievously, but innocently, laughed a little and so did I.
He had taken on a bird's eye view, an artistic perspective through scientific spectacles, and added: »… to find the optimal positioning of the light; the angle that would express my idea in the best way, I did hundreds of little sketches without any aesthetic purpose behind it. I just did experimental scribbling until I was absolutely certain that I was ready to begin the painting. Though this approach, I figured out the exact size and proportions of the painting ground. For me it was very important to have a clear-cut idea before starting a painting. I wasn't really interested in how it looks, just as I was not interested in flowers or still lives, or anything one would expect from a painter. I was not interested in the approach, to make something just for the sake of beauty. In the same way, I was not interested in painting something ›fantastic‹ just for the sake of creating beautiful or astounding fantasies. I actually wanted to get away from fantasy to bring it all back to the real ground of existence.«
Following this inner guidance and self-direction, his »fantastic« depictions of the underworld and the Jungian-like archetypal forces at work behind them, did not last long. This culminated in his triptych: The Lifepoles (which came at the end of his »Stone Period« he had started in Switzerland), and De Es added: »... I began to paint floating stones hovering above grassy fields. But soon the grass disappeared and my subjects became strange forces that acted within these barren landscapes. Mountain tops lifted off the ground and floating rocks were split into halves, and the earth underneath them too. The cut went through everything. This was an exciting idea because it could show something very basic about life, about the principle of duality that rules everything. This cut doesn't stop anywhere. Isn't human consciousness beginning when ›the One‹ separates itself into ›the Two‹? Also the phenomenon of the symmetry of the human body came into play at this point as well. At this time science was very preoccupied with researching the connections between the two hemispheres of the brain. When I moved to Switzerland I felt that my period of painting ›robots‹ …« (which came at the tail-end of his immersion in Fantastic Art) »… was also finished.
Looking at life's mechanical aspects couldn't yield more images about the human condition. I was reading a great deal from authors like Erich von Däniken, Timothy Leary, Louis Pauwels and similar stuff. Conceptual art appeared in the galleries and made a mark in my head. During this time of research I did about 150 works on paper. ›The cut that goes through everything‹ was a major discovery in my laboratory. There was ›the horizontal cut‹ and ›the vertical cut‹ and when the lines are crossing we come to ›the point zero‹. The subsequent paintings are metaphors about this ground-map of existence: We are always operating within these major fields of construction, these dualities within this grid of existence.«
For De Es, a mind-set advocating a hierarchical view is barely present in regard to the arts, instead, his paintings and writings express a holarchy that is inclusive of everything, where the realm of fantastic/visionary art is no longer »exclusive« in his search for the »essence« of life and creation. De Es remarks on this as well: »In my search for essence, the fantastic seemed limited for my pursuit, because fantasy usually is just about creating a new spectacle, adding more illusions to what we already have. In my own way, actually, I was opposing purely fantastic art. It was a search for an image that would show some truth; speak out from the ground of existence, reveal the way it is. It was in this manner, that I was finding my real personal content, my very own subject, my very own self. This was my primary motivation.«
To enter the »Realm of Essence« he had to learn to live without preconceived notions; of how art should look like, even how he should perceive life and how he should respond to it. Cast adrift from the »fantastic« dead weight of his past and without any anxiety over the future, he then could enter the Here and Now, the present moment of what was, for him, his »real personal content«, his »very own subject matter«. De Es' latest works of energetic and varied explorations are hard to categorize. They are a hybrid of abstract, expressionistic and multi-dimensional images of a dynamic architectural »Integral Art«. Whatever art-critics may have to say about these recent works, one thing is clear: We can begin to understand why De Es has not stayed in one single room of an infinitely large Creative Mansion. A place that many of us artists drift away from, even becoming »homeless«, and then spend a life-time searching for the essence of our true nature and home, our very own Creative Mansion.
The Creative Mansion of De Es
In the confusing maze of modern art and life, we all long to return »home« to the Creative Mansion within from which we suffer the illusion of separation. For the integral artist, the Creative Mansion must be built to rejuvenate the soul and ultimately serve to inspire others. When one is »called« to do this, to navigate and pass through the wilderness of a contemporary art world, that is, generally, indifferent to an art of the soul, such a calling requires that the artist reconnect to the mansion of creative powers. The artist must »move in«.
The petrified pillars supporting this superficial and often soul-less forest of contemporary art are crumbling, as they rarely contain the Plotinusian strength of Beauty, Truth and Goodness. In his book, The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche spoke about what he called »the myth-less man« of the industrial West, who was fired up by the energies of material progress but at the same time troubled by an immense nostalgia:
»And now the myth-less man stands eternally hungry, surrounded by past ages, and digs and grubs for roots, even if he has to dig for them among the remotest antiquities.«
Thrown into this contemporary myth-less-mindscape and irony, De Es has demonstrated a remarkable tenacity from the very beginning, which has nourished the growth of his artistic spirit. This has been (and continues to be) creatively expressed in an artistic spectrum that has gone from a mystical precisionism to a devotional abstraction. His accomplishments have resulted from visiting every nook and cranny of the Creative Mansion on the inside, while never turning his eyes away from the world and the stars above, to which man, mansion and mission is interconnected. De Es' work constantly reminds us of this, even aids us as wayward souls in returning home. In his capacity as a »consciousness-cartographer«, he is navigating the myth-less man back home to the Creative Mansion. Here the view outside the windows widens a connection to the Web of Life, the very fabric of energy and matter that weaves its way on to the canvas of his paintings.
In the Lion's Den
Approaching the Absolute of the »Uncreated« involves the courage to move through one's deepest fears. Such an undertaking, as evidenced in the evolution of this artist's work, expresses this journey of consciousness, ever widening one's view from its egocentric point of origin. Through the spiritual imagination, illusion is destined to unveil enlightenment. We have the opportunity, in this exhibition, of seeing it unfold, and that is a very powerful and contagious thing. Knowing that his art reveals this potential experience within all of us is inspirational. Art has always been a guide toward integrating and inspiring higher forms of beauty, truth and goodness. As a responder to the art of De Es, it is my sincere wish that his work become as much a blazing Promethean fire of inspiration for you, as it has been for me. When I spoke to De Es about this he said:
»Basically everybody stands there in life as the artist, groping creatively into the unknown future to find a shape according to his or her own taste. This is the everyday lesson of art: Finding out what there is tomorrow and how it fits our very own taste. Groping into the Void – if this existential urge is blocked, people just buy into other stuff, and if this continues they suffocate creatively and get buried under the stuff made by others. Today there is so much pressure to consume and the creative self must fight very hard to shake it all off, to find out what it really wants and to establish and secure its own creative space. I think it is very hard in our days to become an artist who really says something in the voice of Spirit, in which the creative spark stays alive and the visions in motion«. This is an art of significant transcendence; it marries prior and present experiences with future-vision. It is embodied in a medium of expression that enlarges, raises, inspires and transforms the awareness of both artist and community. An integral art is none other than a fusion of experience; a transformation that expresses the spontaneity and novelty arising from a more integrated individuality meeting collective purpose. The artist's work aspires to awaken the enlightened mind, stir the divine heart and to reconnect with a greater Reality. Such creative workers help us to recognize the fact that we have no future except for what we envision.
A truly integral artist
Integral artists find inspiration through numerous methods and sources, visible and invisible. While De Es may touch on many aspects of the creative process, it is indeed an appropriate term that he uses in describing his own inventive arena as a kind of »laboratory«. He has that unique quality that few artists possess that combines the mind of an Aristotle with Platonic energies of exploration in the pursuit of truth through beauty.
His recent works reflect the great mystery through abstract architectural forms. His visions are reified through skill, expressing an art of the spirit. Here, »techne« serves as the handmaiden to »psyche«. He builds in pictorial layers of perpetual and conceptual visual-motion, waiting and then acting on an invisible guidance that comes in intervals. Some of his works move toward a more passionate and undeniably human expression where abstract forms and expressive color depend heavily on the artwork mixing together in the eye of the beholder. Then there are those pieces that take on a life of its own, literally guiding him toward completion and in the end, the work itself transforms the artist and – subsequently – the responders to his art, and that is simply a miracle.
I would add that the apex of immersion into the fine arts is, potentially, that the creative worker finally discovers, understands and acts in the service of nothing but Love, Beauty and Truth. Art can »cut in« at any point, or state, on the spectrum of consciousness regardless of the stationed-stage of consciousness of the artist. De Es is living proof of this and his imagery has gone from incredibly meticulous pictures, rising from the deepest recesses of the unconscious, to a playful, expressive, and sometimes purely abstract exploration of the forms, textures, colors, rhythms and layers of matter that is joyously born from Spirit. Indeed, one can see in these paintings a kind of probing into life, from the surface of matter to infinite space. He had been painting this all along, but now his recent works are »blow-ups«, energetic magnifications of the surface textures, qualities, mathematics, motions, music and scores of his orchestrated visual journey through an architectural space, a matrix that expresses the son of the infinite and the daughter of the eternal.
There is a sense of everything being inextricably interconnected. One can also see, almost hear, a musical symphony of the quantum physics behind the painted building blocks of atomically constructed patterns. These rhythm-like patterns begin to build forms, like superimpositions upon and through organic fields, a strata of space and time, ancient-future cities and concertos of color, scoring the composition of his works. Further, art can take on a profound noetic, hermeneutic quality. This ability is acquired not by way of observation, but by way of inspiration and the creative and active fusion between spirit and matter. The imaginer (the subject), does not stand over or opposite the screen of vision (the object); the two merge, subject and object unite. It is witnessed, at first, as something other than one's self, followed immediately with the experience of fusion, with the knower and the known becoming one. The artist has the experience of being that which she/he knows and knowing that which she/he is. Knowing and feeling become one. Like innocents, integral artists are mapping the sphere of consciousness, driven by aesthetic instinct, necessity and play. This mysterious integral power has its own will and ends, something is playfully at work inside the artist, or above him, and something comes which is, at times, even beyond his own understanding, and yet De Es, knowing that he cannot know the »All«, surely knows his »part in the All«.
The Integral Fire
If philosophy begins in wonder and ends in understanding, then art departs from what has been understood and moves towards wonder. In a state of »awe«, something is gained and we become larger, more inclusive and integrated with the great mystery of life. The integral dimension of art has its fount in what is the raw material of religion, science, philosophy, poetry, painting, music, indeed, in everything. There is only one Truth, one Reality, to be discovered by all humanity. There is not a distinct and different God, or Truth for each of the world's religions, any more than there is a different Sun or Moon for astronomers of various nations of the Earth under the stars. The unending religious differences of opinion, each religion believing they have the one and only »copyright on God«, has caused an unfathomable ocean of spilled blood, century after century. However, both De Es and his art reflect an awareness that celebrates what is common among all the wisdom traditions, and does not focus on the differences.
De Es' art genuinely inspires a unifying perennial vision. Whereas science emphasizes reason and experiment, and religion bases itself on faith and dogma, there are now more and more thoughtful people who consider the old dichotomies between art, religion, industry, and science, respectively, as faulty and unconstructive. De Es prefers to look at these approaches to reality as complementary, each in their own separate domains without one ruling over another. Such a new view calls for a methodology of introspection that provides direct experiential access to the inner reality of the creative process and consciousness, creative construction and solutions.
»This is the creative process as I see it. You don't even know what you want at first. There is just preparedness for creation and an openness to find something, but you do not know what you are going to find. You are not satisfied with what is already known, so you open yourself up to the unknown, with the expectation that you are able to bring something out of the dark and into the light of the world. Genuine creativity starts with this yearning in front of some kind of blackness. You want to bring something out of that blackness, get a hold on it, make it visible, give it substance, make it real and show it to others – so they can hold it. If you are successful then your art has the power to convince that indeed there is something in the Void! Art must convince! However, even when artists do find something they are always afraid they didn't find enough. That is the artistic position and emotional arrangement. The artist stands in front of the Void and he is afraid that he is not able to pull something out of it.«
The art of the integral creative worker, although often neglected by the mainstream, has had, and will always have, a life and Promethean light of its own. The genuine artist seeks the »wonder«, the »awe«. Humanity no longer regards itself as primitive but something has been lost along the way. The wonder has fled with the winds. This experience of awe has been succeeded by one of »sophistication«. Today, man worships no longer the moon and the stars but his own accomplishments, and either relegates the immensities of time and space to the background of his consciousness, or disregards them entirely, while integral artists use this as their veritable springboard to a new vision and understanding.
The art of De Es reifies an experience of the veritable web of life; the vision and understanding that the whole universe is alive! As our Earth, this tiny planet, rolls along its orbit in space within a universe composed of innumerable and brilliantly life-giving stars, human beings prefer to see only the busy anthill they scurry upon. They believe only in what is seen on the sod upon which they dwell. They are blind to the sacred, the invisible, and even to the beauty of their own immediate surroundings. De Es' body of work reveals an ancient-future of extraordinary places, particles, predicaments, presence and predictions.
From the first artistic expression by a child acting on the impulse to draw, up to the creations of a Michelangelo, the self is created, literally, through the creation of objects. This is the ground for De Es as an integral artist. Indeed, the artist must be so intimately acquainted with materials of the objective world that he, or she, can combine and transform them into an object of art, unique and expressive of both an individualized and collective life. On one of those long evenings of wine and conversation with my friend and philosopher, Ken Wilber, we were both elated by a profound statement by Goethe. Goethe had said that it was the literary character, Faust, that he created, that led him to the understanding of himself:
»The work in progress becomes the poet's fate and determines his psychic development. It is not Goethe who created Faust, but Faust who created Goethe«.
We envision what we will become and that vision draws us toward itself as our self. We become what we meditate on. We become what we create. The journey of art can thus be formed in the spiritual imagination as an integral part of a contemplative practice. The transpersonal and aesthetic experience synthesizes a constellation of traits and challenges into a unified whole. To do that, we must first integrate ourselves. In essence, an aesthetic practice heals the breach between the rational and the intuitive, between the individual and the universe, serving as a catalyst to expand consciousness from an egocentric identity toward that of an All-inclusive-One.
De Es aspires to awaken the enlightened mind, stir the divine heart, and to re-connect with the »essenc« that is creation itself. Within the gem of being genuine, there is a multifaceted extension of consciousness, a release of latent powers and a widening of vision. The »visionary« can include the naïve, the classical, the expressionistic, the fantastic, the abstract, actually anything with an illuminated consciousness behind the creation – with the skills matching the need.
Philip Rubinov Jacobson is an artist, author, educator, philosopher and traveler born in Rochester, New York. An international and central figure in both the Fantastic and Visionary genres’ of art, he holds degrees in Painting, Printmaking and Sculpture , with studies in Psychology, Philosophy and Comparative Religion. His paintings have been exhibited internationally in more than 90 exhibitions. He is the author of "DRINKING LIGHTNING - Art, Creativity and Transformation" , and the forthcoming publication in 2008, from Betty Books in Bologna, Italy; "PROMETHEAN FLAMES - Rekindling and Re-visioning the Creative Fire". The artist/author's culminating finale' in this Trilogy of Art and Spirit will be "EYES OF THE SOUL - Exploring Inspiration in Art", with an extensive Foreword by Ken Wilber books about art, inspiration, creativity and transformation. In 1981 he co- founded and directed the School of Extended Studies at Naropa University in 1991 in Boulder, Colorado, where he served as the 'rector', or Dean, from 1991-1997. He has been holding his renowned summer painting seminars: "Old Masters - New Visions" since 1997 in Austria, Bavaria, Italy and the USA.