“What is Visionary Art?” a friend of mine asked me during a late-night conversation at the Abbey Bookshop in Paris. My interlocutor, Guy Livingston, was a contemporary musician, seriously dedicated to his art, and his question deserved a seriously considered response. It was then that I realized how, despite having painted visionary works all my life, I couldn’t easily articulate what I did. The need for this manifesto was born.
In between working on my paintings, I began researching and translating the writings of other Visionary artists – finding that they too had struggled to define what they did, though no simple formula readily appeared. Usually, at three or four in the morning, I would wake up with certain phrases going through my mind – ‘seeing the unseen’,’le sur-visuel’. And, terrible insomniac that I am, I would not sleep again until I had written them down. (Indeed, as I write this, it is again three o’clock in the morning…) Such phrases, definitions, and even ‘a history’ of Visionary Art were recorded in my journals, awaiting the day when they would finally be arranged as a manifesto.
Then, quite by surprise, I found myself in the south of France, studying under Prof. Ernst Fuchs, the eldest and perhaps greatest practitioner of our art. (If I had properly interpreted certain omens in my dreams, I would have seen that all of this was forthcoming…). And it was here, in his studio on the ‘Quai des Artistes’in Monaco that the manifesto finally took shape, inspired in part by conversations with him.
Nevertheless, I have left the words ‘a first draft’ above the title, because I don’t believe this work to be definitive in any way. In fact, I invite other practitioners of our art to contribute where possible – amending what is lacking, advancing what is dated, and creating together a statement that could be definitive and complete.
If, in the end, this is not possible, and I have only succeeded in sparking controversy, discussion, and debate, then this too would fulfill my original intentions.
First Draft of
OF VISIONARY ART
One makes oneself a visionary
by a long, immense, and reasoned
disordering of the senses.
WHAT IS VISIONARY ART?
Where Surrealists tried to elevate the dream-state into a higher reality (and opposed the use of narcotics) the Visionary artist uses all means at his disposal – even at great risk to himself – to access different states of consciousness and expose the resulting vision. Art of the Visionary attempts to show what lies beyond the boundary of our sight. Through dream, trance, or other altered states, the artist attempts to see the unseen – attaining a visionary state that transcends our regular modes of perception. The task awaiting him, thereafter, is to communicate his vision in a form recognizable to ‘everyday sight’.
The history of Visionary art is characterized by the attempt to find a new visual language – a language that may overcome the inherent contradiction (of seeing what cannot be seen) and express in visual form the ‘supra-visual’ or, as we might say in French, le ‘sur-visuel’. In such a language, the images of art, myth, and dream interfuse, different cultural symbols combine, and new forms are found so as to express the resulting vision — be that sacred, psychedelic, esoteric, oneiric, occult, alternative, archetypal, primitive, transpersonal, fantastic or – as it sometimes happens – surreal.
All visionary artists are united by this spirit of on-going experimentation. And their works bear testimony to those mind-altering, soul-shattering but potentially enlightening experiences which may transpire over the course of each experiment.
The aim of these experiments is to bring alternative states of consciousness to reality. Or rather, to bear witness to other realites which are made evident in alternative states of consciousness. Hence, the images, colours, reflections, modes of perceiving and indeed the insights which the artist himself has witnessed in a dream, vision, trance, revelation, mediumistic or drug-induced state are what he seeks to reproduce in a plastic medium, so as to give it a more or less permanent reality ‘here’, in the world of our shared perceptions and spoken dialogues.
The artist on such a ‘vision quest’ is not seeking images for their own sake. Rather, the images uprise during his life-long journey to the Sacred, offering him entrance to a higher, spiritual realm. These images offer a gradual awakening to life’s underlying holiness – what Aldous Huxley called ‘the sacramental vision of reality’(2) The God appearing in such momentary visions is not the ‘Our Father’ of traditional religions, but a metanoic (literally, ‘mind-altering’) experience of the Sacred, threatening to blast apart the very vessel into which it is being poured.
Unprepared though endowed with this strange gift for ‘seeing’, the visionary artist finds himself isolated – an outcast prone to unusual insights. He is, by nature, an outsider, a wanderer, a derelict. And yet, for a few brief moments between the Genesis and Apocalypse, he may enter into union with the Creator, bear witness to the timeless and eternal Unity that holds it all together. By recording such a momentary awakening in a work of art, he fixes, indeed ‘freezes’ that singular epiphany into an image for all to share.
Such an image then stands as a doorway, which other similarily-inclined individuals may once more attempt to ‘enter through’.
To enter through the image is to momentarily regain the vision which the artist experienced at the outset. What is more, the beholder may re-enter the state of mind, even the state of being, which the artist first experienced. Such a ‘mystic participation’ is possible because the inscape underlying the artist’s experience is not imagined, but real – only hidden, altered, even obstructed from our view.“Man has closed himself up,” Blake says, “till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” But – as his well-known phrase adjoins –“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”(3) In another re-phrasing of this stirring declaration, Blake says that “Five windows light the cavern’d Man” – that is, the five senses, which he refers to elsewhere as“inlets of the soul” (4) But – “thro’ one (he) can look and see small portions of the eternal world…” (5) Painting offers us a doorway into that hidden realm. It stills our wandering eye, concentrates it onto an image, offers it a more timeless way of seeing. Once the original vision is regained – and the threshold of the image is crossed – we find ourselves standing once more on the shared, timeless ground of the visionary experience.
As such, the images and fragments of texts gathered here are nothing more than sketches – drawn from different angles and over various points in time – of an ‘invisible landscape’ which we, as visionary artists, have crossed countless times over the course of our shared journeys.
THE TRACKLESS WAY
Among the eldest of the Visionaries still alive and practising his art today is Ernst Fuchs.“I have always been drawn towards things which man cannot see from the exterior,” he has written.“And I have always practiced a kind of art which depicts things that, otherwise, man only sees in his dreams or hallucinations. For me, the threshold has to be crossed from inner images to their expression in wakeful being – the transformation of dreams and fantasy into the world of reality and its plane of visual imagery.” (6)
With dark penetrating eyes and a long flowing beard, Fuchs stands like a desert prophet to the wandering tribes of our times. He has crossed the Sinai of burning visions many times, and left there marks and signs for others to follow.
A second generation of Visionaries has set out, following the trackless way through desert solitude. For Mati Klarwein, a visionary piece of art is like a journey into uncharted territory. This “no man’s land is the area where no word has trodden yet, no symbol imposed its footprint upon the sands of the memory desert. No man’s land is the distance from behind my eyes to eternity.” (7)
Meanwhile, for Alex Grey, the journey has a purpose; there is a definite ‘mission of art’. “In order to produce their finest works,” he has written, “the artists lose themselves in the flow of creation from their inner world, becomes possessed by an art spirit. Every work of art embodies the vision of it’s creator and simultaneously reveals a facet of the collective mind. Art history shows each successive wave of vision flowing through the world’s artists. …The history of art is a vast record of tens of thousands of artists and their acts of disciplined passion bringing vision to form.”(8)
This sense of shared vision, this unaccountable feeling of kinship, is encountered by many solitary walkers on the desert path. Throughout history, from different lands and cultures, there has emerged ‘the invisible tribe'(9), as one artist put it. Or, according to Fuchs, ‘the secret lodge’: “I entered ever more deeply into the realm of hermetic motifs… Its adherents were to be found only in the obscure groups of outsiders… Scattered through many countries, they were members, as I understood it, of a secret lodge: the Masonic Order of Visionaries.” (10)
Though many such artists have appeared over the course of time, each bearing the marks of his epoch and cultural style, their works have also betrayed the traces of something hidden, something far more deeply incised: the timeless style of the archetypes; the primordial style that first manifest itself ‘at the beginning’.
For De Es Schwertberger, another second generation Visionary, “Reading the story of the universe backwards is our method of reaching the beginning. We encounter all the images which form and direct our wants, needs, and urges imprinted on the core of our mind. We discover pictures there, as if carved from stone, prevailing through time and revealing what powers are holding the world together. If we could read these pictures, our vision would grow clear. We would find ourselves at the bottom of everything – holding it all together.”(11)
In a similar manner, Ernst Fuchs realized that, behind all temperal and cultural manifestations of the Sacred, there lies‘ein verschollener Stil’ – a ‘hidden prime of styles’: “A secret art whose traces I have discovered with almost all people and cultures, but also in nature itself Ð there where the prim*val world appears… like a notion, a memory of the submersed culture of a long passed, unmeasured time which preceded history.”(12)
As such, while the history of Visionary Art may be traced throughout different lands, epochs, and cultures, a more ancient, primordial, indeed eternal style of rendering silently underlies all periods of its development. Visionary art seeks to return us, in our visions, to the primordial world that preceded history: like hieroglyphs etched on the walls of a long-lost civilization, leading us to a paradise of lost imagery or forgotten dream-symbols.
THE VISIONARY LINEAGE
The proper subjects of a Visionary work include: the Creation, Paradise, the Fall, the Flood, the Triumph of Death, the Apocalypse, Heaven and Hell, the after-life journey, illumination, death and rebirth, the heiros gamos, ancient heros, mythic beings, monsters, cyclopes and gargoyles, androgynes and hermaphrodites, madness, dreams, the distant future, the remote past, ideal cities, ancient ruins, lost civilizations, buildings never to be built, buildings built with no purpose but the sheer triumph of architecture over matter, towers, temples, pyramids, all manners of Gods and demons, angels and elementals, the cosmos and its many diagrams, models, and means of representation, the zodiac, the animal world in its primordial state of being, animals imagined as well as real, unicorns, basilisks, chimeras, sphinxes, bizarre but harmonious combinations of existing objects or qualities, melting pocket-watches, burning giraffes, the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table, esoterica of all sorts, allegories, false anatomies, fantastic inventions and machines, alchemical retorts, tarot cards, arcane symbols, sacred geometries, light-reflecting jewels, passages, refractions of light, spirals, labyrinths, mandalas, portraits of the artist in light of his memories and dreams, inner landscapes, the interior of the mind and, above all, those invisibles not yet recognizable in our visual language – what Blake called“the Unnam’d forms” (13).
Visionary art is as ancient as the shaman’s first etchings on cavern walls or the mysterious spirals carved on megalithic stones. Our art manifest itself among the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Minoans, and ancient Greeks. In Middle America, it uprose among the Aztecs, Mayans and Toltecs. Indeed, in these earlier cultures, it acquired an almost ‘pure’ form of expression, as the depiction of the Creation, the Cosmos and its Gods, the sacred hero and his death and rebirth – all of these appeared spontaneously and alive in a unique cultural style, whose visual language was near-perfect in its expressiveness.
Each of these cultural styles seemed to emerge ‘fully-formed’ in history, with a complete symbolic vocabulary and complex pictorial expression. Each manifest, at one and the same time, a distinctively epic or monumental quality and, transcending this, a more universal and timeless quality. As Fuchs noted, “A work of art is simply a monument to the temporal within eternity. Art alone can confer and transmit to other ages an enduring validity of what is trapped within its own era.” (14) In our ancient, more epic works of art, a momentary vision was seen, then seized, and finally set into time-resistent stone, which has preserved its hidden message into our present times. The task awaiting us, while beholding such a work, is to open ourselves up to its forgotten spiritual message, thus broadening our vision beyond its own cultural horizon and spiritual inheritance.
As European culture moved into ‘the Dark Ages’, the Visionary experience could still be detected in Viking gold and Nordic woodwork, in the scant remains of objects carved by the Celts: their animal heraldry, horned gods, and rich interweaving of serpentine motifs. And in North America as well, Native tribes were developing their complex animal mythologies through totems, weavings, and carvings.
Bible covers encrusted with precious gemstones and gold, their contents illumined with arabesques and beastiaries – this was the early expression of the visionary in Christianity. Then, in the stone and stained-glass facades of Gothic cathedrals and the egg-tempera icons of the Byzantines, a new Visionary trend emerged in Christian art – rich in its symbolic translation of the Holy Writ. These were soon followed by the frescos of the Italians, and the oil and resin altarpieces of the Netherlandish painters.
The cult of the artist had begun. The greatest of the early Visionary painters was, of course, Hieronymus Bosch. Even unto our own day, his works continue to bear hidden messages. So many of his images offer a doorway to a lost paradise (and meanwhile, each era possesses a different key…)
If names must be named, then the list runs as follows:
|Schongauer||Van der Weyden|
|Grünewald||Van der Goes|
|H. Baldung Grien||Dürer||Cranach|
|Bruegel||J. Gossart||F. Clouet|
|Signorelli||P. d. Francesca||Fra F. Lippi|
|Master of theTarot de Marseille|
|Master of Rosarium Philosophorum|
|Master of the Splendor Solis series|
|C.D Friedrich||C.G. Carus||Turner|
*Artists who, despite an excellency of technique, have failed to manifest unique visionary qualities when confronted by a subject that requires them.
Meanwhile, some Visionaries eluded the currents and fashions of painting in their own times, giving rise to such anachronistic ‘Adam figures’ as Goya – his solipsistic murals painted onto the walls of ‘the house of the deaf man’; the unending vistas and landscapes of John Martin; Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead; Fuseli’s theatrical compositions; the light-infused etchings of Gustave Doré and – towering above them all – William Blake with his watercolours or etchings of the Ancient of Days, the Book of Job, the Last Judgement, and more – all accomplished with little or no recognition.
Under the broader heading of Mannerist art, many Visionaries after the Renaissance may be numbered, though their names are little known today: Bartholomäus Spranger, Wendel Dieterlin, Jacques Callot, Antoine Caron, Monsú Desiderio, and Giovanni Battista Piranesi among others.
In the last two hundred years, there emerged the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in England, and the Symbolist and Decadent Movements of France and Belgium. From the former, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones; from the latter, Fernand Khnoff, Felicien Rops, Carlos Schwabe, and the still-unrecognized masterpieces of Jean Delville. Our art has also been enriched by the later Symbolists – Odilon Redon, Frantisek Kupka (his early works), Alfred Kubin, Giovanni Segantini, and Max Klinger. These were followed close behind by the Secessionist visionaries – Gustav Klimt, Franz Von Stuck, Viteslaw Masek, and Jan Toorop. But, singular amongst all of these stands the timeless, transcendent and visionary art of Gustave Moreau.
A more recent lineage can be traced with greater precision. Surrealism must undoubtedly be identified as a direct influence upon Visionary art, but two strains within this movement must be separated and identified. The one, Automatist Surrealism, tended more toward form and abstraction – Miro, Arp, Tanguy, and Matta, for example. These inspired movements towards Abstract Expressionism and Action painting in America. Of these, Visionary art has less in common. The other, Figurative Surrealism, tended more toward the accurate, plastic representation of dreams and their imagery in paint. Here, Picasso, Ernst, Magritte, Delvaux, Bellmer, Fini, and particularly Dali must be recognized as the modern forefathers of contemporary Visionary art.
In Vienna, after the second World War, it was their misinterpretation of Surrealism and led a group of academy painters to eventually create the movement now recognized as Fantastic Realism. Hausner and Hutter, Lehmden and Brauer, and particularly Ernst Fuchs sought to revive old master’s techniques of painting, combine it with Impressionist color theories, and dedicate this new finesse and precision to fantastic subjects. As many of these painters are still alive today, they have become recognized as ‘first generation’ Visionaries.
Included among this generation of painters, but working more independently, are also Kurt Regschek, Ernst Steiner, Werner Tübke, Peter Proksch, Le Marechal, Paul Verlinde, Jean-Pierre Alaux, and Wolfgang Grasse. Special mention must be given to the Netherlandish painter Johfra, who brought his esoteric studies to rich fruition in such canvases as the Zodiac Series and his triptych of the Unio Mystica.
Under the spiritual guidance of Fuchs, a second generation emerged in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, practising (what Max Doerner called) the Mischtechnik, as taught to them by Fuchs. Now, a direct link could be traced from Fuchs to Mati Klarwein, De Es Schwertberger, and Robert Venosa. Other students of Fuchs, meanwhile, organized movements and became teachers of the technique: Brigid Marlin (member of Inscape and founder of The Society of Art of the Imagination), Philip Rubinov-Jacobson (member of the New York Visionaries and organizer of the Old Masters / New Visions seminars), as well as Fuchs’ own son, Michael Fuchs.
Of the same generation, but working more independently is Alex Grey, gradually constructing his series of Sacred Mirrors in light of transpersonal philosophy. And at the same time, in Switzerland, H. R. Giger brought the technique of airbrushing to new heights through his darkened visions of aliens, bio-mechaniods, and the occult. Unexpectedly, the magazine Omni introduced many European Visionaries – Fuchs, Hausner, Giger, De Es, Venosa, et al – to a broader American audience by including their works among its pages.
Contemporary with this development was the rediscovery of l’Art Brut, ‘naïf’ or outsider art – untrained artists, some mediums, others bordering on the edge of insanity – who developed styles and vocabularies of imagery amazingly similar to the more calculated works of Visionary artists. Now, the forgotten watercolors of Heinrich Nüssbaum, the fairy-filled landscapes of Richard Dadd, the simple crayon drawings of Minnie Evans, and such architectural achievements as the Palais Ideal of le facteur Cheval had to be added to the catalogue of Visionary art. Many of these works have been documented lately through the thirty or more issues of Raw Vision magazine.
In a similar vein, the popular art form of the American ‘comic book’ produced many unexpected visionaries, some more heroic – Frank Frazetta, Micheal Kaluta, Barry Windsor-Smith; and some more macabre – Berni Wrightson, Clive Barker. Parallel to this were the Underground comix of California, with their later expression in Juxtapoz magazine. In Europe, particularly in France, comics developed into the finer graphic illustrations of les Bandes Dessinées, with Moebius, Druillet, and others
Already, though, the borders defining the genre were becoming hazy. Do we consider American Sword and Sorcery, Sci-Fi, and Fairy art to be visionary? And what of New Age art, with its interest in dolphin consciousness, alien abduction, crystal channeling etc? Each must make his own decision here (though the author of the present manifesto says – adamantly – no).
The number of exhibitions are mounting. Among them: du Fantastique au Visionnaire (Venice 1994, Maurizio Albarelli), Der Faden der Ariadne (Mussbach 1998 Otfried Culmann), 100 Sacred Visions (Payerbach 2000, Rubinov-Jacobson), Art of the Imagination (London 2000, Brigid Marlin), Fantastic Art (Australia 2001, Damian Micheals), Parfum de femme(Paris 2002, Claude Cussac). Meanwhile, the Centre international de l’Art fantastique organizes on-going and permanent exhibitions in the Chateau de Gruyères. TheSociété des Arts Fantastique, de l’Imaginaire et du Reve has already organized a number of exhibitions near Paris. And, in 1996 there was the founding of the Zentrum der Phantastischen Künste (www.labyrinthe.com) in Germany.
Through the publications of Galerie Morpheus (James Cowan), the founding of Art Visionary magazine (Damian Micheals), and the creation of The Fantastic Art Centre on the web (Christian de Boeck), more and more Visionary Artists have come together, detecting strange, unaccountable, but undeniable harmonies in each other’s works. A monastary of sorts is being built in the desert. Invisible tribes of wanderers are banding together, coming to shelter, and forming once more the Masonic Order of Visionaries.
In France and Belgium, there stands at present the works of Dado, Di Maccio, Jean-Pierre Ugarte, Roland Cat, Lucas Kandl, Erik Heyninck, Michel Henricot, Francois Schlesser, Christophe Vacher, Jean-Yves Kervevan, Patrick Delorme, and Gregoire Massineau. In Germany and Austria, Ohlhauser, Peter Gric, Daniel Friedemann, Heinz Zander, Karl Kaefer, Mannfred Ebster, Manfred Sillner, Michael Maschka, and Otfried Culmann. In Norway, Odd Nerdrum. In Poland, Beksinski, Yerka, and Banach. In England, Alan Senior, Brigid Marlin, Laurie Lipton. In Australia, Damian Micheals and Paul Freeman. In Italy, Bruno di Maio, Benedetto Fellin, and Paolo Grimaldi. In America, Weber, Judson Huss, Martina Hoffmann, Ann McMoy, Cynthia de Robbins, Anton Brink, Andrew Gonzalez, and Voke.
This list is by no means definitive or complete. There are many practising visionaries today who remain unrecognized. Others prefer to work in solitude. But without a doubt a strange phenomenon is occuring: a wave of artists, struggling to bring their vision to light, is growing larger with each generation.
And so, the signatories to this Manifesto may number themselves among the latest generation of Visionary artists practising today. Tired of the academicism, elitism, shock value, gallery politics, and huge financial speculations surrounding modernist and post-modernist art, the practitioners of Visionary art have made a genuine, sincere, and authentic attempt to revive something eternal within the contemporary experience of art. Each of them pursues, in the words of Ernst Fuchs, “a special authenticity of imagery born of the visionary experience”(15)
VISIONS OF DARKNESS
The visionary artist does not hesitate to record images of shock, horror, pain, degradation, demons, monsters, and and all manner of underworld tortures. He explores the darker side of his imagination, and liberates many of his impulses by giving them tangible form. All that is taboo must be transcended.
In the pursuit of such art-making, light often acquires a symbolic property and, as illumination, signifies something more Sacred: the one light behind all images and shining through them. Darkness and shadows, by contrast, portend all that is hidden, forbidden, obscured, and unknown.
In the works of Alex Grey, the human form is refracted (like light through a prism) into multiple ‘ekstases’ of being – these ascending from the biological to the personal to the ultimately transpersonal. For the beholder, the effect, in the end, is like gazing into a series of ‘Sacred Mirrors’. Before engaging himself on this life-task, Grey worked for many years as an undertaker’s assistant – acquiring an intimate knowledge of our mortal human anatomy. Then, through his visions, the artist sought to surpass this finite reflection of life. Not, however, by evading death’s terrible potency. The method instead was ‘to include and then transcend’:
“Each artist is a facet of God’s unfolding infinite vision, refracting the light of awareness in their own particular way. The shallows and shadows and terrors of life are just as much a part of the Vision Crystal as views of abstract beauty, spiritual heavens and our precious endangered planet.”(16)
After his many experiments with mescalin and LSD, Aldous Huxley was also able to confirm that “the visionary experience is not always blissful. It is sometimes terrible. There is hell as well as heaven.” (17) In his (appropriately titled) book Heaven and Hell, he describes in detail “the negative visionary experience,”(18) comparing it to the after-life journey through a spiralling, descending inferno: each level of Hell is replete with its unique form of torture. Many of the punishments he mentions – “buried in mud, shut up in the trunks of trees, frozen solid in blocks of ice, crushed beneath stones…”(19) – are also to be found, masterfully depicted, in Bosch’s vision of Hell and Doré’s engravings to Dante’s Inferno.
The gates to “the infernal visionary experience.”(20) may suddenly open wide at any unexpected moment. Due to the traumas inherent in life itself – accidents, illness, personal loss or sudden separations – temporary forms of madness, paranoia or psychosis can occur, accompanied by their uncontrollable visions and hallucinations. These may take the form of an unwilled memory regression, in the attempt to unearth the source of our trauma. The descent into our own earliest memories brings about the spontaneous recall of childhood terrors, fantasies, and fears. Dali’s first Surrealist canvases offer a series of such motifs, each canvas an on-going attempt to unearth his greatest fear, torment, and forbidden desire.
For H. R. Giger as well, the sudden recollection of childhood nightmares offered unexpected access to his own innermost Hell. During 1966, the artist completed a series of ‘Shaft pictures’ which, as he later recounted, “have their origin in my dreams.” (21) And he elaborates,
“In the stairwell in my parents’ house in Chur is a secret window, which gave onto the interior of the Three Kings Hotel, and was always covered with a dingy brown curtain. In my dreams or nightly wanderings, this window was open and I saw gigantic bottomless shafts, bathed in pale yellow light. On the walls, steep and treacherous wooden stairways without bannisters led down into the yawning abyss.”(22)
“…Another source of fantasies was our cellar. Approached via an old and musty spiral stone staircase, it led into a vaulted corridor (which had been walled up). In my dreams however, these passages were open and led into a monstrous labyrinth, where all kinds of dangers lay in wait for me.”(23)
Giger’s later works render into form the baroque monstrosities awaiting him in the twisting and turning cellars of his own mind. A dense mesh of figures – prodigous, morbid, grotesque – constellate themselves into the furthermost corners of his compositions. Meanwhile, in their midsts appear elongated female figures – ghostly yet alluring – who are trapped in the torturous contraptions and deathly devices of some evil but ultimately unknown will. These timeless events transpire in smoke-filled chambers, darkly-lit, which seem but part of an infinite and primaeval rusted machine.
It is not by chance that the artist entitled a collection of his works, The Necronomicon. As Giger explains,
“The Necronomicon … supposedly tells of events which happened in the grey mists of pre-history, and contains illustrations of the sinister forms of life which lurk in the depths of the earth and the sea, waiting until the day when they will destroy humanity and assume dominion over the world. …The famous writer H.P Lovecraft was the first to mention this work.”(24)
This is the darker darkness, presently ‘occulted’ (literally, hidden) from view – existing before this world was created and appearing again at its end – the black, tenebrous world which Visionary art can, for a few brief moments of terror, make manifest. This is the coiling, beguiling serpent at the commencement of time, and the seven-headed beast re-emerging at its end. This is the Hell of Bosch, which offered a vision of the apocalypse all-too-imminent to his contemporaries. This, in Gothic art, is the Angels’ trumpet blast, the Resurrection of the Dead, and the Judgement ever-lasting.”This” Huxley writes, is the “negatively transfigured world… Every event is charged with a hateful significance; every object manifests the presence of Indwelling Horror, infinite, all-powerful, eternal.”(25) And yet, Huxley was not talking here about the Hell of traditional Christian art. Rather, he was describing the internal Hell that may be revealed through ingested mescalin or LSD.
Through clinical observation and therapeutic practice, Dr. Stanislav Grof spent the better part of his professional life studying the visionary effects of LSD. He found that repeated use of the hallucinogen leads to a deepening experience of its effects. The fullest, deepest, and most enlightening trip has several gradual stages. Typically, at the onset, one beholds “incredibly colorful and dynamic visions of geometric designs, architectural forms, kaleidoscopic displays, magic fountains, or fantastic fireworks.”(26) This experience gradually deepens into a hallucinatory state, with emergent images responding both to internal and external stimuli.
Depending on the disposition of the individual, the psychedelic experience may take a turn for the worse, causing him to experience (what Grof calls) “cosmic engulfment” which “…involves overwhelming feelings of increasing anxiety, and awareness of an imminent vital threat.”(27) What is more, “an important characteristic of this experiential pattern is the darkness of the visual field and the ominous and sinister colors of all the objects.” “Further intensification of anxiety typically results in an experience involving a monstrous gigantic whirlpool, a Maelstrom sucking…relentlessly towards its center (or) …an experience of being swallowed by a terrible monster (or) …descent into the underworld and encounter with various dangerous creatures.”(28)The deepest level is related to various concepts of hell – a situation of unbearable suffering that will never end”(29)
All the tortures of Hell may now be unwillingly experienced to the full: shut up, confined, prodded and tormented by all manner of monsters and demons. As Huxley writes, “The negative visionary finds himself associated with a body that seems to grow progressively more dense… It is worth remarking that many of the punishements described in the various accounts of hell are punishments of pressure and constriction.” (30) Hence the Hell envisioned by Bosch; hence the Inferno illustrated by Doré
As the negative LSD experience deepens, mythological imagery may appear: “Quite common are illusions to the Old Testament; images of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross; scenes of worshipping Moloch, Astarte or Kali, and visions of rituals and …sacrifice as they were practiced in Aztec and Mayan religions.”(31)
At the nadir of this experience, “physical and emotional agony culminates in a feeling of utter and total annihilation on all imaginable levels… usually described as ‘ego-death'”(32)
Such are the ‘darkened visions’ which may intrude upon the visionary artist during his on-going explorations and experiments. Many of the greatest visionary artists – Bosch, Bruegel, Grunewald, Giger – have not hesitated to record their visions of torture, agony, and suffering, even unto death. But, all of this – to what end?
A clue is offered to us in Grof’s on-going analysis of the psychedelic experience. The negative LSD experience does not end with ‘ego-death’, but goes on to reveal something quite unexpected and unanticipated:
“After the subject has experienced the limits of total annihilation and ‘hit the cosmic bottom’, he or she is struck by visions of blinding white or golden light… the general atmosphere is one of liberation, salvation, redemption, love, and forgiveness. The subject feels unburdoned, cleansed, and purged.”(33) In fact, the full hallucinatory experience culminates in an unequalled experience of death and rebirth – dying to one’s finite self, and being initiated, recast, or reborn into something far more infinite. Now, the presence of the Sacred is felt, transpiring outside of ‘clock-time’ and more commensurate with its eternity. Indeed, as a result of death and rebirth, a ‘return to the Father’, an ’embrace with the Mother’, or an overwhelming feeling of ‘unity with the Sacred One’ may be experienced to the full.
As Grof writes,“The symbolism associated with the experience of death and rebirth can be drawn from many different cultural frameworks (and) experienced in full identification with Christ, Osiris, Adonis, or Dionysus. Typical symbolism of the moment of rebirth involves fantastic visions of radiant sources of light experienced as divine, heavenly blue cosmic spaces, magnificent rainbow spectra or stylized peacock designs. …God can appear in the Christian form as an archetypal wise old man sitting on a throne surrounded by cherubim and seraphim in radiant splendor. Also quite common in this context is the experience of union with the Great Mother… Other visions involve gigantic halls with richly decorated columns… or clear lakes and oceans.”(34)
It is not surprising then that many of the Visionary artists just mentioned have recorded, beyond their dark visions of suffering unto death, equally fantastic and luminous visions of Paradise, Heaven and Eden. Grunewald’s initial vision of Christ in the Isenheim Altarpiece is contorted, enthorned, crucified, and plague-ridden. But, the innermost images of the altarpiece unfold outward to reveal a blazing Christ resurrected, floating, transfigured, and enhaloed by luminous circles of yellow and white light. Bosch recorded in infinite detail the horrors of Hell, but also rendered the simple, singular image of a soul’s passage into a tunnel of blinding white light.
VISIONS OF LIGHT
This leads us to images of the Sacred as they appear in Visionary art. Strangely, it has been forgotten that, for the greater part of its history, Art has concerned itself with the making of ‘holy objects’ – objects that bring the Sacred before us, before our eyes and into our hearts. This is true not only of painting (Gothic alterpieces, Byzantine icons), or even of Western culture as a whole (cathedrals and monasteries), but of all cultures in all times. Whether it be art produced by Tlingit natives, Michelangelo, or prisoners in concentration camps, a sacred quality unerringly inheres.
And this leads us to wonder – has not the history of art, particularly the history of Western art, been a gradual wandering down the wrong path for more than two or three centuries? The intensive questioning of Modernism, the ironic stance of Post-Modernism, the avoidance of images, frameworks, even of art itself in contemporary art – are not these symptoms indicative of deep cultural illness?
And yet, it would perhaps be better to diagnose our affliction as a deep spiritual illness. Christianity has offered our culture nothing but a prolonged awaiting: the Hebrew prophecies expecting their Messiah; the Messiah’s own proclamation of his death, resurrection and expected return in the Apocalypse. In order to escape this burdening anxiety and anticipation, generations of artists have sought solace (or distraction) with color, form, abstraction, simplicity, concept, environment, happening, and so on. But this is mere evasion. They have evaded the task borne by artists since shamanistic times: to interiorize, visualize, and mythologize.
Or, as Robert Venosa puts it “…to translate in form and color the roadmap to the source and center of our being and to the heart of our Divine Creator.”(35)
Or again, in the words of Blake:“To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes.”(36)
This is second nature to most Visionary artists. They do not question what they do. It comes naturally, as a part of their being.“The artist,” Fuchs attests, “is commanded by nature – when we consider him, as the Old Masters certainly did, to be born to such an office – to make the invisible world visible, much like the ancient ascetics who, through their uninterrupted prayers, brought about the immersion of the Eternal God into Man’s temporally finite world.” (37)
The manner in which the Visionary artist evokes the Sacred may differ from painter to painter. In fact, it may differ from one painting to another within one artist’s oeuvre. What matters is the underlying vision. In the case of many artists, this is a vision of Unity: the Sacred presents itself as the hidden but solitary source behind all things. It is an experience of shared oneness – difficult to describe in words alone, and often finding outlet instead in images.
For example, De Es writes:“This artist’s epiphany completely prevented me from focusing on a single canvas, but drove me to work on a sequence of paintings in order to satisfy my sense of ‘wholeness.’ All the universal themes of the yearnings of the human heart for enlightenment should be integrated into it: the journey to the light, the dance of joy, goals, ideals, and pathways to the beyond and to the light of life. …The wild dynamism of my transformative method was nurtured by the vision of ‘Humanity awakening as a oneness.'” (38)
It is for this reason that many of his ‘stone men’ became increasingly aware of and transparent to… ‘light’. They became ‘heavy light’. And finally, in the crowning image of his triptych ‘The Joining’, they became a many-circled gathering around one light – a panel which the artist called ‘White Light’ or ‘Vision One’.
How difficult it is – to describe or depict this vision of oneness – and yet it underlies all that we are. It is that which lies beyond the bound of our vision – the supra-visionary, le sur-visuel. It is that which we seek to reveal through a new image-language.
Such a language may come about through on-going experimentation and the use of new technologies. And yet, the old forms, the symbols and archetypes used since time immemorial by ancient cultures and even by Christianity itself – these still possess great hidden powers. But, as heirs to the Christian tradition, we must learn to see through the symbols of Christianity to their underlying archetypes: archetypes Christianity shares with other sacred traditions, joining itself to them and participating in their sense of all-encompassing Unity.
As Grey notes in the Mission of Art: “New art forms emerge through visionary insight, technical innovations and when cultures collide. Today, the simultaneous impact of so many technological innovations and divergent world cultures is spawning a hybrid multicultural art.”(39)
This multi-cultural vision of Unity has already manifest itself in the canvases of Klarwein, Fuchs, and Grey himself. Meanwhile, many of Johfra’s marvellous paintings from the Zodiac series bring Christian symbols in combination with their ancient antecedants – Egyptian, Greek, and Babylonian – while pairing them simultaneously with a whole slew of Esoteric motifs: Alchemy, Tarot, and the Kabbala. But, it is particularly his triptych of the Unio Mystica which offers a vision of the transcendent One underlying all cultural manifestations of the Sacred. Here, he has had recourse to, not only Christian and Hebrew mythologies, but Egyptian, Buddhist, Taoist, and even his own native Nordic mythology. Though viewed separately, like so many vignettes in stained glass, these different mythological figures also coalesce into one image. And, as is the case with stained-glass, they may then become transparent to the single Light shining behind them.
Johfra attempted to reveal ‘the ancient One’ underlying different cultural mythologies by bringing their symbols into combination with one another. As the painter noted in his writings, “The sphere of influence of symbols broadens and deepens into infinite Being when they enter into combination with one another. Then they have a decisive influence upon one another in a most illuminating way. In brief: a symbol, for those who can meditate upon it and lose themselves in it, is like a door offering entrance into a new spaces and dimensions of consciousness.”(40)
In the works of Ernst Fuchs, we also find this tendency to combine symbols of different cultural origin. Witness for example his Moses Before the Burning Bush or The Triumph of Christ. But, more fascinating still is his uncanny ability to combine different cultural styles of representation. Where ‘the ancient prime of styles’ left its greatest traces historically in, first of all, the ‘pure’ or clearly-defined styles of the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Greeks, it also re-appeared later in the personal styles of certain Visionary artists – except the ‘pure’ cultural styles of the past now re-appear inextricably mixed with one another. It is particularly true of the greatest Visionary artists – Michelangelo, Blake, Moreau, Fuchs – that the ancient cultural styles resurface – subtly invoked, turned about, re-asserted, and then merging harmoniously with one another into a single, personal style which, though shared, remains unique – revealing the Sacred with great expressivity and power.
It must not be forgotten that, as an apprentice, Blake engraved plates for Bryant’s New System of Mythology, which had images and styles from Egyptian, Babylonian, even Mithraic mythologies. The presence of these epic styles – their heaviness, monumentality, profound stillness, and constant profiles – re-appeared time and again in Blake’s works. The artist also had to sketch gothic figures in Westminster Abbey for plates to Basire’s Archaeologia, giving rise to his long flowing lines, sweeping drapery, and energetic spirals and swirls – all in contrast to the stillness and monumentality of the ancient epic styles. Blake commented appropriately, “Let them look at Gothic Figures & Gothic Buildings & not talk of Dark Ages or any Age. Ages are all equal. But Genius is always above the Age.”(41) Most of all, Blake’s style evoked the antiquities of Greece, which he clearly admitted when he wrote that“the purpose for which alone I live is… to renew the lost Art of the Greeks.”(42)
But, despite these constant echoes and combinations of Ancient, Gothic, and Antique styles, Blake’s manner was undoubtedly his own. His vision gave him access to the same timeless world and way-of-seeing which the ancients had beheld. And, almost unthinkable in the Puritan England of his time, came the artist’s momentous realization that”the antiquities of every Nation under Heaven, is no less sacred than that of the Jews… All had originally one language, and one religion.”* Here, perhaps in its most rudimentary form, is the realization that a lost image-language lay at the root of all cultural styles – a visionary language which Fuchs referred to later as ‘the ancient prime of styles’.
*However, Blake quickly amends his original insight with the words, “This was the religion of Jesus, the everlasting Gospel. Antiquity preaches the Gospel of Jesus.”(43)
Gustave Moreau also possessed this broadening awareness of different cultural styles, and the possibility of uniting them. Among his post-humous writings is the lament: “If only the great myths of antiquity were continually translated, not by historians, but by eternal poets. We must escape that puerile chronology which forces artists to translate their own times, in all its finitude, rather than the eternal… To give to myths their full intensity, we mustn’t lock them away in their own epoch – in the molds and styles of their times…”(44) Instead, a work of art had to “mirror the great impulses of the soul – responding to the divine needs of humanity from all times.”(45) And so, this self-proclaimed ‘assembleur de rêves’ said of painting and its mythic imagery, “C’est le language de Dieu.” – that it is ‘the language of God.'(46)
In the process of beholding the Sacred as a timeless and eternal Unity, the visionary artist frees himself momentarily from his inherited spiritual tradition, its particular symbols and style of expression. During that momentary epiphany, his vision partakes of the universal, sans cultural perspective: it acquires a stilled, more timeless, even eternal way of seeing. Think of the strange stare manifest in sculpted visages of Babylonian or Greek gods: their elongated eyes, opened wide, absorbing a vision without horizon. They are beholding the eternal. But, the moment the artist attempts to render this expanded vision, he is caught once more in the currents of his own time, its style of rendering bound by perspective and finite perception. The resulting image betrays his age’s fashion, its preference for a certain line, form, and proportion, while still revealing – above and beyond it – the timeless shape, the divine symmetry, briefly glimpsed, from the higher world.
The Book of Revelation tells us that we shall see the world transformed at the end of time – see it with our own eyes, but in a more permanent state of vision. This world ‘made anew’ is compared to a heavenly city, the New Jerusalem: “Its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jaspar clear as crystal.”(Rev 20:11) Its twelve gates are of sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, topaz, and amethyst. They shine with the radiance of pearls, pure gold, and are “transparent as glass.”(Rev 21:21) A river “bright as crystal” (Rev 22:1) flows through it, and at its centre stands the tree of life, its twelve fruits, each ripening a different month, offering a balm and a healing.(47)
This is the higher world – visible to all of us once (before the creation), and to be witnessed again (after the apocalypse) – a paradise presently hidden, a world which visionary artists have sought and seen – if only in stolen glances. Describing his mescalin visions, Huxley relates that “Everything… is brilliantly illuminated and seems to shine from within.”(48) As a rapid flow of eidetic imagery passed before him, Huxley reported “vast and complicated buildings in the midsts of landscapes which change continuously, passing from richness to more intensely coloured richness, from grandeur to deepening grandeur. Heroic figures… fabulous animals…”(49) The author also mentions heavenly architecture composed of precious stones, gem-like pigments, glowing gold, swirling marble and remarks upon “the beauty of curved reflections, of softly lustrous glazes, of sleek and smooth surfaces.” (50)
In another passage from Heaven and Hell (now with greater emphasis on ‘Heaven’) Huxley cites a published account of a peyote vision: “Buildings now made their appearance, then landscapes. There was a Gothic tower of elaborate design with worn statues in the doorways or on stone brackets. ‘As I gazed, every projecting angle, cornice, and even the faces of the stones at their joinings were by degrees covered or hung with clusters of what seemed to be huge precious stones, but uncut stones, some being more like masses of transparent fruits…. All seemed to possess an interior light.” (51)
Have not all of these visions, described here in words, also found pictorial form in the canvases of Bosch, Blake, Moreau, and Fuchs? In The Chimeras of Moreau, and his Triumph of Alexander the Great, have we not seen vast celestial cities rise up with Gothic, Indian, and Aztec architecture all intermixed? Fuchs himself describes how “In 1952, in an attic room near boulevard Montparnasse, I saw architectural visions for the first time. They passed across the wall, as if painted there in fresco, while I lay feverous in my bed… This architectural panorama became clearer and clearer, so that I could distinguish the finest details. Soon, it was as if I were flying with open arms over these unending panoramas, while their forms continued to metamorphose and transform, one after the other…”(52)
In Fuchs’ Job and the Judgement of Paris, we behold not only this architectural complexity, but also ‘the beauty of curved reflections, of sleek and smooth surfaces’ just mentioned by Huxley. Bosch too delighted in polished stone and metal, and moreover, in their strange, hybrid forms, such as appears in his fountain from The Garden of Earthly Delights. Here mineralia, vegetalia, and animalia – their various textures and surfaces – are strangely displaced from one to the other. Plants seem made of stone, while architectural devices acquire an organic quality. Giger has also commented on this strange displacement of textures and forms. Through spontaneous drawings with the airbrush, he “…established certain connections in the architecture of the human body on the one hand and in the technological world on the other. Through them, I also learned to value more highly the theories put forward by Ernst Fuchs in his Architectura Caelestis.”(53)
Fuchs has commented at length how, after the ingestion of hashish, he marvelled at “mountains of shining gorgeous stones with a shimmering light on them. Everything was translucent and seemed to glow from within.” (54) That same night, he began painting transparent, jewel-like tear drops over the surface of his Psalm 69. During this same period, he beheld a colossal figure in a dream composed of different stone surfaces – a colossal figure that, in another revelatory dream, appeared to him as an angel. Thus began his series of Cherub paintings – each angel composed, variously, of malachite, amethyst, opel, onyx, etc.
“An angel”, Mati Klarwein reminds us, “is a being whose silhouette, or hands or eyes… can evoke and impregnate you with a state of utter bliss bordering on ecstasy.” (55)
But it is particularly the art of Robert Venosa which offers us sidereal visions of angels, seraphs, and cherubs in flowing crystalline form, all graced with glistening water drops and semi-precious stones. The artist takes obvious delight in rendering these swirling forms and undulating surfaces, which have clearly descended from a higher world.“The paintbrush is the key,” Venosa writes, “that allows entry into the divine mysteries.” (56)
It is not mere chance that the Sacred has also been seen to reside in flowers – those many-petalled unfoldings of brilliant colour, light, and form. In western mysticism, there is the Rosa Mystica, the vision of God as a Celestial Rose described by Dante in the Paradiso. In the East, the many-petalled lotus, each inscribed with a sacred syllable, in whose centre lies the mysterious jewel. For Huxley, a flower appeared to him, in an alternative state, as “pulsing with indecipherable mystery.” (57) For Fuchs, in his later years an unending series of flower paintings flowed from within, inspired by child-like joy:“The peacock’s plume of an inexhaustible kaleidoscope, unbound by mythology or religion, unfolded before my eyes in a continuing process of change, with every imaginable combination of colours.”(58) And for Klarwein, the landscapes of Israel, Tunisia, and Mallorca became a playground of infinitely detailed vegetation, causing him to exclaim, “Oh sundazed ecstasies of God-knows-what chemical reaction at the sight of a motionless palm tree… There are archetypes of harmony… so intense that I wonder if it is not the palm tree itself using my nervous system vicariously to communicate with the creator.” (59)
It must not be forgotten that visions of a higher world are often released through organic compounds found in certain plants. More recently, Terrence McKenna has written of the experiences triggered by psychotropic plants. After ingesting stropharia mushrooms in the jungles of La Chorrera, he reported how “I immersed myself in millions of images of humankind in all times and places, understanding and yet struggling with the insoluble enigmas of being and human destiny.” (60) Then he adds, “All was myth-making and image-making, mercurial, multi-leveled, ever-flowing.” (61) And he concludes,“Each of these experiences was… a chilling, exhilerating plunge into an ocean of noetic images. I discovered my own mind like a topological manifold, lying before me, inviting me to rove and scan the reflective knot of past and future time that is each of us.” (62)
At times, the adventure he shared with his brother in the Colombian jungles resembled a river journey into ‘the heart of darkness’, complete with shamanic vision-quests, UFO encounters, and a strange descent into madness. At a nadir point in the journey, his brother lost all contact with the world of our shared perception. And McKenna relates,
As he climbed the tree, he felt the flickering polarities of many archetypes, and as he reached the highest point in his ascent, something that he called ‘the vortex’ opened ahead of him – a swirling, enormous doorway into time. He could see the Cyclopean megaliths of stonehenge and beyond them, revolving at a different speed and at a higher plane, the outlines of the pyramids, gleaming and marble faceted as they have not been since the days of pharonic Egypt. And yet farther into the turbulent maw of the vortex, he saw mysteries that were ancient long before the advent of man… (63)
Such are the ‘Visions of Light’ which may break unexpectedly upon the artist during the course of his experimental journey. Sometimes, the Sacred appears in its more traditional forms of imagery. As Grof related, the eternal Mysterium may appear archetypally as the ancient Father enthroned in palacial mansions and enhaloed by swirling cherubim. Or again, union with God may be imagined as a loving embrace with the Great Mother Goddess of ancient religions – the heiros gamos. Other times, as in the visions of Johfra, the symbols of different traditions may combine with one another, revealing the eternal Unio Mystica at their shared source.
The architecture of the heavenly realm may reveal itself in a cascade of jewels, polished surfaces, and semi-precious stones. Endless vistas may unfold, or all may become a swirling vortex of ancient architecture. Seraphs and cherubs may descend in flowing crystalline form or as multi-surfaced stone. Flowers unfold in intoxicating arrays of colour.
Finally, the images themselves may give way, leaving only flashing auras of light: rainbow spectra, peacock tails, a rosace of stained glass – all of which may ultimately dissolve into a singular circle of golden light.
The Visionary artist explores imagery, not only beforehand in his dreams, meditations and momentary inspirations, as well as during, while his pencil or brush moves across the empty expanse of canvas, but also afterward, when he looks at his work anew, in mirrors and from new perspectives, noticing how certain images and lines invite others to assemble beside them. Drawing, it must not be forgotten, is a means of ‘drawing forth’ images from the depths of the unconscious, and giving them form with the aid of the imagination – exaggerating their shapes, elongating their figures, pushing the harmonious relation of their lines, and even combining images in strange and unexpected ways.
From the foregoing, one may be easily misled into thinking that hallucinogens are the visionary’s prime means of image-exploration. Nothing could be further from the truth. Visionaries have, over centuries, sought all means of exploration and experimentation. It is true that, lately, certain psychedelics (such as mescalin, LSD, mushrooms, and DMT) have played a large role in image-creation, due mainly to the fact that they are new to our culture, offering unique and largely unexplored means to the visionary experience.
But the sources of Visionary experience are many and varied: dreams, lucid dreams, nightmares, hypnagogic images, waking dreams, trance states (brought on by exhaustion, deprivation, or the rhythmic repitition of prayer or song), hypnotic states, illness, near-death experiences, shamanic vision-quests, meditation (whether with eyes closed or focused upon a sacred image), madness (be it temporarily – due to life’s traumas – or permanent), day-dreaming, fantasy, the imagination, inspiration, visitation, revelation, spontaneous visions, psychedelics, reading, and – let us not forget – the metanoic experiences brought on by Visionary art itself.
MADNESS & VISION
Since time immemorial, madness has been linked with vision. In the earliest times, the Shaman on his vision-quest had to not only endure privation and isolation, but willingly submit himself to temporary insanity – envisioning his flesh burned away, his bones scattered and buried. Re-emerging once more from this ordeal, he became one of the ‘twice-born’, now seeing all things ‘anew’. Only from this descent into madness came, for him, the acquisition of Vision.
Unfortunately, those touched by madness have been, for most of our history, hunted down like witches, burned like heretics, or more mercifully, locked away in asylums. Only in the 20th century was madness investigated, and subsequently appreciated for its strange image-language. By comparing madness to dreams, Freud found unexpected similarities between the two, particularly in the structure of their imagery. And, by extending this analysis further, Jung found a deeper structural similarity with the images of sacred art and myth.
And it followed, if the myriad imagery of the insane could plunge their minds into madness, could not the parallel imagery of sacred art and myth raise them up again to new-found states of clarity? Jung explored this very path in his ‘confrontation with the unconscious’, finding that the images which emerged from his willing descent into madness bore the marks of, what he ultimately recognized as, ‘the archetypes’ – that is to say, primordial images appearing in the sacred art of all times and places. These images had the power to return their beholder to the source – to the sacred time of the beginning, before the Fall, before illness, before even the onset of madness itself. In this way, the images of madness could become, through images of the sacred, a kind of healing.
Following Jung, Joseph Campbell analyzed images of the insane, comparing them now to the imagery of myth. And he found that the pattern of their emergence during deepening schizophrenia was nearly identical to the pattern of the hero’s mythic journey – prompting him to refer to this interior crisis as ‘the Inward Journey’: “The imagery of schizophrenic fantasy perfectly matches that of the mythological hero journey… Very briefly: the usual pattern is, first, of a break away or departure from the local social order and context; next, a long, deep, retreat backward, as it were, in time, and inward, deep into the psyche; a chaotic series of encounters there, darkly terrifying experiences and presently (if the victim is fortunate) encounters of a centering kind, fulfilling, harmonizing, giving new courage; and then finally, in such fortunate cases, a return journey of rebirth to life.” (64)
The ‘retreat backward in time’ is characterized by Campbell as “a terrific drop-off or regression… Falling back into his own past, the psychotic becomes an infant, a fetus in the womb. One has the frightening experience of slipping back to animal consciousness.” (65)
These regressions may culminate in ‘darkly terrifying experiences’ which, paradoxically, may also be experienced as near-enlightenment. In the case of one schizophrenic, Campbell relates how “…he felt that he was more than he had ever imagined himself to be, that he had existed forever, in all forms of life, and was experiencing it all again; but also that he had now before him a great and terrible journey to accomplish, and this gave him a feeling of deep fear.” (66) Because, as the patient ultimately discovered, the mystic may be able to dive into these psychological depths and even navigate their currents, while the schizophrenic is slowly sinking and even drowning.
Finally, the schizophrenic may have ‘encounters of a centering kind’ through the emergence of certain deep archetypes – healing images that include scenes of death and rebirth, of embrace with the Goddess, or a return to the land from whence he once set out.
But, for any of us, this unwilling descent into madness may occur – sometimes temporary, sometimes more permanent. This is due to ‘the thousand natural shocks that flesh is hier to’ – life’s unexpected mishaps, the shock of the unexpected. Especially, there is the trauma of sudden separation, be that the death of someone loved, the break-up with a lover, or the loss of our own childhood self. As a result, a series of unexpected images uprise in our imagination, offering us visions of comfort or release. We imagine the death journey of the departed, we fantasize endlessly of re-uniting with a lost lover, we long for the lost joy of earliest childhood. Each of these spontaneous fantasies find their parallel imagery in sacred art and myth: the Egyptian After-world Journey, the Babylonian Sacred Marriage, or the birth of the Christ child.
For the visionary artist, such journeys into ‘the heart of darkness’ offer him, as their reward, amazing images emerging from his inner depths. And the work of art that results allows the artist, or anyone else who beholds it, to re-experience continually its healing and centering power. It locates the beholder at the very centre of his existence, in the awareness of life as a gradual awakening to the Sacred.
Perhaps the oldest sources of imagery – a vast, fascinating territory that, to this day, remains largely unexplored – is dreams. The Old Testament tells us how dreams, like ‘Jacob’s ladder’, may offer a series of oneiric images, a ‘ladder of vision’ leading to the Absolute. Blake rendered this vision into form as a spiralling staircase, evolving and revolving into the highest heavens.
From Classical times, such dreams were recognized and classified into their respective types: the visum or phantasma, constituting a normal night’s dream; the insomnium or enypnion, offering instead nightmares and anxiety. Then came the more fascinating somnium or oneiros, “an enigmatic dream… that conceals with strange shapes and veils with ambiguity the true meaning of the information being offered, and requires an interpretation for its understanding.” (67) Greater still came the visio or horama – a prophetic vision verified by subsequent events. And finally, at the highest level, appeared the oraculum or chrematismos, in which a sacred person, or even the Sacred itself, broke upon the dreamer in a momentary epiphany.
As the visionary artist opens himself gradually to the presence of the Sacred in his life, his dreams too may reveal the increasing presence of the Numinous. We have already recounted how Fuchs, at a most difficult period in his life, saw in his dreams a colusses and, later, an angel. These were no normal dreams. As he recounts, “I dreamt in a way which I had never dreamt before: strong and colourful, glowing…”(68) And, in a fascinating passage from Architectura Caelestis, he elaborates, “My encounters with the phantastic, with that world which the corporal eye rarely or never sees… had always taken place before on a different level: on… the painting or drawing surface, the plate on which images impressed themselves ‘automatically’ as in a state of trance… Never before had I dreamt so violently, never seen such a vision, had never before ‘really’, with ‘open eyes’ been transferred into this other world. For, I am sure of this, such a dream is not seen in sleep, the state of the dreamer is awake, a brightly awake one…” (69) These two dreams, like visio or oracula, were so evocative of the Sacred, that all other visionary experiences paled by comparison. And he testifies, “The power of these dreams, especially the second dream, surpassed by far anything which I had experienced under the influence of drugs.” (70)
Where the Surrealists were primarily inspired by Freud’s writings on dreams, the Fantastic Realists had Jung’s latest discoveries to spur them onward to new dimensions of consciousness. And so, while the early dream-works of Dali manifest much of the repressed sexual imagery uncovered by Freud, the fantastic works of the early Fuchs, by contrast, revealed the sacred images of alchemy which Jung had recently uncovered in dreams. (For example, Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy which, with its many plates and engravings, led Fuchs onward to new experiments in imagery with his unicorn engravings of the fifties).
During his own ‘confrontation with the unconscious’, Jung spiralled down into deeper and deeper strata of the mind, discovering there the collective imagery of dreams. However, during the process, many of the images upwelling from his dreams and fantasies remained a mystery to him. After seeing a horned, bearded prophet flying through the sky with four keys in his hands, he responded in a curious manner: “Since I did not understand this dream-image,” he wrote,“I painted it.” (71) A series of dream and fantasy images followed, all rendered into art. This culminated in a revelatory dream where Jung visited a city shaped like a mandala, with a sacred tree growing from its centre. “Out of (this dream),” Jung wrote, “emerged the first inkling of my personal myth.” (72) This was the beginning, the moment of discovery, the emergence of his own creative psychology. Years later he remaked that “the years when I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life.” (73)
Through the further researches of Eliade and Campbell, this creative interplay between art, myth, and dream has been expored to ever-greater depths over the last century.“Imagery, especially the imagery of dreams,” Campbell remarked, “is the basis of mythology.”(74) And Eliade echoed this sentiment: “In the oneiric universe, we find again and again the symbols, the images, the figures and events of which mythologies are constituted.” (75) By documenting the evolution of imagery in their dreams, visionary artists have contributed to this impetus – offering a rich array of imagery from the darkest depths of the unconsious and leading their beholders, unexpectedly, to the light. Through the on-going impression of image after image onto canvas, an artist could gradually discover his own life-myth: a myth that would reveal to him, ultimately, the Sacred underlying his life. For “Myth,” Jung recognized “is the revelation of a divine life in man.”(76)
Hence, the visionary artist descends nightly into the underworld of dreams, arising each morning with new possible sources for his works. Though some dreams are difficult to remember, another species of dreams are almost impossible to forget. This is especially true of ‘lucid dreams’, which have become increasingly documented lately. Though Hervey de Saint-Denys (1851) was the first and probably most-indepth researcher of lucid dreams, Stephan Laberge has emerged lately as their greatest champion. In a characteristically lucid dream, the dreamer suddenly ‘wakes up’ within the dream, becoming strangely aware of his state of dreaming. To a degree, he may even begin to control its actions and events. The obvious advantage, for Visionary artists, is the possibility of exploring dream-imagery much more deeply. While Saint-Denys used the technique to confront demons from his nightmares, LaBerge used it instead to soar to new heights of awareness and experience.
During his two revelatory dreams, Fuchs also felt that ‘he was awake’ and seeing things ‘with eyes open’. Indeed, he “…was overcome by a high feeling at the very beginning of the dream,” (77) a sensation of ‘supra-consciousness’ which, afterwards, caused him to reflect: “What I have seen and experienced in this dream is still far above my consciousness and knowledge.”(78)
In fact, the higher world revealed to him in these two dreams caused him, thereafter, to seek all means of visionary experience, discovering a hidden link between dream and drug states: “Of one thing I was sure… between the two experiences (spheres) – the visionary dream and the drug – there was a strong connection, dream and hashish-ecstasy had to do with one another. From then on, for about two years, I looked for these states of ecstasy ‘by all means’ and experimented with almost all hallucinatory drugs.” (79)
But, no sooner had the two states come together then they began to conflict. Soon, drugs offered him only ‘stolen glimpses’ of that higher world which dreams had once made visible. “I knew or anticipated that the world for which I was looking had a gate, and the drug was only a ladder for thieves who, in order to ‘steal’, climbed over the wall because they did not know the gate or did not have the key for it.(…) I wanted to get rid of the bothersome feeling of dependence, find a legitimate access to this world, the only key to which seemed to be the drug… I knew it from my dream which I had experienced without drugs – there had to be other ways (…) Above all, I tried the track of the permanence of the daily time of work… I concentrated on the fixation of my picture surface.” (80)
In the end, it was meditation – particularly meditation upon the images he was painting – which opened the gateway once more unto the world, so desparately sought, of visionary experience. And so, with this cautionary reminder, let us concentrate once more on the types of visions induced through psychedelics.
Psychedelic substances have played a major spiritual and mythologizing role in many historical cultures. In India, the ancient Vedas mention soma, the sap of a sacred plant now lost to us. In ancient Greece, the Gods were said to drink ambrosia and nectar, which may very well have been a veiled reference to the hallucinogenic mushrooms amanita muscaria and panaeolus papilionaceus. In the Middle and Far East, cannabis has long been present under many forms (hashish, charas, bhang, kif), and inspired religious practices among the Sufis and Brahmins. The Aztecs and Mayans are known to have used peyote (from the cactus lophophora williamsii) and mushrooms (psilogybe mexicana), which travelled up to the natives of North America. Meanwhile, in South America, Amazonian tribes used yagé or the ‘visionary vine’ (banisteriopsis caapi) as well as the more potent ayahuascheros.
While European culture officially recognized wine, beer, and various liquors (alcohol) as a legitimate source of social gathering and even as a religious sacrement, it it strongly condemned the use of psychedelics, such as those used in witches’ brews (nightshade, mandrake, henbane, toadskin) and possibly extracted in alchemy as well.(81)
Still, by the 19th century, certain European and American poets were producing works under the influence of marijuana and hashish which found acceptance in Occidental culture (Coleridge, Poe, Baudelaire). By the middle of the 20th century, the use of these substances was banned by law, even as new psychedelics were being synthesized or isolated (LSD, DMT). At the same time, the music, poetry, and art which bore traces of their influence moved into the mainstream. Beat poetry, free Jazz, Psychedelic music, acid Rock – all of these forms moved from total obscurity to partial acceptance. And the same is true of Psychedelic art, Fanstastic Realism, Meta-Realism, etc which we are gathering here under the rubrique of Visionary Art.
The states of mind offered by hallucinogens are many and varied. It is not simply a question of ‘what images’ may arise. More difficult for the Visionary artist to convey are the many modalities of perception, the multiple states of mind, and the kinds of insights that can occur. Many of these have been documented and brought together under the heading of ‘Transpersonal’ Psychology – perhaps the third revolution in psychology, after Freud and Jung. A quick glimpse at the books lying around the studio of many third generation Visionaries will no doubt reveal atleast one or two titles by Ken Wilber or Stanislav Grof – the former a philosopher of the transpersonal, the latter its foremost psychologist.
In his on-going studies of transpersonal states, Grof has made the observations that:
“In transpersonal experiences, as they occur in psychedelic sessions or in various non-drug frameworks… many experiences belonging to this category are interepreted by the subjects as regressions in historical time and explorations of their biological or spiritual past. It is not unusual in psychedelic sessions to experience quite concrete and realistic episodes identified as fetal and embryonic memories… On occasion, LSD subjects report experiences in which they identify with various animal ancestors in the evolutionary pedigree or have a distinct feeling of reliving episodes from their existence in a previous incarnation.
“Some other transpersonal phenomena involve transcendence of spatial rather than temporal barriers. Here belong the experience of merging with another person into a state of dual unity or completely identifying with him or her… In a similar way, one can transcend the limits of specifically human experience and tune in to what appears to be the consciousness of animals, plants, or even inanimate objects. In the extreme, it is possible to experience the consciousness of all creation. (82)
“As the psychedelic process continues and the subject explores the world of transpersonal phenomena, many of the …attributes of the Newtonian-Cartesian world-view become philosophically untenable. The possiblity of transcending the limits of matter, time, space, and linear causality is experienced so many times and in so many different ways that it has to be integrated into the new world-view.” (83)
The philosopher who has made the greatest attempt to integrate these insights into a new world-view is Ken Wilber. Particularly through extended periods of meditation, he has tried to identify and articulate those transpersonal states which hallucinogens offer for a few ‘peak’ moments (of timeless duration).
For Wilber, Transpersonal Philosophy involves seeing all of life as part of a greater whole. That wholeness is ‘transpersonal’ in the sense of being ‘one awareness’ with creativity, self-consciousness and spiritual unity. Meanwhile, each aspect of its totality is in transition – the many strands of life that are gradually evolving into greater, more complex, and yet holistic structures. Through a process of ‘transcend and include’, each organism within the great chain of being evolves to a higher level – and a greater degree of complexity, awareness, and wholeness.
Man is at a particularly high level, having achieved not only consciousness but self-consciousness. He looks at the world and his place in it from the outside and the inside, both individually and collectively. (This creates four particular world-views: the biological and psychological; the social and cultural). Each offers its own truth, though all are needed for a truly holistic view of the world.
Within his own lifetime, a man evolves from the ‘pre-personal worldview’ of early childhood (where you identify yourself more with bodily development – the physio- and bio-centric) to a later, ‘personal worldview’ (where you find your centre in ego and its role in society – the ego- and ethno-centric), to a final ‘transpersonal worldview’ (where you have ‘decentered’ yourself from the earlier levels and transcended them in favour of a ‘world-centric’ view).
This higher, transpersonal state of being is uncommon: it may be witnessed by any of us for a few fleeting moments during certain ‘peak’ experiences. But more traditionally, it has manifest itself for more prolonged states among shamans, yogis, monks, or other contemplatives prone to mystical or visionary experiences.
There are several ‘peak’ transpersonal experiences identified by Wilber. The first of these include, what he calls, Nature Mysticism: “Your identity decenters and expands…(so that you) actually experience your central identity, not just with all human beings, but all living beings… You experience the World Soul.”(84) Thus, meditating upon a tree, you suddenly ‘become that tree’. Certainly, Mati Klarwein captured this experience when he spoke of ‘a motionless palm tree which used my nervous system to communicate with the creator’. And he went to great lengths in the attempt to capture this experience in a painting.
This initial experience of Nature Mysticism may also expand to include, what Wilber calls, Deity Mysticism. Through deep meditation, certain timeless archetypes arise which give form to the identity between you and the transcendent whole: “you are looking at the basic forms and foundations of the entire manifest world. You are looking directly into the Face of the Divine.”(85) Now, the transcendent Unity (of which we are a part) acquires the lineaments of our own face, but with features expanding to divine proportions. All cultural images and archetypes uprise in our memory, to render this experience into form. Certainly, Johfra’s image of the Unio Mystica, with its multitude of cross-cultural symbols centered onto one interior, captures this experience and offers it visual form.
Another transpersonal state identified by Wilber, ‘the Causal’, pursues upwelling awareness to its source, to its ultimate cause, only to lose itself ultimately in “unmanifest absorption or cessation… likened to a deep dreamless sleep, except… it is infinitely drenched in the fullness of Being… this pure Self is pure Emptiness.” (86) Hence, “In front of you the clouds parade by, your thoughts parade by, bodily sensations parade by, and you are none of them. You are the vast expanse of freedom through which all these objects come and go…”(87) Ultimately, the causeless cause of awareness is called ‘the Seer’ – “This pure Seer is prior to life and death, prior to time and turmoil, prior to space and movement, prior to manifestation…”(88) Hence, it is referred to as ‘Formless Mysticism’.
But, moving beyond this to the next transpersonal state of ‘Non-duality’, we ‘transcend and include’ Nature, Deity, and Formless Mysicism under the higher, more-encompassing ‘Non-Dual Mysticism’. We cease to identify ourselves with Nature, with the Divine, or with the Seer, and surrender ourselves to their deeper unseen unity. “There is nobody watching the display, there is just the display, a spontaneous and luminous gesture of pure perfection… You are still you and the mountain is still the mountain, but you and the mountain are two sides of one and the same experience, which is the one and only reality at that moment.”(89) And, what is more, “Your soul expands to the corners of the universe and embraces all with infinite delight. You are utterly Full, utterly Saturated, so full and saturated that the boundaries to the Kosmos completely explode and leave you without date or duration, time or location, awash in an ocean of infinte care. You are released into the All, as the All – you are the self-seen radiant Kosmos, you are the universe of One Taste, and the taste is utterly infinite.”(90)
It may appear impossible for Visionary artists to render Formless and Non-Dual Mysticism into image form. And yet, as Wilber’s descriptions make clear, the images are still present; it is only the attitude of the viewer which has changed. By meditating upon images of the world, he has gradually transcended them. But, all of this is through a process of ‘transcend and include’: the images themselves offer us the path which gradually leads to their transcendence. They are like a ‘ladder of vision’ which, once it is climbed, no longer need exist, and so may be discarded.
As such, the images in certain works of Visionary Art may be so arranged as to offer us new paths in our thinking. They do not describe or depict the resulting states (as Wilber’s texts have just tried to do) – they show us the way to it. Klarwein’s and Johfra’ images, leading to Nature and Deity Mysticism, become the first few steps on our visionary journey. And yet, many of Klarwein’s later landscapes, or De Es’ post-stone period works, may also lead us further – and indescribeably – to these higher Mystic states. It is all in the eyes of the beholder. As De Es commented, “When we wish to fully understand something we are observing, we must fully understand who is looking.” (91) And he adds mysteriously, “If our vision were clear, we would find ourselves at the bottom of everything. But all we get by looking is – pictures.” (92)
It is no secret that many Visionary works of art are designed to be viewed ‘with the aid of mind-altering substances’. What the hallucinogens offer, for a limited period of time, is a way of looking at pictures. And what the pictures offer, in exchange, is a way of looking at reality while in an altered state. The two compliment each other. And yet, what remains, once the effects of the drug has worn off, is the picture. A picture that, once, was a gateway to another world.
And it remains so. It has taught us a new way of looking, of seeing, of perceiving and beholding. Now, through dreams, meditation, deep breathing, and a variety of other means – the gate to that higher world may once more be opened, and the image itself transcended.
Most of us take reading so for granted that we forget the Visionary states it may induce. It is not merely a question of imagining the worlds which words may conjure – although that too is a visionary act. As Gustave Moreau reminds us, “I am all the more for dreams, for phantasmagorias of the imagination which I bring to my reading, with its many tales of lost and far-off civilizations – a naïvité, an impulsive child-like acceptance of everything unbelievable. …How else could we dream of India, of the forests of the New World, of fantastic islands in the Indian Ocean or antedeluvian flowers in the heart of Africa…” (93)
As we read, words trigger images from our memory. But the simple word ‘temple’ for example, in all its emptiness and generality, may conjure up a whole series of specific memory-images in any one person – each image finely-detailed and described. Meanwhile, the very same word may evoke an entirely different series of memory-images in another person. Such is the power of the imagination. Where these two people begin to share their memory-images is at the level of art: actually building such a temple communally, or rendering it into a painted image recognizable to us all (and thus, a ‘communal vision’).
As we read, our art and imagination render into form those mysterious worlds which words describe or denote. But, moving beyond that, our art and imagination may conjure up new worlds which words cannot describe – things beyond all verbal description. As we read, we are free to digress in our imagination, following chains of imagery and creating new combinations which eventually result in thoughts unheard of in the spoken language. As in dreams, we may begin to think in an image-language.
More fascinating still is the realization that we, while reading, must imagine the correspondence between the word and the world. We suppose it, we imagine it, and as we read, we picture it to ourselves – as if it were really there. But does such a connection actually exist?
While under the influence of hallucinagenic mushrooms, Terrence McKenna imagined that he could actually see this correspondence: “Things such as the normally invisible syntactical web that holds both language and the world together can condense or change its ontological status and become visible,” McKenna wrote.(94) In a similar way, while living on the island of Mallorca, Mati Klarwein “saw the entire coast, one sunny afternoon, composed of Hebrew texts,” and for the probable reason that “I had ingested a wild dose… which altered my state of consciousness for a while.” (95) He rendered this experience in two paintings: one of the landscape itself, which he titled Landscape Perceived, and the other of the same supposed landscaped, which now was only composed of spiralling Hebrew letters. The latter he called Landscape Described.
The images of this diptych invite us to ask: are words able to describe all that we perceive? Indeed, “Is language the adequate expression for all realities?” – as Nietzsche asked.(96) Despite the unquestionable power of language – to name, to model – is not the majority of our seeing done ‘without language’.
And, if this is the case, is it not possible that the only correspondence which exists between words and the world is one that we imagine? Meanwhile images may, perhaps, possess a direct way of seeing – one which is denied to words, indeed ‘beyond words’. Huxley thought as much. Despite the fact that he was nearly blind, and made his living by writing words, under the influence of mescaline he pronounced, “We must learn how to handle words effectively; but at the same time we must preserve and, if necessary, intensify our ability to look at the world directly and not through that half-opaque medium of concepts.” (97) In fact, Huxley came to mistrust language profoundly, seeing its inherited, shared perception of the world as“a reducing valve” (98) for the otherwise substance-expanded mind.
The alternative: ‘To see the world directly’ – but how? In another passage, Huxley offers a clue. Under the effects of mescalin, “visual impressions are greatly intensified, and the eye recovers some of the perceptual innocense of childhood,” (99) he writes. The way a child sees the world, particularly a new-born baby, is – we must remember – without language. It is also a way of seeing without identity, perspective, space or time.
While painting his hundreds of flower pictures, Fuchs described how “slowly feeling my way, my mind’s eye directed inwardly toward submerged forgotten images of youth, toward earliest childhood, I came sporadically to see that world again – a world having no purpose but to be marvellous. The objects, the characters, and the experiences had no names… I reminded myself that I too had no name, that I did not know who I was in those first days of discovery of this world. In that phase of childhood, without having developed the beginnings of a personality, the soul of a child relates unhindered to the wonder of the world.”
And he went on to elaborate how “Experiences of that sort returned to my memory: my own stammering, shrieking and laughter – all sounds not yet words, waiting to be learned and ordered… At the threshold of my return to childhood, I saw those roses again. I returned – I crawled – under the high roof of the bower that my parents had built as a sign of beauty, unconsciously remembering their own childhood. And I found it again: the God-like child playing with his gifts, worshipped by holy kings – in this case gardeners, fathers, or uncles. I saw the child playing in the water, immersed in the crystalline sparkle of the liquid element. This recognition let me forget all the evil; no pain, no threat could reach the heavenly child. He reached toward the amazed eye of his mother, dug his fingers deep into her lip, and laughed over her exclamations of pain – reaching the world, touching the world, understanding it without words.” (100)
THE ANCIENT IMAGE-LANGUAGE
Here we have the beginnings of a purely visual language – the new-born’s need for exploration, and the necessity for him to create. Visionary art explores the many possible ways we may combine images, in order to think further through them. It seeks to create new images, which will become part of our shared visual vocabulary. Combining cultural styles, juxtaposing symbols, re-picturing myths to ourselves – these give our visual language its grammar, and allow for shared meaning.
Understanding the history of visionary art means reading the hidden signs and recovering their lost meanings. We begin to understand why Bosch made plants as if from metal, why Klarwein saw the world as if in Kabbalistic script, or why De Es’ made his stonemen suddenly transparent to light.
The visual language is a lost language, like cyphers undecyphered. But it underlies all that we dream each night. It invisibly appears whenever the images of vision flow in a meaningful way. It emerges from madness. And the images drawn from these visions or dreams and then rendered into art – these begin to make the private image-language of each person a shared understanding and a communal experience.
From the trackless ways in the invisible dessert, the solitary wanderers are slowly emerging. Their many paths are crossing and combining. And, with child-like wonderment, they find themselves sharing the same horizon. The landscape they stand upon, though invisible, is seen by all – for it is the ancient image-language that allows them, together, to speak, communicate, and comprehend. Even song is added to their speech, as their artworks become ancient image-poems offering visions of the beginning, middle, and end of all things. This ancient image-language, otherwise forgotten is now being spoken once more.
THE QUESTION OF TECHNIQUE
From the technical point of view, Visionary artists are surprisingly united in their tastes, temperment, and preferences. Though their methods may differ – some preferring classical techniques of oil and varnish, others the airbrush, and others still the new graphic capacities of computers – all agree that as precise a rendering as possible is absolutely necessary for vision-inducing works. Fine lines, gradual transitions, infinite details – there is no limit to the pains endured nor the patience required to successfully render a vision into image form.
Why this emphasis on accuracy? Speaking for the Fantastic Realists, Fuchs relates that “From the beginning we wanted to re-animate the craftsmanship of the Old Masters. But, more than that, we wanted to depict the fantastic image in such a way as if it were painted, not by hand, but by the dream itself, leaving no trace of the craftsmanship behind.” (101)
And De Es expands on this idea: “In these early works, I avoided anything which could look like a brushstroke. The onlookers always wondered how it was done. They were really quite mystified. That sort of response made me feel very good about my work, because that is how I perceived existence. There are no brushstrokes in life, and only the creator knows how it is done. I am left mystified.” (102)
Just as the vision arrives spontaneously with little indication of its origin, so does the artist leave his work behind with little trace of his role as its author. For, he is transcribing as faithfully as possible what he saw uprising unbidden from within – like a prophet or seer visited by uncommanded visions. The aim is to make the painterly medium as invisible as possible, so that the image itself is presented im-mediately to the viewer.
While the vision, and its faithful reproduction in image-form, are of primary importance in Visionary art, the use of different methods and techniques naturally bring about different results. Many of the more recognized Visionaries practise some variation of the Mischtechnik (Fuchs, Brauer, Hausner, Klarwein, De Es, Venosa, et al). This technique approximates, as much as possible, the lost techniques of the Old Masters (Jan van Eyck, Jean Fouquet). Fuchs gradually developed its fundamentals after a reading of Doerner (The Materials of the Artist), conversations with other artists (Annegoni) and some disastrous experiments.
Like other members of the Fantastic Realists, he possessed a strong desire to paint once more like the Old Masters: “I remember how, as a quintet, the five of us stood before Hugo van der Goes’ Adam and Eve and made a silent vow to acquire the art of painting in the same manner as this artist. At the beginning, it went very bad for all of us, as we had no direct predecessor to reveal the secrets of Old Master’s painting.” (103)
The methods and effects of the Mischtechnik which Fuchs finally developed are as follows. In principle, the painting is built up in a series of alternating layers between white egg-tempera emulsion and colour oleo-resinous glazes. First of all, a dark, coloured ground is laid down over the drawing (the imprimatura – usually in red, violet, or caput mortuum) and the forms are then defined using a white egg-tempera emulsion (laid into the wet ground). Hence, the artist concentrates soley on the tonal value of the object, building up its volume, texture, plasticity, line etc – in the absence of colour. Opalescence is important here – a fine hatching of lines or else a semi-transparent stipling that creates ‘optical greys’ – which allow the underlying colours to interract with the subsequent colour glazes.
So much for the technique, as described thus far. Of greater interest are the visionary states it may induce in the artist. Through the whites, the artist can lose himself in a numinous play of luminosity – achieving such iridescent effects as haloes, radiance, back-lighting, sillhouettes, the illusion of semi-transparent beings or – indeed – total immersion into blinding white light.
Returning to the technique, the artist then lays down a coloured glaze thinly and semi-transparently (even lifted off with the palm of the hand) over the egg tempera. As a result, the newly-added colour sits fairly intact atop the opaque areas of white while, in the more opalescent areas, it creates a strong interraction between upper and lower layers of colour. By adding new layers of white egg tempera emulsion between succeeding colour glazes (to lay a foundation for new colours), the process may be repeated indefinitely.
Just as alchemy traditionally passed through four distinctive colour stages in the opus (the nigredo, albedo, cauda pavonis, and rubedo), so does the Mischtechnik, in its most basic form, move through four corresponding stages: the red of the imprimatura, followed by the yellow of the first glaze, then by the blue of a second glaze, and finally by the ‘local colours’, depending on the object to be rendered. In short, the vision of the beholder passes through red, yellow and blue – the three primary colours from which all others are constituted – followed by a variety of local colours – like a peacock’s tail – so that all ultimately combine in his mind into a radiant, gem-like whole.
More advanced practitioners of the Mischtechnik have experimented with a variety of different colour glazes. The unique result of such glazing is that the artist may create a multitude of colour combinations, not only through the effect of one colour beside the other (‘traditional impressionism’) but also on top of the other (‘visionary impressionism’). Mixing such colours on the palette would result only in mud. But, sitting on top of one another on the canvas, they blend in the eye of the beholder to form new colours of incredible richness and depth, hitherto unseen in this world. Only in rare jewels, clear seas, crystals and other vision-inducing materials can those transluscent depths be experienced in the exterior world. But, the unique colours created through layering ultimately transcend that experience, and are to be found only in the interior world of our dreams, visions, and imagination.
As Fuchs recalls: “Hausner’s contribution was to sharpen our awareness of colour through his many amiable critiques. He was able to demonstrate to us the many possibilities of polychromy and complementary colours, so that it became emminently clear how painting had evolved since the time of the Gothics.” (104)
Before embarking on the path of Fantastic Realism, Rudolf Hausner had painted in a more traditional Impressionist style. As a result, he was able to apply Impressionest theories of Polychromy to the Mischtechnik. As Hausner recounts:
“The painting of the Old Masters proceeds from the local colour of the object… My painting proceeds from the colour spectrum… The Old Masters painted a red ball in local colour by using light red in the lights and dark red in the shadows. They knew the complementary effect of warm and cold in relation to light and shadow, and increased the volume of the object in this way.
“I paint a red ball using spectrum colours. For example, in the light, I put red-orange; on the shadow’s border, I put violet; and in the back light, I use green. And in this way, the ball becomes red through the combined effect of all these colours working together. I did not discover polychromy – it came from spectrum analysis and was brought forward by the Impressionists.”(105)
Particularly when the tonal value of the colours is very high in whites, a unique array of ‘prismatic’ colours may be achieved, such as one sees in nature through ‘mother of pearl’ seashells or reflected by the carpace of certain scarabs. As Terrence McKenna recounts, “The diffraction of light that occurs in natural phenomena such as rainbows, peacock feathers, certain insects, and the colours that appear on the surfaces of some metals during heating are persistent motifs within a particular stage of the alchemical opus. The cauda pavonis (the peacock’s tail) is the brief stage that heralds the final whitening…”(106) As such, prismatic colours are to found, ultimately, in the vision-quest, where a multiplicity of hightened colours may harmonize, blend, and ultimately unite into pure white light.
Following the same technique, colours of extremely dark tonal value may be laid repeatedly but still transparently over a white or even black ground. This gives us the opposite effect, of the deep rich colours found in the stained glass of cathedrals (blue, crimson), in the iridescent reflections on a black panther’s fur or the wings of certain butterflies (violet), in the feathers of certain ‘birds of paradise’ (emerald), and even in Buddhists’ robes (saffron).
Finally, by ‘bleeding’ all these colours – gradually removing their hue – a negative effect is created which approximates the grey and colourless world described in the visions of schizophrenics – the light-lacking underworld, such as appears in many of Giger’s works. Beyond this, a symphony of blacks may be created, with only the slightest hint of colour, to render more macabre subjects.
Through the technology of the airbrush, the basic principles of the Mischtechnik may still be applied, accompanied by some interesting variations. First of all, the airbrush is able to disperse the whites (using such water-based paints as acrylics or ink) in a manner similar to brush-painted tempera, so that the optical greys may still be achieved. Secondly, the succeeding colour layers may also be appliedsemi-transparently allowing the upper colours to interract with the lower – thus achieving the super-imposed colour mixtures unique to Visionary Impressionism. These, however, appear differently from the glistening depths of oleo-resinous vehicles – thinner and shallower, but more solid and voluminous.
As Giger relates, his first encounter with the airbrush led to a virtual outpouring of the imagination: “Encouraged by a girlfriend, I began some new experiments with the airbrush at the beginning of 1972. A veritable flood of monsters and exuberant baroque decoration was released into my pictures.” (107)
Finally, through computer rendering, a palette extending to millions of colours may be achieved. Forms may be scanned, turned about, echoed and repeated. A multitude of textures, swirls, reflections and perspectives may created through mathematical mappings. And with animation, the image may even begin to move. The visionary potential of this new medium is still largely unexplored, though Beksinski, Bill Elsworth, Voke, and many others (as yet still unrecognized) are presently expressing their visions in this new art form, whose canvas is nowhere and whose flickering, fleeting images, meanwhile, may be projected everywhere. With no doubt, the computer screen will soon open in our mind new doorways of perception.
A DEFINITION OF VISIONARY BEAUTY
Visionary works of art seek a beauty of ‘balanced tension’. In the lines, the colours, and the forms there arises, at one and the same moment, a concord and a conflict: what is contrary pushing them apart, and what is common drawing them together once more. All the images of a composition will manifest this tension – the parts struggling to reveal a unified whole; the whole falling once more into scattered multiplicity.
The task then of the artist: to depict a multiplicity of things, yet still manifest the hidden harmony, indeed unity, holding them all together – a unity that we may suddenly see, reminding us of our origins.
- Arthur Rimbaud, ‘letter’, cited in Colin Wilson, The Outsider,
Victor Gollancz publ, 1956, p. 230.
- Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception / Heaven and Hell, Triad Grafton,1954, p. 19
- William Blake, ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ in The Portable Blake,
ed. by Alfred Kazin, Viking Penguin, 1946, p. 258.
- Ibid. p. 250.
- Ibid. p. 315.
- Ernst Fuchs, Im Zeichen der Sphinx, DTV verlag, author’s translation, p. 49.
- Mati Klarwein, Mil Ventanas / A Thousand Windows, Max Publishing,
text to painting ‘No Man’s Land’.
- Alex Grey, The Mission of Art, Shambhala Publications
- Philip Rubinov-Jacobson, Drinking Lightning, Interface Press, 2000,
p. 37, 42.
- Ernst Fuchs, ‘Fuchs on Fuchs’ in Fuchs de Draeger, Draeger Editeur, 1977, p. 101.
- De Es, ‘Artist’s Statement 1974’ Heavy Light, Morpheus International, 1993, p. 32.
- Ernst Fuchs,Architectura Caelestis, Residenz Verlag, p. 161.
- William Blake, ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ in The Portable Blake,
ed. by Alfred Kazin, Viking Penguin, 1946, p. 258.
- Ernst Fuchs in Robert Venosa, Illuminatus, Interface Press, p. 13.
- Ibid. p.12.
- Alex Grey, The Mission of Art, Shambhala Publications
- Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception / Heaven and Hell, Triad Grafton, 1954, p. 106.
- Ibid. p. 107.
- Ibid. p. 108.
- Ibid. p. 110.
- H.R. Giger, Necronomicon, Big O publishing, 1978, p. 6.
- Ibid. p. 6.
- Ibid. p. 6.
- Ibid. p. 3.
- Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception / Heaven and Hell, Triad Grafton,1954, p. 107.
- Stanislav Grof, LSD Psychotherapy, Hunter House, 1980. p. 219.
- Ibid. p. 78.
- Ibid. p. 78.
- Ibid. p. 79.
- Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception / Heaven and Hell, Triad Grafton,1954, p. 108.
- Stanislav Grof, LSD Psychotherapy, Hunter House, 1980. p. 80.
- Ibid. p. 83.
- Ibid. p. 83.
- Ibid. p. 84.
- Robert Venosa, Illuminatus, Interface Press, p. 231.
- William Blake, ‘Jerusalem’ in The Portable Blake,
ed. by Alfred Kazin, Viking Penguin, 1946, p. 459.
- Ernst Fuchs, Im Zeichen der Sphinx, DTV verlag, author’s translation, p. 28.
- De Es, ‘Artist’s Statement 1974’ Heavy Light, Morpheus International, 1993,
- Alex Grey, The Mission of Art, Shambhala Publications
- Johfra, Astrologie: Tierkreiszeichen, Verlag Marco Aldinger, 1981, p. 3. Author’s translation
- William Blake, ‘Marginal Note’ in Kathleen Raine, William Blake,
Oxford University Press, 1970, p. 18.
- William Blake, ‘Letter to George Cumberland’ in Kathleen Raine, William Blake, Oxford University Press, 1970, p. 27.
- William Blake in Kathleen Raine, William Blake, Oxford University Press, 1970, p. 14, 15.
- Gustave Moreau in ‘Un Ouvrier Assembleur de Reves’ Gustave Moreau,
intro. and catalogue by Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Flammarion, 1991, p. 14. Author’s
- Ibid. p. 7.
- Ibid. p. 7.
- ‘The Book of Revelation’, The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version,
Catholic Truth Society, 1946
- Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception / Heaven and Hell, Triad Grafton,1954, p. 73.
- Ibid. p. 79.
- Ibid. p. 90.
- Ibid. p. 80.
- Ernst Fuchs, Paradiso, Gotz GmbH, 1998, p. 32. Author’s translation.
- H.R. Giger, Necronomicon, Big O publishing, 1978, p. 18.
- Ernst Fuchs, Architectura Caelestis, Residenz Verlag, p. 165.
- Mati Klarwein, Mil Ventanas / A Thousand Windows, Max Publishing,
text to painting ‘Angels’.
- Ernst Fuchs in Robert Venosa, Illuminatus, Interface Press, p. 218.
- Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception / Heaven and Hell, Triad Grafton,1954, p. 48.
- Ernst Fuchs, Planeta Caelestis, Edition q, Berlin, 1987, p. 7.
- Mati Klarwein, Mil Ventanas / A Thousand Windows, Max Publishing,
text to painting ‘Night in Tunisia’.
- Terrence McKenna, True Hallucinations, Harper SanFrancisco, 1994, p. 149.
- Ibid. p. 126.
- Ibid. p. 208.
- Ibid. p. 122.
- Joseph Campbell, ‘Schizophrenia – The Inward Journey’ in Myths to Live By,
Bantam Books, 1972, p. 208.
- Ibid. p. 225.
- Ibid. p. 229.
- Macrobius, (I. III. 10) Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, translated by William
H Stahl, Columbia University Press, 1990, p. 90.
- Ernst Fuchs, Architectura Caelestis, Residenz Verlag, p. 162.
- Ibid. p. 162.
- Ibid. p. 172.
- C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Vintage Books, 1961, p. 183.
- Ibid. p. 199.
- Ibid. p. 199.
- Joseph Campbell, The Mythic Image, Bollongen Series C, Princeton University Press, 1974, back cover.
- Mircea Eliade, Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries:
The Encounter Between Contemporary Faiths and Archaic Realities,translated by Philip Mairet, Harper Torchbooks, 1960, p. 14.
- C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Vintage Books, 1961, p. 340.
- Ernst Fuchs, Architectura Caelestis, Residenz Verlag, p. 162.
- Ibid. p. 162.79.
- Ibid. p. 165.
- Ibid. pp. 169 – 170, passim.
- Stanislav Grof, LSD Psychotherapy, Hunter House, 1980. p. 269.
Robert Graves, Greek Myths, vol I, Penguin Books, 1955, pp. 9 – 10.
- Stanislav Grof, LSD Psychotherapy, Hunter House, 1980. pp. 85, 86.
- Ibid. p. 242.
- Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything, Shambhala Publications, 1996, p. 203.
- Ibid. p. 218.
- Ibid. p. 220.
- Ibid. p. 222.
- Ibid. p. 224.
- Ibid. p. 228.
- Ibid. p. 230.
- De Es, ‘Artist’s Statement 1974’ Heavy Light, Morpheus International, 1993,
- Ibid. p. 32.
- Gustave Moreau in ‘Un Ouvrier Assembleur de Reves’ Gustave Moreau,
intro. and catalogue by Pierre-Louis Mathieu, Flammarion, 1991, p. 14. Author’s
- Terrence McKenna, True Hallucinations, Harper SanFrancisco, 1994, p. 73.
- Mati Klarwein, Mil Ventanas / A Thousand Windows, Max Publishing,
text to painting ‘Landscape Perceived/Described’.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense’, The Portable
Nietzsche, edited and translated by W. Kaufmann, Viking Penguin, 1964, p. 45.
- Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception / Heaven and Hell, Triad Grafton,1954, p. 60.
- Ibid. p. 20.
- Ibid. p. 21.
- Ernst Fuchs, Planeta Caelestis, Edition q, Berlin, 1987, pp. 7 – 9. passim.
- Ernst Fuchs, Im Zeichen der Sphinx, DTV verlag, author’s translation, p. 21.
- De Es, Heavy Light, Morpheus International, 1993, p. 6.
- Ernst Fuchs, Im Zeichen der Sphinx, DTV verlag, author’s translation, p. 24.
- Ibid. p. 21, authors’s translation.
- Rudolf Hausner, Ich, Adam, DTV verlag, p. 89, author’s translation.
- Terrence McKenna, True Hallucinations, Harper SanFrancisco, 1994, p. 142.
- H.R. Giger, Necronomicon, Big O publishing, 1978, p. 32.