As Above, So Below: Reflections on Immanence
John Natsoulas, 2015
These large-scale, largely abstract paintings reveal an on-going interest in phenomenology and scientific pantheism (and in the pure exuberance of painting itself). The basic idea of pantheism, in my view, is that the universe, and all its constituent parts, is glorious and awe-inspiring on all microcosmic and macrocosmic levels and everything in between. This presence of natural divinity is not dependent on human concerns and purports no preference or hierarchy between individuals or creatures or things. And yet we experience the enormous mystery of living through our bodies, through our senses. These paintings, and phenomenological inquiry itself, are interested in how embodied consciousness interacts with phenomena, the wonder of that interaction, indeed the fertility of it.
In this show, these areas of enduring interest for me are cast in the framework of a book recently written by my mother, Kathryn Hohlwein and her lifelong friend, Michael Genung. The work is called “Nine Nights: The Rhapsodies of Mnemosyne” and it explores, in nine meditations, the idea that the nine muses (essentially The Arts) were conceived by the actual intercourse of The Divine and Memory. I find this a gorgeous idea and decided to take it on, though I am in no way wanting to illustrate the writing, merely to respond, in the language of abstraction, to these ideas.
At their foundations, these paintings are based on loose, often utterly obscured drawings of love-making which reference discrete but intimate images shared by my own models named Nick and Chloe. Each painting is about the conception of the muses (from left to right in the gallery): Erato/Erotic Poetry, Terpsichore/Dance, Uterpe/Music, Clio/History, Melpomene/Tragedy, Thalia/Comedy, Calliope/Writing, Polymnia/Sacred Hymns, and Urania/Astronomy. The paintings aim to convey something of the spirit of each of the classical artistic inspirations. That these images arise out of erotica is part of the point: that inspiration lives in the body, comes from our heightened senses and the union of conscious experience. Our sense of mystery and our sense of our own selves and lives (individually and collectively) together create great possibility as we ourselves are indivisible from the enormous mystery and beauty that is in all and all that could be.
The mirrors throughout the room mean to suggest how phenomena can be made available to us if there is a vehicle for it to do so, how potential echoes, planes of possibility and reflection, and raw material for creativity could be everywhere. The photographs and mobile further explore this idea. The quotes on the mirrors come from the book.
Other paintings, (not the series), explore these ideas in a different but related way. My painting has always been “about”, in one way or another, the experience of consciousness, of being in the middle of it all, in a field of experience that is very much alive and in flux. They are about the experienced relational interchange between the ‘realistic’ and the ‘abstract,’ the actual and the psychological, between things and thoughts of things, between the tangible and the intangible. In all, they aim to reflect the stunning, wondrous luck of being here and alive.