2014 – oil on canvas, 200×150 cm / 79×59 in
“The artist should paint not only what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him”. Caspar David Friedrich
In “The Wanderer above the Mists” by this great painter of German Romanticism, the viewer is encouraged to place himself in the position of the “Rueckenfigur”, understanding that the scene is depicted as if perceived and idealized by a human. Together with J.M.W. Turner, another of my favorite painters, C.D. Friedrich sought to depict nature as a “divine creation, to be set against the artifice of human civilization”. The Surrealists, with my Master in painting, Salvador Dali, and the Existentialists, with my Master in philosophy, Albert Camus, drew frequently on his work.
When I look at the “Wanderer” it reminds me of Lu Mountain in Jianxi Province, one of the most beautiful spots in China, a place beset for some fifteen centuries by hermits, monks, poets, and painters. A beauty that tradition characterizes as so mysterious that for the Chinese “the beauty of Lu Mountain” means “an endless mystery”. Today, as we live in an artificial bubble created by science and technology, we are only able to find mystery in our own spiritual experience; nature is replaced by technical structures and technology, as in this painting.
I am currently reading two wonderful essays by Francois Cheng, member of “L’Académie Francaise”, a poet and essayist who combines Chinese and Western spirituality. One book, “The Way of Beauty”, has been translated into English, the other “Cinq Méditations sur la Mort”, is still waiting to be translated. In his “Five Meditations for Spiritual Transformation”, from which I will borrow some excerpts below, Cheng takes us from the intrinsic sense of beauty revealed in the landscape to the understanding that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. He reveals the intimate relationship of beauty with the sacred, both from a Western and from a Taoist perspective.
In China, “yi-jing” is the most important criterion for judging the value of a poetic or pictorial work. When “Yi” attains its highest expression in a particular work, to the point of resonating in harmony with the universal “yi”, then the work acquires its value in terms of plenitude and beauty. I have expressed “Yi” as the equivalent of “Sense” in my “Cloak” sculpture and the “Chromatology” paintings; all related to “Conscience”, our Soul. I would like to quote here Michelangelo:” I most love in you that part that you yourself love; it is your soul”.
This brings me back to my current painting. Since Ancient Greek and Roman times, beauty is intimately linked to the ideal of the human body in all its variations, whether white or black. In ancient Greek “kalosagathos” contains both the idea of the beautiful (kalos) and the idea of good (agathos). However, most important is the fundamental relationship between beauty and goodness, expressed in our conscience. Goodness is the guarantee of the quality of beauty; Beauty illuminates goodness and makes it desirable. For both Confucius and Plato, the approach to beauty is primarily ethical, linked to our Conscience. These are the principles on which I base my work and all the activities of the “Conscience Institute”.