“The artist attempts to make inner truths visible, audible, or sensible in some way, by manifesting them in the external, material world (through drawing, painting, song, etc.). To produce their finest works, artists lose themselves in the flow of creation from their inner worlds. The visionary artist creatively expresses her or his personal glimpses of the Divine Imagination.” -Alex Grey, Visionary Artist
Although many visionary artists employ entheogens to ignite visions of the transcendent, my work emerges out of a profound mystical experience that occurred twelve years ago. This awareness of our radical inter-connectedness in the web of creation continues to inform the thread that I follow around my life and work. From this experience and wanting to better understand the historical roots of our religious traditions, and how Western civilization had become dis-connected from our place in the life web, I attended graduate school at Marylhurst University here in Portland. It was post 9/11, I was mid-forties, a lapsed Protestant, and knew very little about Islam except for the poetry of Rumi. To my surprise, Islam emerged out of the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism and Christianity in 610c.e. So much of what the media puts out around Islam is misleading. Sadly, there are fundamentalist groups in every religion and I think it’s important to remember that Christianity also has a long history of violence against the other including women and the genocide of Native Americans on this continent. I often contemplate what the original founders, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, would think of the ways their visions around love for God and the neighbor have been distorted over the millennia. I hold out some small hope that as Catholics and Protestants eventually found peace, so perhaps shall the Sunni and Shia. In the meantime, I pray for the innocent civilians in Iraq and those in Israel and Gaza who are suffering.
So, how does art contribute to this conversation?
I’ve always loved the beauty of Islamic art and had been researching this sacred art for some time in preparation for the painting shown above. Because there can be no representations of Allah(God), the sacred art of Islam is expressed through sacred geometry, arabesque (the winding vines), and calligraphy. The mihrab is a niche inside a mosque, facing east towards the Kabba in Mecca, and the direction that Muslims must pray. According to my research, the mihrab is also considered the place where the divine presence dwells on earth. So, my vision was to find a way to bridge the immanent (cosmology) and the transcendent (God) within the Islamic tradition.
I began studying sacred geometry and for any of you who have explored this realm you know that it is a vast landscape where one can spend an entire life wandering. Shown here is my drawing of the “Seed of Life,” the seven intertwining circles that represent the seven days of creation. From this, what emerges are two intersecting triangles that form the Star of David (Judaism) and the Seal of Solomon (Islam). The seed of life rests amidst the cosmos/stars on the floor inside the mihrab. The arabic in the heart of the compass within the tree of life translates as love in Arabic.
It might also surprise some to discover that the Prophet Mohammed was considered an environmental steward. The Hadith, a companion text to the Qur’an, details reports of statements or actions of Muhammad that include his philosophy on the natural world. I saved this issue of Parabola magazine with articles on religion and the holy earth from grad school: “The Prophet’s (SAW) environmental philosophy is first of all holistic: it assumes a fundamental link and interdependency between all natural elements and bases its teachings on the premise that if man abuses or exhausts one element, the natural world as a whole will suffer direct consequences….The three most important principles of the Prophet’s philosophy of nature are based on the Qur’anic teachings and the concepts of tawhid (unity), khalifa (stewardship) and amana (trust).” -Francesca De Chatel, from Environmentalism and Islam, Parabola, 2007.
I hope you find this as interesting as I have during the research and creation of this sacred art. If you have any thoughts about what I have shared, please feel free to send me your feedback. Part of creating peace is starting the dialogue and finding the common threads of our shared humanity.