Link to exhibition catalogue

My artistic practice is rooted in a desire to explore human depth, through an opening up of virtual spaces, using spatial understanding as an intuitive gateway towards the entangled and timeless realms that lie beyond the deadening abstractions of the discursive mind. In this exhibition I have derived my inspiration from the poetic descriptions of the wondrous realm of night in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, with the motif of darkness representing movement into the depths of (for want of a better term) the inner self, existing in dynamic tension with an occult luminosity representing the mystical experience of the awakening of an intimate relationship with that inner self. This aesthetic concept is rooted in my own experiences of the euphoria of the lucid dreaming state, and the way that a spatial understanding lies at the basis of both the attainment of transformative states of consciousness as well as my evolving artistic process.

The exhibition takes its title from the nocturnal love duet at the heart of Tristan, as the lovers in a tantric sense penetrate deeply into the enfolding darkness of night, rending the veil of “lying day”’s delusions – all the fragmentation and dichotomies that we abstract from phenomena for our utilitarian and psychological needs, that blind us to the ceaseless flux of reality and the timeless entanglement of all phenomena. Here in the poem we have a transformative inversion of conventional notions, where the light of day is death and falseness, and it is abandonment into the sweet darkness of night’s splendour that paves the way for a new synthesis – an occult light, the “stars of bliss”, “the sun [that] lies hidden in our breast”. Going further with the poetic correspondence of macro and micro, when the lovers sing in unison “I myself am the world”, it is not only a statement of ecstatic exuberance but also one of metaphysical idealism echoing the language of the Upanishads, and is similarly found in Schopenhauer’s notion of the will as “the one eye that looks out from every living creature”. 

This radical vision expresses an ethos of overcoming oppositional binaries (such as interior and exterior, form and formlessness, good and evil), through the seeking of first person present experiencing that results in an expanded awareness recognising the spectral nature of reality – as a continuous spectrum whose oppositional principles are ultimately relative and dependently arising, and also spectral in the sense of encompassing that which is non-physical or virtual. This spectral revolution, as has been articulated by the philosopher Jason Reza Jorjani, carries with it a sense of evolutionary becoming that is present throughout various Indo-European philosophical systems of thought, from Heraclitus to Gautama to Nietzsche. 

In constructing the virtual spaces of the paintings, my selection of further motifs – gardens with lotus plants, rocks and water, passionate deities, and suggestions of palatial architecture – came from a meaningful relation I sensed with the aesthetics of the aristocratic Buddhism and Daoism of the Heian period of classical Japan (roughly 9th – 12th centuries). In these paintings I have attempted to conjure up an atmosphere of lotus esotericism, inspired by the art of that epoch, whose nobles sought to realise life as a dream-like world of change, an interpenetrating mystical unity of opposites. Through my encountering it during my travels to the ancient capital it was my impression that its flamboyant forms embody an attitude that we are co-conscious creators in this drama of life, called upon to bring heaven to earth by being seekers of it in this very body, penetrating into the depths of nature and a humanity that is constantly evolving towards the superhuman. 

The motif of the lotus is one such image of self-overcoming, expressing the ideal of being in the world but transcending it through the individual experience of life. Just as the lotus is rooted in mud, it is through the dark swirling world of desire that the individuated self must emerge like a stem, connecting that which is above with below. Its flower hovers above the surface, emerging into the air (suspended in imagination), demonstrating purity over the murky water that gracefully rolls off its leaves.

Another motif, the tsubo-niwa (or interior garden) is a feature originating in courtyards of the palaces of the Heian period, designed to insert a glimpse of nature and create a sense of space, they usually feature only a single type of plant. It embodies architecturally a sense of the spectral in being an inversion of inside and outside, which interpenetrate like a gradient, especially because it serves as a light well that will gradually permeate into the many layered shindenzukuri (a name meaning ‘sleeping place’) architecture of the palace, an architecture in which inside and outside are always merging. 

Furthermore, within an aristocratic milieu where the dichotomy of secular and sacred were converging, and affairs of the state were conjoined with esoteric concerns, speculative deities such as Aizen-myō’ō (meaning, ‘love-stained wisdom king’) were introduced, representing the state of harnessing impulses previously considered to be defiling – such as earthly desires – becoming seen as identical to enlightenment through a radical shift in perspective that dissolves apparent opposites.

In creating a sense of space through a fecund darkness, which as an absence creates a space for the viewer’s imagination to enter into, I was stimulated into recalling the textures of the urban nightscapes I experienced in places such as Tokyo, where neon signs reflecting on wet asphalt and chrome, and the distant glimmer of endless metropolis, were evocative of the sense of energy and abundance that I felt in those environments. As a result, much of the use of colour in the paintings was extracted from my own photography from those times. Colour-wise I was also drawn to study the overripe mystique of Gaugin’s work. Bill Henson was another influence in my pursuit of a richly luminous darkness, as well as his transformation of the body into something idealised akin to the dignity of Greek sculptures in their celebration of life. This sense of the here and now of the body as the pivotal site of transcendence, being the bridge between gross and more subtle depths of reality, can also be seen in the embodied deities of Heian Japanese esotericism, with its traces of Greco-Buddhist artistic influence. It is a vision of an entangled and fluctuating existence, which I also feel when I see the undulating myriad forms that cover ancient Indian temples for example. For lessons in composition I have also looked to the sense of movement in the yin-yang duality of Song dynasty monochromatic Chinese landscape paintings, whereby form and formlessness melt and congeal in a spatial rhythm of water and rocks. In such works we see the manifestation of the cosmos out of an interplay of opposing forces in dynamic tension that are also a spectrum. It describes not only an artistic process but is also a poetical way of understanding reality. 

This relationship of entanglement is also present in my works in the mirror-like pairs of figures, who in their blissful embrace represent the inner dynamic of the ecstatic bliss of the lucid dream state, whereby one’s subjective feeling state or first person experience of interiority is the fertilising power that imprints upon what is outpictured in the encapsulating second person context of the exterior world of objects. This process is very much like a mercurial and progressive relationship of complementary intelligences of subject and object, leading to greater levels of interpenetration as lucidity increases, or as the 11th century tantric practitioner Tilopa put it in verse: “Thought is the lord, spaciousness the lady: day and night they’re joined in the innate”. In my work Lotus Jewel Garden this treasured and elevated state of life is also hinted at by the appearance of the jewelled stupa (as described in the Lotus Sutra), which appears in order to bear witness and exult this mystic law of liberty. In working with this theme, my work intends to witness this sense of being a free spirit within a life that is, as 20th century mystic Neville described, an educative darkness for the purpose of learning how to create, and of being given to direct a power that is beyond comprehension, namely our own wonderful human imagination.

Samuel Quinteros, October 2020

“Without delusions…

Tender yearning;

without fears…

Sweet longing.

Without grieving…

sublime drifting.

Without languishing…

enfolded in sweet darkness.

Without separating…

without parting,

dearly alone,

ever at one,

in unbounded space,

most blessed of dreams!”

R. Wagner, Tristan und Isolde

Photos: Docqment

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