Earth Enlightened: a series begun in 2018

Acrylic paint on paper and linen.

Earth EnlightenedThe initial impulse for Earth Enlightened came as a result of two related but not necessarily logical circumstances. The first is a continuing fascination with Rembrandt’s well-known painting "The Return of the Prodigal Son." First the original resides in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia—meaning that I am unlikely ever to see it in person. So I went about finding every possible reproduction. I read much that has been written about the painting and the originating story. It is a fascinating one and there is a pale reflection of it in my biography. However, I became fascinated with just how deep Rembrandt could work with the color and still keep content discernable. The power of the earth-tone pigments and his capacity to find light in in the dark had a profound effect on me. I could find parallels in soul experience which by my default happens in kind of dark void—that is the field. Light arises out of that. Such darkness is equivalent to quiet or silence. As a student of light and color, I asked myself, could I find light in the materiality of earth pigment. Oxides and more oxides. Warm, cool, burnt and raw. This was the first part.

The second came as a result of my needing cataract surgery in my left eye. After the successful surgery I noticed that how I was seeing color out of my left eye was strikingly different from my right eye which is still my birth eye. The new lens rendered colors cooler and brighter than my right eye which I now saw tended to be relatively warm. I noted this to the ophthalmologist who said that I would get used to it and that the new lens would be truer in color. She took the time to show me what happens to a cataracted lens. In essence over time the lens turns into an amber blob. That got me thinking that Rembrandt must have had cataracts, and that those incredibly rich dark earthy amber-toned colors actually didn’t look that way to him. Of course, one has to add the aging of the varnishes on the paintings to the mix, but I felt sure. Further, Rembrandt was noted in art history texts for the use of central focus with blurring toward the edges as a way to guide the viewer, a kind of psychology of seeing. It became a style much imitated, but I am now sure based on my own experience that it simply was the result of how his vision was conditioned by the cataracts. This led me to some extensive research until I found a research paper in the American Ophthalmologist Society publication, which explored the effects of cataracts on well known painters. They had researched biographies and archives. Of course, Rembrandt had terrible cataracts and eventually macular degeneration.

The series Earth Enlightened is both an homage to Rembrandt and an exploration of how one can journey through a darkened space to experience moments of light and form. It is important to me that the material pigment is of the earth rather than of the air and light as one might experience with watercolor. The light that emerges in the paintings is inner light and form.

John Bloom

© June 2020

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Marginal Notes on the Art

November 3, 2012.

There is nothing less objective than an artist speaking or writing about his own work. The challenge is to find language that supports without predicting the viewer's experience. Thus the insights I can offer are in the realm of intention and process. First and foremost I am guided by intuition, the depths of silence speaking, shaping but not directing action. Such a way of working is calibrated by the mirror of soul experience. I believe that this becomes evident to the patient viewer. I only ask of the viewer what I ask of myself in the process of creation--to rise beyond sympathy and antipathy.

The following passage from T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets" evokes something of the mood with which I approach working on each piece, whether at the place of "the blank canvas" or later in its evolution: "I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope. For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith But faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing." T.S. Eliot, "Four Quartets" (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1971, p.28 ["East Coker" III])

To give you a sense of scale most of the works are delimited by the size of the hand made paper, thus 30"x 22". Some of the wall sculptures are a bit larger, and the canvases are a bit smaller. I work with acrylic paint and medium, along with found photographs and albums, my own photographs, vellum, sculptured wood, oil stick, graphite, and anything else I can find that makes sense to use. One of the vellum pieces includes a portion of a guitar fretboard that I found while I was out walking. If detritus speaks to me I will collect it and keep it until it finds a place in a work. Where there are words or writing in or on the work, the words are mine.

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Color

November 2, 2012.

AcrylicIn the paintings, the color consists entirely of earth and mineral pigments. To be honest I am not sure why I chose this limitation, except that I enjoy the challenge. The tonal experience is quite different than the typical spectrum of light colors. The sheer physical substantive nature of the color links both to a more primitive state of pigment source and generation, and to a more direct and earthly painting process.

I am always happy to answer any relevant questions a viewer might have.

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