The decision to search for a comprehensive geometry that might account for the common heritage that we all call the “body”, was not arbitrary and did not happen overnight. Many roads – some of them unexpected – kept converging until finally in May, 1985, I had to purchase a ruler, a compass, a protractor and a calculator. It was like discovering a million springs, each of which fed multiple tributaries, all of which then flowed into a single river. Once on that river, there was no turning back. But before I could embark, I was forced through a dramatic personal transformation that had permanent repercussions.
From 1976 to 1980 I started to be assailed by dreams that came in successive waves. These waves shook the foundation of the house I thought was ‘me’ until the house itself collapsed. The force of these waves seemed to increase logarithmically over the four years. They were so powerful I was literally impelled to record them in my journal with as much detail as possible. They had their own spontaneous autonomy like a wild horse or primeval dragon and all I could do was try and stay on the horse’s back or cling to the flagellating tail of the dragon. When a threshold of intensity had been reached in the fall of 1980 I felt I was either going to break down completely or break through to some new level of being. The uncertainty and suspense was so intense, it seemed I would not actually be able to survive the assault from my own unconscious depths. These forces had nothing to do with reason and the bulwarks erected by the creative faculties of the cerebral cortex of the brain. Rather, they originated from depths too deep and too vast to be known by the cerebral mind. In the midst of this assault, I recorded a small passage from Carl Jung in my journal:
“… just as the human body shows a common anatomy over and above all racial differences, so too does the psyche possess a common substratum. I have called the latter the collective unconscious (C.G.Jung, Secret of the Golden Flower, p.83).
Clearly I was being forced to deal with the psyche first before I could attempt to explore the common substratum underlying our anatomy. But I stored Jung’s words like a seed in the midst of the turmoil where it incubated for five years. I was comforted in intervals to learn that universal patterns supported body and psyche below the level of consciousness and that at times they could also make themselves known to consciousness itself. However, the sheer magnitude of the forces assailing my entire system rendered such comfort all too transitory and frequently all too meaningless. I learned that faith was not a thing. It was a dynamic state of being that embraced the whole universe. Faith could not be forced. All I could do was let it be.
When the dreams finally washed the final vestiges of my former self into the sea, I began to draw mandalas as a spontaneous last resort to hold my mind and emotions together, as even deeper energies rose up like molten lava ready to burn up the last traces of everything I once knew: my beliefs, my assumptions, my projections, my family relationships, everything I ever thought I was. I was being forced back to the primal beginning, the black of all origin – where everything begins again from the first stirrings, the first trembling in what had been a boundless silence.
The idea was to start simply; to rediscover wholeness in its simplest, most effective gestures. For the image above, that I call “Hidden Germ”, I was inspired by a photograph I took in 1972 when trekking through Big Sur, California. While meandering up Vicente Creek at the advice of a marvelous mathematician I had met north of San Francisco, I came upon a living example of the well-known Tai’ chi symbol that took me completely by surprise and radically altered my view of the relationship between symbol and Nature. The Tai’ chi also goes by the name ‘Great Ultimate’. How wonderful that a symbol so all-embracing should manifest in such modest creatures as these two slugs. This photograph has never dislodged itself from my imagination.
My mind was interested in both force and form and sought to be inclusive without regard for formal aesthetics. I was trying to penetrate to the underlying essence with minimal regard for mathematical law.
I called this next one “Electric Eyes” because of the voltage that springs from the decussation of light associated with the primacy of the eyes shifting in all creatures in response to the crush of life, the severity of the competition in a shared field of nourishment and the roulette wheel of survival. Within this web of circumstances, life has organized itself and peers intelligently into its own predicament. All sentient creatures mirror each other with the same light even as we peer at one another from a sometimes painful isolation.
I eventually called this one “Cosmic Heart”.
I painted furiously to try and express an unstoppable inner metamorphosis, scouring books and even starting geometry in a preliminary manner. I was learning about Jung’s concept of “individuation” and used his research to help interpret some of the most intense dreams. Jung was indispensable as a guide through some of the most terrifying episodes when archetypes had begun to wake up like tectonic forces and literally shake my whole being until I felt there was no familiar ground left to stand on. I started all images in the black. I blatantly called this black the “nigredo” where the ashes of the Phoenix collect and ferment. Each mandala was an act of faith, a recreation of each day. At this stage I found yoga to be critical because it linked body and soul together. This was when I first became conscious of anatomy in a more vital sense. I started to tune into the body as a unified whole which included mind, feeling, emotion, dream states and so forth. I found the body was better able to handle the growing instability if I kept it pure. So I felt compelled to eat cleanly, exercise, meditate and align the body properly through yoga positions. But this also had the added effect of channeling the energies locked up in the base of the spine in a more provocative manner. Eventually those forces freed themselves from their prison in the sacrum. This was both a good thing and very troublesome at the same time. For one thing it meant I had embarked upon a path of no return. It was all or nothing. However, it seems that the outcome, internally speaking, was more than just rewarding. I was transformed by these extra hidden energies and am grateful for the gift. The sign that these forces locked up in the sacrum were waking up appeared initially as a series of astonishingly vibrant serpent dreams. I recorded these serpent dreams with great care, sensing innately just how fundamental they were. They were not just objects, but rather were experienced as vital creatures overflowing with energy and intelligence. Unfortunately these serpent dreams are too detailed for this forum.
I learned at this time that life and death were inextricably linked. Death on one level was a giving birth on another. Again and again I was brought back to a realization that everything is surprisingly interconnected with everything else. But the body had to be taken care of if it was to maintain that attunement. I fasted several times for four day intervals with just water. Each of these fasts was remarkable in the way they brought clarity and relief to the whole system – inclusive of emotions, feelings and thought patterns.
By early October, 1980, it seemed the last vestige of order in my life was about to collapse into total chaos. Terror was the last force that stood on the threshold between a pattern and nothing. I had to learn how to let go completely – everything – on every level. I literally felt as if I were about to be extinguished completely. It was agonizing and nothing seemed to help. I read Vincent Van Gogh’s “Lust for Life”. It offered some consolation, but finally I had to turn back to art while ambiguous dreams intensified the uncertainty while also preparing me for what was coming. By October 5, my whole existence was brought to a point of such tension, such instability that I had to scrap what I was doing and with an unprecedented urgency I started a painting that was 24 x 36 inches, larger than what I was used to. I painted non-stop for several days until I was too tired to go on.
My wife, Kely, was working in New York City while I stayed in an old beach house (now gone) built into a sand dune near Bridgehampton, Long Island. The only transportation I had was a bicycle.
Kely brought her best friend Pat and Pat’s 4 year old daughter, Lara, out for a visit. Pat and I discussed the painting in detail. Her insights were profound and extremely nourishing. I finally just called the painting “The Dream”, not having the slightest notion that in a matter of days I would have a life-altering dream such as I have never had before or since. I have many names now for this dream that occurred on October 17th, 1980 at 10 a.m. I am left with the conclusion that with a dream so complex, fundamental and archetypal, it is inevitably going to be ‘many-named’. It is a seed that reflects everything around and within; everything above and below; everything inside and outside. It is akin to what the ancient Egyptians called “The All-embracing”.
Whenever Pat departed after a visit, I felt the All-embracing had just left behind its tireless influence. Her mind was both penetrating and wide, powers that now embrace her poetry – poetry that pierces Nature with the delicate, yet severe dexterity of a spirit unafraid of the molten gift of human passion.
The dream that occurred only days after she and her resilient little daughter had departed the modest beach house stuck in the white sand, was so extraordinary it is not possible to say that one part was more important or more extraordinary than any other part. Moreover, it was both collective and personal at the same time. Everything was experienced very personally. But I was aware that what I was going through was universal. It was just my turn to be passing through the privilege of rebirth.
As for the ‘Red Mountain’ painting, it had to be doable because I could feel a time constraint intuitively. It was a premonition that ‘knew’ its own timetable. I knew change was coming fast – though I never suspected a ‘Big Dream’ would be the agency of that change. In the painting I was trying to capture an inner feeling of transformation where the quiet figure in the foreground sees both destruction and creation simultaneously and somehow manages to survive both by remaining balanced and still.
I felt like the mechanistic aspect of my mind and body was being metamorphosed into something else through the mysterious powers of the Red Mountain – another name I sometimes give this painting. I created a partial cross and then to represent the principle of resurrection as I was feeling it, I created something that looks like a fetus that is also partly metallic.
This is a detail from a smaller painting I had attempted earlier. There is the feeling of some type of eclipse. An eclipse of the Sun occurs at New Moon. So in the back of my mind I was envisioning the New Moon as the cause or agency of resurrection out of the Red Mountain. The Red Mountain may in some respect be referring to the heart or the center of the thorax. The Egyptians associated the color red with Horus and the Primal State of the creation sometimes symbolized by the act of weaving – the warp and weft of the feminine principle of Isis, Neith, Mut, Hathor, etc. They also referred to the Hillock of Khepere which was symbolized by the scarab beetle, Khepere, sometimes depicted pushing its egg in a dungball out of the mountain. Khepere can be translated as: the “Transformations of Ra”. Ra was the ultimate creator and also was associated, like Horus, with red or red and gold.
The fact that this little ‘fetus’ is also metallic suggests an attempt to express something at least partially crystal-like. At the time I knew nothing about tubulin protein ‘dimers’, the tiny 4×8 nanometer subunits that compose cytoskeletal microtubules associated with the centriole of the cell, so I assumed I was painting a symbolic fetus. In the painting the figure consists of two spheres, one larger than the other. It is connected to the vertical column as if by a double helix cord which also invokes the conduit for the mythic kundalini, as well as the caduceus of Hermes, suggesting a bi-polar current rising up the spinal column capable of healing or regeneration. I will explain the geometry of this fetus at a later point, but you can see that the head is a bit larger than the lower half. Some of the geometry seen in this paradigm is found in crystals.
It was not until the late 1990’s that I was introduced in detail to the micro components of microtubules called, ‘dimers’. Dimers bear a striking resemblance to the 4-month fetus. They are double sphere globules of tubulin protein each one with about 450 amino acids, the alpha sphere (56,000 Daltons) being a little more massive than the beta sphere (54,500 Daltons).
Together they form a dipole structure that with other dimers, bundle together into 13 crystal-like columns temporarily becoming microtubules that we see for example forming the spindle by which self-replicated DNA is divided and ‘dragged’ into two separate daughter cells so that 1 cell becomes 2 new identical cells. Each dimer is a double sphere and can be seen as occupying a double cube approximately 4 x 4 x 8 nanometers in size.
Some physicists (see Penrose, Hameroff and others) believe that these dimers with their little hydrophobic pockets containing a single, relatively free electron that switches within the dimer, may be the interface between quantum mechanical behavior and relativistic physics and so may well be where consciousness becomes a reality in biological brain matter. In a sense the painting was prefiguring or sensing an underlying geometry that was part crystal and part biological life. In effect I was approaching the mystery that dwells between two numbers, namely 1 and 2.
It was clear that the mystery of 2:1 could be expressed in a circular, rotational manner like the Tai’ chi symbol, or it could be expressed like the dynamic double-sphere seen in the fetus or a very small tubulin dimer.
But it was not until I was residing in New Zealand for 7 months in 1985 that the superabundant principle of the 2:1 ratio woke up like Sleeping Beauty awakening from a long, fitful slumber. It seems that I myself needed to be awakened first from an equally long bout of sleep-walking. After a four-year trial, I will say without restraint, that the rebirth dream of October 17th, was experienced as the most joyous occasion up to that point in my life. At last I understood what was meant by ‘Grace’, “Gratitude’, ‘Beatitude’, ‘Restoration’, ‘Regeneration’ and the ‘Spirit’. I made an attempt to capture that joy in the following self-portrait.
Meanwhile, as we headed back into New York City to start all over again, Kely’s eyes never stopped searching. The longing never stopped aching.