Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Through art alone, the Mexica said, can human beings approach the real.”

Turquoise-mosaic Disk AD 1300-1521, Mexico Turquoise and wood, 15 3/8 in. (diam.)

"Because we human beings are transitory, our lives as ephemeral as dreams, the tlamatinime suggested that immutable truth is by its nature beyond human experience. On the ever-changing earth, wrote León-Portilla, the Mexican historian, “nothing is ‘true’ in the Nahuatl sense of the word.” Time and again, the tlamatinime wrestled with this dilemma. How can beings of the moment grasp the perduring? It would be like asking a stone to understand mortality.

According to León-Portilla, one exit from this philosophical blind alley was seen by the fifteenth-century poet Ayocuan Cuetzpaltzin, who described it metaphorically, as poets will, by invoking the coyolli bird, known for its bell-like song:

           He goes his way singing, offering flowers.
           And his words rain down
           Like jade and quetzal plumes.
           Is this what pleases the Giver of Life?
           Is that the only truth on earth?”

“Ayocuan’s remarks cannot be fully understood out of the Nahuatl context, León-Portilla argued. “Flowers and song” was a standard double epithet for poetry, the highest art; “jade and quetzal feathers” was a synecdoche for great value, in the way that Europeans might refer to “gold and silver.” The song of the bird, spontaneously produced, stands for aesthetic inspiration. 

Ayocuan was suggesting, León-Portilla said, that there is a time when humankind can touch the enduring truths that underlie our fleeting lives. That time is at the moment of artistic creation. “From whence come the flowers [the artistic creations] that enrapture man?” asks the poet. “The songs that intoxicate, the lovely songs?” And he answers: “Only from His [that is, Ometeotl’s] home do they come, from the innermost part of heaven.” Through art alone, the Mexica said, can human beings approach the real.”

Saturday, March 12, 2016

practice, Practice, practice: Khang Bao Nguyen

Absorbing Nocturnal Perception 36x36 oil on canvas

I first became aware of Khang Nguyen’s luminous visionary oil paintings when Carl Berg asked me to be the the juror for the Irvine Fine Arts Center “All Media 2012” show, for which I selected one of Khang's paintings and awarded him first prize.  I love serving jury duty on these open call exhibits -- there's always very surprising artworks, things that have slipped through the cracks or otherwise circumvented the art world radar.

Limpid Moonlit Posture 36x36 oil on canvas

Khang’s work initially struck me as a very sophisticated and historically informed variation on Modernist geometric abstraction, but discovered in subsequent conversations that he is almost entirely self-taught,  and that his imagery derives not from 20th century art historical (and blacklight scifi paperback cover) precedents, but from experiential phenomena encountered in the course of his yogic meditative practice. 

Self-Organizing Field of Intuitive Utterance 48 x 48, oil on canvas

It was Khang's work in that Irvine show that sparked the idea for practice, Practice, practice, and it continues to epitomize the kind of spiritually rooted art practice that is so invisible to and in The Art World, and which pPp is designed to showcase. Here are some more of his paintings. Even more work -- plus information about his yogic discipline -- may be gleaned from his website at: Khang will also be demonstrating some advanced yoga asanas for the pPperformance Night on Wednesday April 6th -- more details to come!

Awareness Encountering Its Own Modes of Presenting 48 x 60 oil on canvas, 2013

Here is Khang's Artist Statement:

"As an integral facet of my non-traditional spiritual and aesthetic practice within the schools of non-dual, intuitive discernment, my intimate engagement with visual art is an instrument for uprooting opaque settlements of the mind. Exploratory in nature, my artworks of architectural and geometric formations (yantra) are not considered means to individual self-expression, but reflect an investigation into the essence of perception, awareness, and existence. They probe the mystery of time, space, and being, which call into question preconceived notions concerning the nature of identity and reality.
Translated into visual terms from spiritual intuitions, these nonrepresentational formations depict the primal source from which all phenomena manifest, by which all things subsist, and to which all things reintegrate. By revealing the inner qualities and processes of perceptual awareness, the work of art acts as a conduit between limited perception and spacious awareness through which the beholder leaps into an expanded realm of existence. My work inquires how the viewer, upon closely contemplating visual relationships, can be incited to transcend external aspects of form such that a clear space for direct awareness into the basis of being becomes possible. This is fundamental to my investigation of visual media’s capacity to spontaneously evoke an immediate awareness of reality without dependence on any reasoning process."

Rendering Nascent Matrix 36 x 36 oil on canvas 2012

Moonlit Facets of Perceiving 48x60 oil on canvas 2013

Purple Robe Draping Night Cascade 60x48, oil on canvas, 2014

Steps of Time Free From the Past 60x48, oil on canvas

Khang is currently a graduate student in Comparative Religion at Claremont, and the full text of his paper Mysticism East and West is appended after the jump...

Friday, March 11, 2016

Hilma af Klint at the Serpentine

pPp UK correspondent Cathy Ward forwarded this visual report on the synchronistically linked (CONVOY!) show Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen which opened a week ago at London's Serpentine Gallery. af Klint's work was debuted 22 years after her death as part of the Spiritual in Art show at LACMA.


Blind Art from Jason Dunmore on Vimeo.

Recommended by pPp artist Mary Anna Pomonis.

Video Interview with pPp Artist Kenneth Ober

Los Angeles artist Kenneth Ober talks about the role of spirituality in his paintings. Check out more of Kenneth's work at, and be sure to see the two meticulously painted mandalas included in practice, Practice, practice!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Short Bright Day of the Soul

Pulse #9 2008 acrylic on panel  39" x 21"

Among cognoscenti, Linda Day was known for many years as one of the most accomplished abstract painters working in her adopted home of Los Angeles. A masterful colorist, Linda’s work often relied on subtle modulations of hue -- whether presented as scaly biomorphic blobs or cool, faux-digital striations. Her work always conveyed a sense of phenomenological engagement -- an unironic commitment to exploring painting’s formal vocabulary and its capacity to impact and alter the viewer’s consciousness. 

Pulse (Between / Beyond) #13, 2008 acrylic on panel 60 x 60"

Any suggestion of New-Agey philosophy, though, would have been met with a dismissive snort. Linda was strictly Church of Art -- a Modernist for whom abstract painting had provided a tangible manifestation of of a hardwired technology of sensory-based psychological transformation. In my essay for the catalog to her “Horizons” show at Jancar Gallery in 2008 I wrote: 

Corona #3, 2005, acyrlic on panel 35 x 48"

Day’s work is directed toward the activation of this co-creative feedback loop, and her aesthetic decisions can be traced in part to the gradual tweaking of the parameters of this relationship... direct[ing] the viewer away from passive engagement with sequential narrative tropes, kicking away the conceptual crutches so that these subtler visual mechanisms move to the foreground, and empowering the viewer to determine the durational parameters of their engagement with the painting less encumbered by a framework that suggests a beginning, middle and end to the experience.

Chime #2  2005-2006 acyrlic on panel 132 x 30"

Linda’s work seemed to be -- somewhat paradoxically -- on a course of incrementally, precisely honing the technology of perceptual feedback, and the suspension of Time. Then, something happened. In 2010, she participated in a residency at Sanskriti Foundation in New Delhi, India 

For her last solo show OU-BOUM (at Another Year in LA at the PDC), Linda debuted a body of work that was deeply transformed in relation to her earlier oeuvre, although her virtuosic formal skills translated effortlessly. As she observed in her notes for the exhibit:
 “My work goes through periods of refinement followed by those of disintegration in which I re-examine and dismantle.... my experience in India provided me with the impetus – and the inspiration – to begin again within the framework of the past. This is not merely an interest in the exotic – but an embrace of new and increasingly complex hybrid relationships in art and the culture at large”. 

Hawa Mahal (large incomplete) 2011 89 X108" variable , acrylic and mixed media on wood 

The show title refers to  E. M. Forster’s  “A Passage to India,” in which the protagonist’s western rational worldview is overwhelmed by the experience of the echoing void of the fictional Marabar Caves, whose voice manifests as “ou-boum.” Linda commented  
”I have begun to see Forster’s “ou-boum” as touching upon the sublime. The aesthetics of the sublime has been investigated historically – from the Greeks, to the philosophers Edmund Burke, Kant, Hegel, and the more contemporary Lyotard. To simplify the sublime is largely experiential and the result of an overwhelming event in which we, as participants are physically and emotionally engulfed. Unable to define our own boundaries within the experience, we are at once filled with pleasure and terror.” 

Sanskriti 1, 2010, 36 X22" variable mixed media on paper

The work itself was scrappy and rough hewn. Where Day’s previous series of paintings had tended to a precise rectangularity and tightly controlled surface, the OU-BOUM works were organically expanding collages of corrugated cardboard and other (mostly paper) materials. Those familiar with Day’s masterful collage work (one of the best shows of the early days of ACME was 1997’s Linda Day: Drawing Project, a linear, taped-together experimental narrative or musical score) knew that she was extremely fluent in that visual vocabulary, but when infused with her newly Indianized color palette, a synergy occurred.

Sanskriti 2, 2010, 40 X 30" variable mixed media on paper

The show had a tremendous sense of warmth and vitality, of playfulness and pathos -- LA critic Peter Frank compared the assemlages to “discarded shelters or decorated walls” found in a “tropical shanytown” - which pretty much sums it up. Peter goes on to absolve Linda of any taint of exoticism or colonialism, but claims they “resist the no-up-no-down infinity  implied in the sublime bliss of Forster’s -- and Day’s own -- India.” I see it a little differently --  possibly because I know that Linda died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma a few months later. It seems to me that rather than resisting the shining void, Linda was embracing it -- confronting and celebrating fragility, mortality, time, and awareness. In spite of their rickety materiality, the OU-BOUM works are imbued with luminosity and seem to levitate, brimming with good humor.

genesch, 2010, 30 X 20" mixed media on paper

And sadness.  The image chosen as the anchor for the practice, Practice, practice show is genesch, a 30 inch short stack of painted cardboard discs, immediately conjuring associations with sunsets and a Buddha-like figure sitting in a contemplative reverie. But these figurative readings recede in the sensual immediacy of the object itself, and the rippling bubbles of color gradually modulating from dark earth tones to near-fluorescent yellows and oranges ultimately seems to embody a process of literal enlightenment, a purification or distillation of vibrational energies (AKA color). Of course, I could be reading it backwards. But Ganesha is the god of beginnings, and besides -- backwards, forwards, whatever. The sun sets, then rises, then sets again. 

Untitled diptych, 2010, mixed media on paper, dimensions TK

The untitled, previously unexhibited OU-BOUM diptych I chose to include as Linda’s second piece for pPp turned out to be a double-sided work, with one red/silver square and one pink/gold square, each perforated with a New-Delhi-boogie-woogie of square holes, and studded with tiny cubes (square pegs! square pegs!) of painted something - foam-core maybe? There’s something of the illuminated manuscript at work here -- albeit one written in interdimensional braille by Tantric aliens. It’s a system of interrelated, but unparseable grids, impossible to see all at once, offering a sumptuous diagrammatic glimpse of a section of Indra’s Net, the Vedic web of interdependent holographic points of consciousness that are the underlying structure of reality. And the colors aren’t bad either!

The Curator at Work (photo by Pat Nickell)

Images courtesy David Scardino,, Another Year in LA, and Pat Nickell

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Mercy sakes alive it looks like we got ourselves a CONVOY

Sam Francis, Untitled, 1967, Acrylic on paper, 40" x 27" (42"x 29" framed)

"Joan Agajanian Quinn, the longest sitting member appointed to the California Arts Council, is co-curating the exhibit. "The theme Art & Spirit is something that isn't the norm for a show title," she explains. "Gallerists and curators don't think it's politically correct to bring religion into the art world per se, but I have always felt that art is an experience, either good or bad. It can move a person in a way that nothing else can. Maybe it's the spirit within the piece, maybe it's the spirit within the viewer; but no matter what, there is a transforming moment."

Read more of John Seed's writeup at: 

Art & Spirit
February 27, 2016 - April 24, 2016
Shatto Chapel - First Congregational Church of Los Angeles
540 S. Commonwealth Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90026

The gallery will be open each Sunday from 9:00am-3:00pm
Other hours by appointment only