By Tom Wachunas
“My Child, strive to see supernal light, for I have brought you into a vast ocean. Be careful! Keep your soul from gazing and your mind from conceiving, lest you drown. Strive to see, yet escape drowning.” - from “Drowning”, a passage in the Zohar
EXHIBIT: EMANATIONS: Charting the Interior Life, Limited Edition signed prints by PETER MOHRBACHER / at IKON Images, 221 5th Street NW, Canton, Ohio / THROUGH SEPTEMBER 2 / 330.904.1377 / www.ikonimagesgallery.com
Peter Mohrbacher writes on one of his web sites (the third link posted above) that the majority of his images begin as pencil sketches which are then “…painted in Photoshop.” Hence the works in this collection, currently on view at Ikon Images Gallery, constitute a limited edition of signed, 13”x19” digital prints. “Painted” in Photoshop? Mohrbacher is a remarkably adept draftsman who has impressively mastered this digital technology to deliver colors, tonalities, and illusory textures of spectacular dimensionality.
There is also an accompanying 52-page book, with collaborator Eli Minaya, called “Angelarium: Book of Emanations”. With images, narrative prose, and poetry, the book references ancient texts from the Book of Enoch (great-grandfather of Noah) and Kabbalah, the highly esoteric and scholarly tradition of Judaic mysticism. Herein is a chronicle of Enoch and his encounters with the Tree of Life, its ten “angelic” emanations, and his meditations on the infinite, “unknowable” entity known as Ein Sof.
At first blush, Mohrbacher’s images - which are essentially portraits of loosely anthropomorphic beings who appear to levitate in strange lands and atmospheres splashed with ethereal light - seem to comfortably fit into the iconographic mold of the “fantasy illustration” genre that continues to be enormously popular in our culture. But to be more precise, these images aren’t merely silly fictions, or inane fantasies so commonly rendered in the genre. They’re thoughtfully constructed musings on, and continuations of, the timeless artistic tradition of probing who, why, and where we are. Though my knowledge of Kabbalah is very sparse at best, I do know that among its tenets is the valuing of human creativity as a never-ending process to grasp and perfect our imperfect existence and the world where it unfolds. So in a sense you could rightly call this an exhibit of “religious” art, albeit a departure from an ostensibly Christian perspective.
Still, if the “angels” pictured here are messengers or ephemeral manifestations of God (Ein Sof), I’m nonetheless reminded of the Biblical accounts of encountering them. Scripture often reports how humans, trembling in the unexpected presence of these awesome beings, hear some variation of “be not afraid.” And so I found myself imagining that if I were visited by one of Mohrbacher’s creatures – they are beautiful if only in a freakish sort of way - I too would tremble. At first. But then, interestingly enough, would come their calming salutation, “be entertained.”
PHOTOS, from top: HOD, Emanation of Glory / BINAH, Emanation of Knowledge / GEVURAH, Emanation of Severity / YESOD, Foundation of Life / DA’AT, The Empty One