Saturday, September 26, 2015

Ascending to the Depths

Ascending to the Depths

By Tom Wachunas

    “If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.”
― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

    EXHIBIT: “The Tree of Life” – Mixed media assemblages and watercolors by Scott Bryant, at the Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton / one week remaining – on view THROUGH OCTOBER 4 / 330.499.4712

   My desire to post a more timely commentary on this exhibit has been thwarted both by a daunting teaching schedule and the complexity of my interpretation of Scott Bryant’s work. The latter reason is quite ironic because in many ways I consider him something of a kindred spirit, both on the superficial plane of his sculptural working materials (combinations of found objects, paint-stiffened fabric, and various other common substances)  and for the spiritual thrust of the subject matter.  
    After initially viewing his pieces at the September 3 reception (which include ten mixed media sculptures, each with an accompanying watercolor painting numbered in the image with Roman numerals I through X), I was unusually eager to write about them, only to experience an unsettling and protracted realization that I couldn’t easily distinguish between forest and trees, as it were. Part of my dilemma was rooted in the sheer diversity of esoteric imagery that Bryant presents.
    He tells us in his statement that “…this collection was nurtured through years of personal and spiritual seeking and study.” A pilgrim’s quest, then? In that sense, aren’t all artists - and for that matter, all serious viewers of art – pilgrims of a kind? More specifically, Bryant references “The Tree of Life” and its ten spheres, or animating energies, as “the timeless blueprint explaining the construction of the universe.” What he doesn’t specify in so many words is his embrace of The Kabbalah, an ancient body of teachings originating in Judaic mysticism that addresses, among other things, the nature of the cosmos. That said, some viewers might infer as much via the Hebrew script that Bryant incorporates in his watercolors.
    In any case, The Kabbalah articulates the Tree of Life as a sort of “map” of creation and an embodiment of ten Divinely-revealed principles for life. Additionally, there are syncretic adaptations of Kabbalah teachings to be found in the writings of some Christian mystics as well as Greco-Roman philosophies/religions. So it’s no surprise that beyond the Judaic iconography in Bryant’s work, we also encounter Christian and mythological references.
    Bryant’s assemblages – at once biomorphic and architectonic - are placed atop open-volume pedestals made from what appear to be recycled wooden crates or warehouse pallets. It’s an austere and airy look, yet complementary to the visceral physicality of the assemblages on top. These are 3D meditations, like so many impromptu shrines, or altars erected along the way to a holy destination.
    Some of the figural elements blended into the assemblages are rendered with remarkable finesse, as in the eerie, purple shrouded figure in Transformation (#9). But for pure fluidity of form and lyrical impact, none is more elegant than the free-standing sandstone sculpture (wonderfully polished to suggest wood), The Flame. While it is actually not part of the ten-work “Tree of Life” sequence, the spiraling, abstracted figures locked in a kiss are nonetheless a thematically relevant and compelling symbol of unified materiality and spirit.      
    After an extended second viewing of the exhibit, and beyond any strictly formal or conceptual analyses, it occurred to me that Bryant’s work resonates enough outside the confines of its physical properties or specificity of historical sources. I’m reminded of art’s potential to transcend even an artist’s most nobly-stated intentions, and of art’s capacity to lead us on unexpected ascents to other fruitful places. Such as the mind of God, for example.
   One could well ask, “What’s Bryant’s work really about?” Based on his statement alone, from his perspective as I understand it, the short answer is… everything. Hoping not to sound too flippant or obtuse, I’ve grown increasingly comfortable with the long answer: everything else.

    PHOTOS, from top: The Flame; Transformation - #9; Severity (Gevurah)-#5; Passion Burns - #5; Beauty (Tiferet)- #6

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