D E B R A   J A N   B I B E L



Why geometrics?


Why do I apply geometrics to my paintings and

emphasize geometric relationships in my photography?


In lands of serene open vistas — steppes, deserts, and seas — we encounter mystic art that is intricate and highly ornamental. Mysticism in these locales begins with form. We can think of Tibetan tankas with the plethora of figures of people, animals, clouds, rainbows, foliage, and mountains that crowd the work, including those with a central deity or Buddha. Even the circular mandalas have, within, multi-tiered walls filled with filigree or tiny figured scenes akin to those of Hieronymous Bosch. There is ornamentation within ornamentation. Tankas can dazzle. The viewer can imagine worlds within worlds and nature consisting of various orders, as a scientist can perceive the web of processes and structures of ourselves and our environment from the cosmos as a whole to molecules to virtual subatomic particles, from ecosystems to herds to viruses. Tibetan meditation is unique in its visualization of complex iconographic deities or symbolic  emotional projections. Buildings also reflect this environmental relationship. Architecture of the temple, or gompa, has multiple chambers, one concentric, and numerous pillars and two or more floors. Other cultural examples are the amazing intermeshed arabesques seen in rugs and architecture of the Middle East and North Africa. The contrast between plain plains and planes of the common environment and such decoration heightens the senses and opens oneself to novel inner experience.  The direction is centripetal.

The reverse occurs in places where the vistas are shortened and enclosed and the environment is cramped. In the mountainous valleys of Japan and Korea, for instance, usable space is a premium. Crowded towns and cities or dense clusters of houses in farming villages introduce a tension that is released or at least subdued by the simplicity of line and openness of architectural design and art. The rectangle and grid dominate. Space is a crucial element in calligraphy and in painting. Figures are represented by a few strokes of the brush and they appear against a surrounding that is absent or disappears into a fog. The path of flat stones that leads into the forest stops where it blends into an indistinct junction. The mysticism is of emptiness. The Zendo essentially is an open room free from distractions with ordered cushions for sitting meditation of simple focal points: a mantra, the following of breath, a koan puzzle, one's own arising mentation, a mindful awareness of surroundings.  Architecture is designed to emphasize space; rooms may be small but the interiors are not crowded. Here, the direction is centrifugal.

Hence, the approach to religious mysticism is rooted in the physical environment and the contrast between natural space and particular architecture, art, and design. The wilderness in which the individual enters for self-discovery is first the bewilderness. The pygmy of the jungle is uncomfortable in the savannah, the desert nomad is agitated in Manhattan. One of the hallmarks of civilization is the straight line. Except at the ultramicroscopic level, which is the realm of geometric patterns, the precise straight line is not natural. That human being who first drew a line in hope to achieve the mathematical ideal must have been in awe of the very concept and his representative result. Organic and irregular architecture gave way to geometric temples and civic buildings. The Pythagoreans of old Greece were a mystical philosophical group whose teachings were based on geometry and arithmetic relationships. In ancient days science was a religio-philosophy. It still is, if you go beyond the chains of scripture.

The next entrance to the relationship and the mystical power of tension-and-release is the social culture. Modern urban life is filled with mental stress and obligatory pressures: rapidity of activities, multi-tasking, petty politics, rough travels to and from work, and a pervasive din. We are assaulted by the babble of television, radio, cell phone talk. We juggle dozens of projects at work and at home and are constantly interrupted. Time is the restricting element, and we sleep less while accomplishing more demands. Work is carried over into vacations. There are no true retreats. But there are refuges. Music is mine, and it bathes my career and life. And then there is art.

In the psychology of form, simplicity can calm. Elementals can reach into ideals. It can return to basics while remaining emotionally strong, fascinating, and delightful. Precision and grace in form is elegance, a term commonly used in science and mathematics. Mondrian appreciated this when he explored the rectangular grid and occasional primary hues. At the end of his life, this approach led to the more complex array of colored rectangles that opened a higher order and a different emotional palette. Thus, in the chaos and anxious world of today, my art seeks the elegance and peace of geometric order yet the emotional power of strong solid colors. I fuse the coolness of line with the warmth of color. It beguiles.


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NOTE: While I often plan the pattern of forms for my paintings in concept before approaching the canvas, and then with the assistance of mechanical tools to lay out the pattern in detail, the use of color is much more organic.  I may have a color scheme in mind before I commence the work, but I paint gestaltically.  I do not know what color will be placed where until I paint.  The juxtapositions and overall content suggest or dictate what color should be used next or nearby.  What pattern I conceive in the first place is another matter.  It may arise from meditation — often in complete form — or by what I see in a variety of sources, or by simple play.  Some form may suggest another form and so forth.  It always amazes. Whenever I do a series, the first or seminal work is always the better in spark. After all, it was the result of inspiration, those that followed, experiments, were the result of thinking.

Each stroke and hue from
my brush of painting style and form
is my life story.

And a word on Chinese calligraphy:  when I was learning the brush technique and in reproducing examples of standard idiograms, instead of focusing on the pattern of strokes and line, I focused my attention on the developing shape of space circumscribed by the lines, the form of emptiness. In this manner, the overall shape of the example character was better reproduced than just connecting lines.  Interestingly, this cognition of emptiness, like the space between lines of text, the silence between the sound of musical notes is an adit to the hidden depths of our existence.




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