D E B R A J A N B I B E L
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
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.
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
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.