Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Patron Saint #9: Kay Sage - "I Walk Without Echo"

The Instant - Oil on canvas - Kay Sage, 1949 - Mattatuck Museum, CT

“I can’t tell you what it would mean to most people, but I do know what it means to me. It’s a sort of showing what’s inside - things half mechanical, half alive. The mountain itself can represent almost anything - a human being, life, the world, any fundamental thing.” 

- Kay Sage, Time magazine, March 13, 1950, on her painting "The Instant"

"Consider Kay Sage (1898-1963) the anti-Thomas Kinkade. She was America’s great painter of menace, dread, and the post-apocalyptic future. Her trademark was “the sulphurous light before a thunderstorm,” observed biographer Régine Tessier. Like a thunderstorm, Sage’s art could be depressing and exhilarating. A true contrarian might nominate Sage as the best of all the Western Hemisphere surrealists."

- excerpt from Kay Sage, Painter of an Odd Future - William Poundstone
via an April 30, 2012 Art Info article

"And what's in it for me my pretty young thing?
Why should I whistle, when the caged bird sings?
If you lose a wager with the king of the sea
You'll spend the rest of forever in the cage with me"

- Verse from "Soul Cages" - Sting - 1991


The "anti-Thomas Kinkade" is an apt description for Kay Sage, American Surrealist, who found her artistic voice in Paris in the late 1930's, at the age of 44. Counterpoint to Kincaide's illustrations of lush, kitschy cottages in idealized, antiquated country settings, we have Sage's silent and spare views of some timeless, alien stratosphere. Then again, in comparison to the veritable cottage industry (pun intended) generated by Thomas Kincade (January 19, 1958 – April 6, 2012) Sage's subliminal messages on canvas are relatively obscure.

"! Walk Without Echo" was the title of the posthumous exhibit of Sage's collection in Mattatuck Museum, Connecticut, 2007. I'm not sure if this line was taken from one of her poems, a journal entry, or the creation of the curator, but it, too, is an apt description of Sage's work, and, perhaps, an ironic illusion to her legacy as an artist. (Regarding all images which follow - click on for a larger view.)

In the Third Sleep - Oil on Canvas - Kay Sage,1944 - The Art Institute of Chicago

Despite having been associated with the coveted circle of artists that surrounded Andre Breton, the founder of Surrealism, in the early half of the 20th century, Sage was a peripheral figure, never to know the encouragement and acceptance afforded to male members of that regime. Of course, the Surrealist movement was famous for its inherent misogynistic stance, but Sage was especially unpopular. To begin with, she hailed from the upper-crust  bourgeoisie, and had been married previously to an Italian nobleman. Her presence in Paris was only made possible by an inheritance from her deceased father. As it so happened, she was intensely disliked as a matter of course by the other artists and their wives, especially when she married Yves Tanguy, a Surrealist illuminary. Their alliance apparently enraged Breton to such a degree that his deep friendship with Tanguy eventually evaporated in 1949. All of this, in spite of the fact, that it was, albeit indirectly, through Sage that Breton, and a number of other Surrealists, were able to flee Paris at the beginning of World War II, and relocate to New York. Apparently, even as guests to the Tanguy's eventual home in Woodbury, Connecticut, Kay Sage would not win any lasting friendships within the Surrealist cabal. As late as 1974, and more than a decade after Sage's death, Enrico Donati still found it necessary to remark:
"Tanguy was the painter. I mean, we were the friends of Tanguy because he was the painter, the master. She was his wife, but we went there, to Woodbury, to see Tanguy. She was Mrs. Tanguy so she was there, too, but he was our friend. She was the friend of nobody." * 

The journalists of the day were no better. After a Sage painting  had won 1st prize in the Eastern States Exposition - in which Tanguy had also exhibited -  in Connecticut in 1951, the Hartford Times reported the news under the headline: "Housewife Wins Art Exhibition".

Danger, Construction Ahead- Oil on canvas - Kay Sage, 194o - Yale University Art Gallery

As tragic a figure as Kay Sage was in many respects, I think in the last analysis, her work resonates more with the 21st century zeitgeist than most of her more celebrated peers. And, unlike them - with the exception of Tanguy and Matta - her paintings portray an inner reality witnessed, and masterfully documented, as opposed to a number of Surrealistic creations which were contrived primarily to shock and/or entertain. We may not be able to name the world in which Kay Sage's psyche wandered, but that she wandered there is something we immediately accept. We may not, for that matter, find her observations of this enigmatic world altogether pleasant - few have; often describing her images as dismal and devoid of life - but we never question their validity. My personal interpretation, however, is that "life", or its metaphor, is certainly apparent in her work. It is organic life which is represented by the swathes of wind-blown, or, preternaturally suspended fabric, undulating silently and phantom-like within each of her eerie linear vistas. Presented as a life-form in this way, the fabric takes on an immortal aspect - an almost sentient presence - while, at the same time, transcends the limits imposed by both gender and species. Often, Sage's vistas have the ambience of seascapes receding to a blank, ocean-like horizon. Upon closer inspection, however, the backgrounds are not comprised of water at all, but are of a static substance, engraved with geometric abstractions.  This is especially true in the painting "In the Third Sleep" (second image from the top), a strange image which brings to mind a landing strip on an almost Martian-like planet.**

  As for it, and the image "Danger, Construction Ahead" (directly above), both are examples of paintings that may have spawned half a dozen contemporary Sci-Fi illustrators, despite having been painted in the 1940's.

On the First of March, Crows Begin to Search - Oil on canvas - Kay Sage,1947 - Wellesley College, MA

That being said, most of Sage's contemporaries describe her as being introverted, distant, and somewhat chilly in comparison to Tanguy, the proverbial life of the party. And comparing the work of the two artists, one might find evidence of this. Both artists drew their inspiration from inner  - almost paranormal - dimensions (see this description of Tanguy's work), and both artists, to some degree, were influenced by the early work of de Chirico. But, whereas Tanguy's biomorphic shapes (see "Phantoms" below) are somewhat whimsical, Sage's strange figures generally are not (with the possible exception of the image above). Later in her career, she developed an attraction to a variety of latticework (see detail below), solemn structures, in which her biomorphic fabrics are trapped within... veritable "Soul Cages" looming over a murky, slack water.

(Left) Phantoms - Oil on Canvas - YvesTanguy, 1928
(Center) Photo of Kay Sage with her painting, Suspension Bridge for Swallows, 1957 
(Right) Detail of Tomorrow is Never - Oil on canvas - Kay Sage, 1955 - Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

As it stands, had I written this post 20 years ago, Patron Saint # 9 would've probably been Kay Sage's husband, Yves Tanguy - who, incidentally, was both friend and mentor to Matta, Patron Saint #2 - the more celebrated Surrealist. I hadn't even known about Kay Sage 20 years ago. Why is this? Well, for the same reason I hadn't known about Surrealist painter, Leonora Carrington***, the lover of the Surrealist, Max Ernst, 20 years ago... nor, for that matter, Surrealist artist and designer, Dorothy Tanning, Ernst's second wife. Female artists who bonded with male artists in the 20th Century did so at the risk of anonymity, most especially in the Surrealist community, where women may have been idealized as muses and objets d'art in themselves, but thoroughly dismissed as intellectual and creative equals. Another case in point, the Surrealist, Gerrie von Pribosic Gutmann, wife of the photographer and painter, John Gutmann. Ever hear of her? I'm willing to bet you haven't. She has a handful of paintings in cyberspace and no Wiki entry. A number of links to Imogen Cunninghams's photographic portrait of Gerri Gutmann is what you're most likely to find in a search.

Photo of John and Gerri Gutmann found here

Not all Surrealists in the dual role of Surrealist wife/Surrealist artist fell into obscurity, however. Frida Kahlo (deservedly) was to eventually outshine her husband, Diego Rivera, as the world slipped into the 21st century. Then again, if it means anything, both Carrington and Tanning out-lived Max Ernst by decades - Carrington passing away in 2011 at the age of 94, and Tanning, earlier this year at the age of 101 - both artists remaining prolific and relevant till their very last dance. Sage and Gutmann, however, did not fare so well. Eight years after the death of Tanguy in 1955 (due to a cerebral hemorrhage), Kay Sage, despondent, and in ill health, fatally shot herself through the heart, January, 1963. As for Gerrie Gutmann, her suicide is currently no more than a mere caption to one of her husband's photographs online.

And, once again, referring to the "enlightenment" one is likely to find in cyberspace, we only have to look at the roster of artists included in Wiki's definitive collection: WikiPaintings, Visual Art Encyclopedia. Neither Sage, Carrington, Tanning (nor, for that matter, my previous female "Patron Saints":  Alice Pelton, Louise Nevelson, Vali Meyers, and Sakiko Ide) are included. (Note: Thomas Kincaide, on the other hand, is.)

Below is a video featuring a collection of Kay Sage's work. The video, along with a content description and short biography of Sage can be found here.

For those who might be interested, Kay Sage's posthumously published memoirs - "China Eggs" - covering the period from 1910-1935 can be found for sale in limited form on the net. Apparently this is a paperback edition published in 1996. However, I note that a mysterious hardcover edition does exist, supposedly published in 1955. Very curious.

* My major source of reference for this post, and, for which I am grateful, is Judith D. Souther's biography of Sage, A House of Her Own, Kay Sage, Solitary Surrealist.

** (Footnote added 12/10/12) Regarding Sage's "static substance, engraved with geometric abstractions", it occurs to me now that they might also appear as the detritus in the foreground of the first image "The Instant"... in this case, appearing as the dismantled platform. The word which first came to my mind, however, was "deconstructed", which has an interesting definition which may or may not be relative, but, I'll copy it here anyway: "to analyze (a text or a linguistic or conceptual system) by deconstruction, typically in order to expose its hidden internal assumptions and contradictions and subvert its apparent significance or unity."

*** Leonora Carrington - Patron Saint # 8  Note: The post linked to here has been updated with videos for both Carrington and Patron Saint #7, Remedios Varo.

Here are individual links for examples of the following artist's works: Kay SageLeonora Carrington, Dorothy Tanning, and Gerrie Gutmann.

For other listings of Surrealist women, try here, and here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Quantum Esoterica: Metastructures

"To sum up, then, we have used the computer as an example of how it is possible to have an objective kind of process of soma- significance, and we have expressed this mathematically in terms of symmetric and unsymmetric matrices. Through the fact that in the quantum theory both the state of existence of matter and the law of how it moves and transforms itself are expressed in terms of similar symmetric and unsymmetric matrices, we showed how our notion of the universality of soma- significant and signa- somatic activity may be seen as contained at the very basis of modern physics. But (as shown elsewhere) this use of matrices is also a typical way of mathematically formulating what is meant by the implicate order. It follows that the latter provides a general mode of description that covers the activity of human consciousness, of computers which are a product of this consciousness, and of nature in general which exists beyond this consciousness."

- David Bohm, excerpt from Soma- Significance: A New Notion of the Relationship Between the Physical and the Mental


"Yes. Physics is more like quantum organism than quantum mechanics. I think physicists have a tremendous reluctance to admit this. There is a long history of belief in quantum mechanics, and people have faith in it. And they don't like having this faith challenged."

- David Bohm via an interview with F. David Peat, found here


"Quantum mysticism is a term that has been used to refer to a set of metaphysical beliefs and associated practices that seek to relate consciousness, intelligence, or mystical world-views to the ideas of quantum mechanics and its interpretations. An example is the idea that consciousness causes collapse (e.g. the act of observation affects reality directly). Many ideas associated with "quantum mysticism" have been criticized as either misinterpretations of quantum mechanics or as pseudoscience.

... (In) the 1980 book Wholeness and the Implicate Order, David Bohm portrays reality as a unity which can be understood in terms of implicate and explicate orders. The latter book was strongly criticised by Steven Weinberg, a leading campaigner against the introduction of paradigms and ideas involving or suggesting the substantiality of mind, quasi-spiritual interpretations and other such concepts drawn from outside the purview of physics, in the so-called "Science wars"."

- excerpt via the Wiki entry for "Quantum Mysticism"


"David Bohm was widely considered one of the best quantum physicists of all time."

- via the Wiki entry for David Bohm


"Organic geometry... the idea of energy distributing itself... the concept of energy having consciousness, and consciousness being the fabric, the means upon which - and through which - energy distributes itself... acts... and, that action - through the event of idea and creative impulse - takes form... and, within a certain framework, must take form... and depending upon the conditions of its dimension, is forced to take form in specific ways.

In this dimension (sic)... perhaps in all, to some degree, the determining law of structure might be akin to both music and mathematics... the idea of rhythm, frequency, wave, fluctuation, sequence. In this way, "reality" - the physical world - cannot be as rigid as we perceive it visually. It is always in a state of flux, vitality, movement. A fluid fabric of color, pattern, sound. The law of this dimension (sic) may be seen (also) as akin to time... an imaginary structure... a symbolic structure composed of units and cycles..."

-  excerpt from the second "Temp L" notebook - Dia Sobin - 8/4/83 - NYC

I wrote the above in 1983 - almost 30 years ago, which is cause for pause - but then, I've been coming across a lot of ancient memorabilia recently, as I begin to rummage through the detritus of my life in an effort to relocate myself. As for the quote above, from a trilogy of notebooks chronicling the progress of my Metastructures project (previously mentioned here), interestingly, my "belief systems" have changed very little in those intervening years. The only word I might question is "dimension" as, obviously we do not live in a singular one, but a series of them - the actual number being a matter of opinion.

Originally referred to as Temp L, or the Temple Drawings - an enigmatic series of drawings executed in blue pencil - the images which comprise Metastructures evolved (or devolved) into a deck of cards. As it was, during the '70s - my "occult" years - I initially assumed my first sketches of the 4 symbols - which emerged at that time - were my interpretations of  Tarot deck, or playing card suits. Ten years later, however, and picking up where I left off - which I would do intermittently until the late 90's - the card deck became wholly a geometric abstraction... similar to the lesser arcana of the Tarot, but seemingly in an essentially different language - an alien tongue which, to my mind, seemed ultimately more universal. 

Initially, I had no plans for Metastructures beyond a series of abstract paintings - the 8 images below were created with the first small oil paintings I created of my enigmatic "subjects" in 1986 - but, after simultaneously creating a working deck of sketched images, I reverted to my "occult" tendencies, and began to see them as a possible oracle. Below, then are the card mock-ups and their "meanings", which have, as well as the images, evolved over time. (one later version can be found here. Though this idea was eventually scrapped, I was still happiest with mono-tones as the known spectrum of color felt inadequate.)

Esoteric overview of : Unit One - Force/Entity
Unit of Energy - Life-force dynamic - an Intelligence - the Prime-mover - the ordering force/organizing center - subatomic particle -  identity/self-reference - Creatura - the sentient entity - the conscious collective

Pictured (above, left): the Aggregate (process structure) of Unit One, numeral 6.
Practical meaning: Self-expresssion. The process of recovery and discovery. The idea of a family, or close personal ties in a work environment.

Pictured (above, right): the Radiant (dynamic structure) of Unit One, numeral 6.
Practical meaning: The integration of forces. The symbol of the spouse or intimate partner. Possibly the numerological idea of a #6 personality.

Esoteric overview of : Unit Two - Motion/Emotion
Unit of Activity - Fluid - Flow - Fluctuation - Rhythm - Magnetism - Gravity/Acceleration - Reflection -  Relationship - chemistry - Pulse/Impulse - spin

Pictured (above, left): the Aggregate (process structure) of Unit Two, numeral 6.
Practical meaning: Re-stabilization after discord. Emotional recovery, support.

Pictured above, right): the Radiant (dynamic structure) of Unit Two, numeral 6.
Practical meaning: Love affair - an essential bonding. Fusion. Regeneration.

Esoteric overview of : Unit 3 - Dimension
Unit of Consciousness - Psi - psyche - Energy's path - Frequency - Wave - Code - communication - Network - Matrix - Idea (unformed) - "aether" - synchronicity - transference of thought 

Pictured (above, left):the Aggregate (process structure) of Unit 3, numeral 6.
Practical meaning: Solving a problem; communication processes. Psychological dependency. Seeking/finding help. Something known but not consciously excepted.

Pictured above, right): the Radiant (dynamic structure) of Unit 3, numeral 6.
Practical meaning: A successful idea, plan, concept. An affirmation, an agreement, an important communication.

Esoteric overview of : Unit 4 - Form
Unit of Structure - finite matter & the material - crystallization, manifestation, synthesis - the physical body - the corporeal world

Pictured (above, left): the Aggregate (process structure) of Unit Four, numeral 6.
Practical meaning: Stabilization of resources, finances. A family-run business, or working from the home; productivity in said environment. To build. To heal. To repair.

Pictured above, right): the Radiant (dynamic structure) of Unit Four, numeral 6.
Practical meaning: A successful product. Physical health; to conquer a disease. Merging of business enterprises. Sometimes, a sexual relationship. Marriage in a legal sense.


Inevitably, I became very perplexed with the deck in the end... not sure what their real significance was, what I really was supposed to do with them, and whether or not my interpretations were on the mark. So, I'm afraid there's no "big reveal" here, just another portion of the record of this artist's journey.

Originally, the title of this post was "The Artist as Quantum Mystic", which was then changed to "The Quantum Occultist: Loving the Alien". In both cases, however, there was too much room for misinterpretation... and the internet, being what it is, generally, the rule of thumb is: the less said the better.

The word "Quantum", of course, immediately lends itself to a number of interpretations because its definition is vague. Is it a unit of matter, or is it a unit of energy? And, if the two are one in the same, well then, really, let the philosophical games begin! So, while there are physicists who cringe at "quantum mysticism," I dare say it's due to a decided lack of imagination and inspiration on their part... which is generally what separates a true genius from a mere practitioner. in his own way, Einstein was a "quantum mystic", as well as Wolfgang Pauli and Jung. And, while there are some who'd go ballistic at even marginally including names like  Crowley and Robert Anton Wilson - "quantum occultists" - in the same paragraph... well, there, it's done. ;-)


One further note: regarding the four images at the top of this post, which represent the four "Field" cards of the symbols - their monads (in shades of grey) can be found here - if one looks closely, the relationship between the four becomes apparent; in fact the "fields" are almost one in the same, so that, both on a metaphorical and demonstrative level, the fields are, indeed, "unified". Below is a group of "tiles" that might be used to create the field cards. Keeping in mind that the Unit 1 field represents the coordinate points of the remaining 3 units, one only needs to rotate the Unit 2 tile and flip Unit 4, and voila - the designs are almost identical. Incidentally, it was working with this hexagonal lattice or grid pattern - which, in turn, is fundamentally based on the vesica piscis and the "flower of life", that I discovered the cyclohedra. More interesting still, the way in which the cyclodhedra "emerge" from that field is reminiscent of David Bohm's implicate and explicate orders.

Note (7/23/13): For a further exploration of this topic, see the latest Trans-D post, A Cosmic Nest.