This group of paintings can be seen as a single work. It is site specific to its environment – Salon Head West. It is called “The Elements” and is primarily about three things. It is a statement about the controversy of painting as a fine art in the service of decoration.
Thematically, the work deals with the Elements of the Ancients who believed that everything in the universe was composed of five Elements. Air is gas. Earth is solid. Water is liquid. These are the three physical states of matter. Fire is the energy which when added to or extracted from the others changes their physical state. For instance, water becomes ice when enough heat energy is extracted, and becomes steam when enough “fire” is added. It is understood that “ether” in this connection is not the same as the chemical used for anesthesia, but rather that Element of space that holds the empty reaches, and contains the vacuum of the universe. It was considered by the Ancients to be the “spirit,” the quintessence in the sense of the “soul” of things, the Element at the origin, identified with the power of the demiurge or the “will” to be; simply, the beginning of life from which all things derive.
Research shows differing interpretations and meanings to the symbolic nature of the Elements. For instance, Gaston Bachelard observed: ‘earthly joy is riches and impediment; acquatic joy is softness and repose, fiery pleasure is desire and love; airy delight is liberty and movement.’ Carl Jung, though not an Ancient, stressed the traditional aspects when he wrote: “Of the elements, two are active – fire and air, and two are passive – earth and water. Hence, the masculine, creative character of the first two and the feminine, receptive and submissive nature of the second pair.” Remember, as symbols they may be interpreted in many different ways as they have been from writer to writer, and age to age.
In this respect, my interpretation and use of them as symbols, as visual metaphors, and as abstractions of these concepts is meant to engage you on another level. As a personal exploration into my feelings about my brothers and my parents, it is an attempt to give a visual life to my love and understanding. Of course, the technical aspects of these paintings inevitably fall short in expressing all that I feel. But, then, that is the nature of art. What is important is that by the process I have learned much about painting, my family, and myself.
Finally, there is the duality we all experience as life, i.e., love/hate, good/evil, life/death. In that duality is male and female. I have assigned color to represent the yin and metal leaf to represent the yang. It is an assignation for which I have no reason, other than to say that it feels right.
- Don West 1988 Tucson AZ