REVELATIONS FROM LASCAUX
(The Illusion Series)
Like Brahma waking in the bud of the lotus when the universe is once again winked into existence out of the belly of Vishnu, we are brought forth to experience the grand illusion, the miracle of being. Notice that the eye is the vehicle of the soul’s journey into life; that through the eye of god we come into the world, and when god sleeps we cease to be. And, through the eye of the first painter, the shaman of his clan, the ritual magic is first practiced under a panoply of forms in marvelous mural paintings underground. The rites of creation, passage, and the evocations of the known universe are deeply contemplated and ensured. This magic is the first and therefore the greatest, the purest, the most profound. It is the magic that all painters since have been seeking to capture.
The great bison, the horse, the antelope and the men with spears in pursuit by the light of tallow fat torch is the panoramic vision of man’s desire smoked upon the ceiling. Smudged with grasses, drawn with twigs, shaded in charcoal in the tooth of the rock, these great paintings in Lascaux and other caves across the world are the first arenas of ritual, the first cathedrals, our first theatres. They are of the earliest records we have of our physical quest, our longings and desires, our spiritual necessities. These paintings are so clear, so astounding in their mastery, and so finely wrought in their vision they suffer no artifice or comparison.
The paintings you see here around you seek in the same way to capture their own Magic. They are not pictures, but paintings. They are illusions, as indeed all paintings are illusions. But, these are illusions of another sort. In some ways they are illusions of paintings. As the post-moderns have it painting is passé and must be deconstructed because it is impossible in our time in any meaninful way to brush, dab, splatter, or drip among other methods, this ingenious material around on cloth. No painting can be authentic because there is no rationale for paint. It has ceased to function except decoratively and therefore is unfashionable. And of course you can’t be a “serious” artist if you paint simply because you love to paint. No angst permitted. You must remain cool, conceptual, digital, designed. The application of color pigment suspended in a binding medium to a surface for purposes of the graphic demonstration of a social or political correctness is preferable. What is most often misunderstood in our time is that love is the only genuine source of authority.
Looking closely you will see the forms, colors, and textures of the paint. You will feel the space, the weight or weightlessness of matter, and the movement or energy of its inherent life. You might contemplate the experience of being. Thomas Merton wrote: “Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life.” The cave paintings are to my mind the highest expressions of such contemplation. Elegant illusions on rock expressing the most basic of man’s need. My paintings seek to contemplate our world. To record our need to once again as always call it forth by an act of will, ritual, and discipline. To order it through the ways in which we contemplate it. To express this order and thus by expressing it and our need for it, to love it. Looking even closer you will see that for all that appears to be there to look at, you are seeing only paint on canvas. There is no “thing” to look at, no great bison, antelope or horse, no figure of a woman or man to caress with your eye. And, no matter how many times you blink they will not come. There is no-thing to contemplate but the fact of the paint itself, the illusion that there is something to contemplate, and maybe the idea that as with paint or magic there is also no rationale for love. Does Brahma exist when I sleep? And, if he does, is he awake? Can he love what he so casually winks out of existence?
-Don West 1992 Tucson AZ