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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tree of Life and Source of Darkness

'The Tree of Life - Source in the Darkness'
"Tree of Life, Source in the Darkness" painting by S. Tihanyi (copyrighted) 

Many of my works are inspired the dreams throughout my life. Dreams daydreams, hypnogogic phenomena and other visual experiences have inspired humans since the beginning of time. They present to our awareness inescapable fundamentals, such as, death, physicality, conscious awareness and the relationship of humans to the organic and animal world. The strongest of my experiences leave a huge impression upon me that can be fixed in the memory for years and years and are never forgotten. These powerful messages from the subconscious, come as images loaded in meaning and emotion. This visual language is rooted in pre-history, many thousands of years before our earliest ancestor’s development of the spoken word.

The great visionary artist William Blake said it well, "If the doors of perception where cleansed then everything would appear to man as it is, 'infinite'. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through the narrow chinks of his cavern".

I strive to express the visionary material as true to the experience as humanly possible, making myself transparent and allowing the vision to flow through me. My choosing of the painting style of pictorial realism with its exacting precision and attention to detail is because this is the language that is appropriate to the subject. In visionary experiences, the image is most prominent, if not the defining part of the sublime experience. When we dream, have visions, or daydreams we see them in the figurative and realistic. It is known, that surrealist, magical realism and visionary art is on the spectrum of Realism, as is, photo realism, natural-realism or hyper-realism. The subconscious with its ancient traditional languages of symbolism, the sublime, the intuitive and spiritual are expressed through realism in the visionary art tradition.       

The painting I called ‘The Tree of Life -'Source of Darkness' comes from a dream I had 35 years ago and like many such dreams, never faded and remains burnt into my brain, like it happened just yesterday. Normally dreams are not like this. This was no normal dream. This is the presenting to the awareness, one of those inescapable fundamental mysteries that have held humanity since the beginning of the earliest humans, life, death and physicality.  

Before my dream I was lying in my bunk, actually on board a sail boat in Antigua. I was having an unhappy vacation with my father and stepmother. I tried to remain low to avoid the usual emotional abuse and taunting, giving the stoned or drunken adults a wide berth. I mostly kept to myself but felt very isolated and alone. One night I retired early. I must have drifted off to sleep and seemed to be come 'awake' by becoming aware of a powerful sense of motion all around me. and a great rushing sound. I had the exhilarating sensation to hurtling crossing immense vast spaces at incredible speeds. It felt like light speed. What was most strange was the sensation of this incredible forward movement had on my "body". There was no sense of G force. I tried to investigate what was propelling me but could not turn around. I became aware that I had the definite sensation of being pulled forward with the same equal amount of force I was being pushed in the back. At the same time I felt no wind or currents upon my body. It was like being contained in a vacuum whilst being transported across unimaginable distances at light speed.
I began also to try to 'see' around me and it seemed that I was travelling down a vast long dark tunnel. Ahead there appeared to be a spot of faint illumination. When I drew near the tunnel changed shape and the spot became a long horizontal line and the line opened up to two flat dimensions, one above and one below. The one above was like wide expanse of dark sky or space, with billions of stars and galaxies and below, was like a great moving ocean of dark water, whose waves were only reveled by the glow and reflection of the lights above. I moved in the middle space between these two planes…or did I move?, I felt no sensation. Could it be that I had not gone anywhere, maybe space and time bent around me? I knew I was not dreaming. This was real, but it was not born from anything I had experienced in my real life, I had no references by with to judge this experience and I did not try to judge it, I just accepted it.

detail from "Tree of Life" by S. Tihanyi (copyrighted)

 After a while I realized my eye had caught a distant light to my left. It was a vertical rod or pillar of intense red light that came from far above in the heavens and went straight down into the dark ocean. I seemed now to be moving towards it, in fact I was banking round it in a wide semi-circle, keeping it on my left. As I went round and nearer, I began to realize how huge it was, it was massive in fact. It seemed to hum with a powerful energy.  It gave the impression of staggering raw power. I got the sense that to get to near was very dangerous, not unlike being near a live electrical current, only thousands of times stronger. Where the rod impaled and penetrated the water, there was a great disturbance in the water, great waves mounted and roiled and rose up. I continued to go round the thing and as I did so, I saw another great pillar just like it come into view in the distance, behind it. It was exactly the same, except this one was vivid blue. I continued making the wide arc, until one was positioned on my left side and one on my right. The water raged at their bases and I was very wary not to go anywhere near either of them. Then I saw right in the middle of the two bolts of energy, was an expanse of the calm unperturbed water. It was tranquil and shiny. It appeared this was my destination and I drew closer to it. There seemed to be a faint white light in the middle of the calm water there. I travelled between the great pillars of light into the flat tranquil water and came upon some sort of white building that rose out of the water.     

As I approached this white structure, building or whatever, I felt I was gliding smoothly forward standing upright on a narrow platform no bigger than a kayak or surfboard. There seemed to be no visible means of propulsion. This building structure did not appear to have any classical or other style architecture I recognized, I was only aware that it was large and the walls were faintly luminous. Broad white steps lead up to the main entrance from out of the sea. My ‘boat’ approached the steps and there I could see the silhouetted figure of a person. It appeared like a man and this person was dressed in some kind of white garments. As I came to rest against the steps, a hand came out to take mine. I lent forward then paused, something told me this was an end of a journey, a stepping over a very real threshold, a one way passage with no going back, and it was not a dream. I looked up into the face and saw a face with the kindest, compassionate, smiling features, so full of wisdom and deep understanding, it was almost unbearable, like looking into a too bright light. I turned my eyes down ward. ‘Come’ the vision said. ‘But, I cannot go’, replied. I glance up to see how my refusal would be taken; fearing the declining of such a great gift would bring some sort of wrath. But the figure still held out his hand and the eyes looked down at me smiling. I winced, the eyes that seemed to look into my very soul. I saw no sign of offense or reproach. I looked over to the great door way and inside was full of wondrous light and harmony. The figure maintained his posture and gaze and waited. I was terribly torn emotionally. I wanted to step over but something held be back. The figure looked puzzled. “Why” it said. ‘I cannot go’, I said. I am not ready, I am too full of the shadows of life and I must go back. I looked again at the face to see how my words would be taken. I felt unworthy.  The face did not change, the figure did not care, the hand stayed out stretched, I was welcome, shadows or not. But for me it was unbearable, I felt such shame. I have to go back I repeated, the eyes of the figure sadden a little as he realized I was not crossing the threshold. I knew then the figure could not hold me there and the decision to go back was only mine. Then I began to draw away for the steps and the figure continued to look at me until I receded into the darkness.
detail from "Tree of Life" by S. Tihanyi (copyrighted)

Back I seemed to tumble through time and space until I entered an empty pocket of darkness. After a little while I opened my eyes to see the ceiling over my bunk. I had been asleep, or had I?. I remembered it all like it was just a few minutes ago. I looked around me and saw I was back in my life again, I almost let out an audible groan. I felt like weeping. Such beauty, kindness and compassion and spiritual light, then here I am back in this crummy physical life of with its pain and cruelty, disappointment and meanness of spirit. I was so depressed for days, that I chose that higher realm for this mean selfish world. Why, why! why?, but at the same time my eyes were opened with questions about the nature and meaning of this mysterious experience. Was I given a glimpse of something divine?, beyond the earthy life we have to live. I mean, really, why do we have to live it, or have we chosen to live it, why are we here?. Only our soul can know. There is one thing I feel certain about though, that the experience was as real as the day and one day I will be taking that journey again. I know part of my purpose in life is to work on removing all the shadows in my life, not that it mattered to the spiritual being, but that it mattered to me. My spiritual growth was my own decision and my own responsibility. I don't listen to religions that offer heavenly gifts or fear of hellish punishments in return for salvation. I tried to capture a sense of this experience in my painting, a sense is all I could do because the real picture is much more complex and mysterious. I did not paint the building itself but made it the tree of life. In my mind its a symbol for the same thing. I will write more about my thoughts on this matter again, soon.  
Stephanie Tihanyi