Art and the Occult
Gary Lachman spoke recently at The Black Light Exhibition, an event sponsored by The Center for Contemporary Culture Barcelona.
Lachman, whose presentation begins at about the 5:30 mark in the above video, briefly covers a history of the relationship between art and the occult. He speaks for roughly 35 minutes tracing the roots of this phenomenon from paleolithic cave paintings to the varied works of William Blake to the secret Gnostic paintings of Hilma af Klint and to the expressions of contemporary artists such as the filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, which is then followed by a Q and A session.
This exhibition stood on the shoulders of another exhibition curated by Maurice Tuchman in the 1980’s in Los Angeles, ‘The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985’.
Tuchman in the introduction to the wonderful book published in conjunction with this event states,
“Abstract art remains misunderstood by the majority of the viewing public. Most people, in fact, consider it meaningless. Yet around 1910, when groups of artists moved away from representational art toward abstraction, preferring symbolic color to natural color, signs to perceived reality, ideas to direct observation, there was never an outright dismissal of meaning. Instead artists made an effort to draw upon deeper and more varied levels of meaning, the most pervasive of which was the spiritual.”
The cover of the accompanying publication for The Black Light Exhibition
From the CCCB site,
“Esoteric traditions can be traced back to the very origins of civilization, having served at different times to structure philosophical, linguistic, scientific or spiritual ideas. Despite their importance for the development of twentieth-century art, they tend to be ignored or disparaged these days due to the dominance of rationalistic thinking and the difficulty of talking about these subjects in clear, direct language.
In recent years, however, many artists have taken a renewed interest in subjects such as alchemy, secret societies, theosophy and anthroposophy, the esoteric strands in major religions, oriental philosophies, magic, psychedelia and drug-use, universal symbols and myths, the Fourth Way formulated by the Armenian mystic Georges Gurdjieff, etc., generating an interest in these fields that had not existed since the counterculture of the sixties and seventies.
According to the writer Enrique Juncosa, curator of this exhibition, this interest may be due to the fact that we are, once again, living in a restless and unsatisfied world, worried about new colonial wars, fundamentalist terrorism, serious ecological crisis and nationalist populism, just as in the sixties and seventies people feared an imminent and devastating nuclear catastrophe. Furthermore, much of today’s mainstream art is actually rather boring due to its complete lack of mystery and negation of any kind of poetization or interpretation of our experience of it.””
Photo by Asa Lunden
Photo from a 2013 Exhibition of works by the Swedish mystic Hilma af Klint who as Lachman describes in his presentation is probably the first Abstract artist, predating Wassily Kandinsky