Art movements are rarely celebrated within their own time. As a result the artists who create them seldom gain the notoriety they deserve. It is not surprising that the Visionary Art Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s follows this phenomenon.
Most of the art of this style, from that period, has become familiar as a result of its commercial applications. Album covers, concert posters, light shows, and book illustrations being the most common. Yet while the music from that period achieved worldwide popularity, and the musician’s universal fame, the painters that portrayed their mystical visions never reached that same level of recognition. Unfortunately, many critics who offer negative reviews are later seen as dilettantes, once the genius of these movements is recognized
Art gives us an indication of the cultural influences and styles from the time and place in which it was created. Visionary Art stems from the American Renaissance, which was the result of the evolution of societies underground, from the bohemians to the beatniks to the hippies.
Visionary Art begins long before America and was seminal among the indigenous peoples around the world, reaching back beyond recorded history. For thousands of years man has used Psychotropic plants and herbs to explore his psyche and to produce mystical experiences. The Native Americans used peyote, mescaline, and psilocybin, which inspired their psychedelic sand paintings and Huichols. In Central and South America marijuana, cocoa and Ahyahuasca resulted in their beaded spirits masks and psychedelic sun calendars. Throughout Asia the use of soma produced their Thangkas, Mandalas, and Hindu iconography. This is not to say their mystical visions were exclusively produced through these techniques. Quite the contrary: Native Americans practiced transcendentalism by immersing themselves in nature with the vision quest, and participated in the right of purification – the sweat lodge. Central and South Americans practiced sensory depravation in the Kiva. The Asians utilized meditation, tai chi, and yoga long before western civilization became familiar with them. These techniques produced states of consciousness, which were the inspiration for their visionary art as well.
Visionary Art is as ancient as the shamanism first etchings on cavern walls or the mysterious spirals carved on megalithic stones. Visionary Art manifests among the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Minoans, and ancient Greeks. In Middle America, it surfaced among the Aztecs, Mayans and Olmecs. And in the East it reached a high degree of refinement in Hindu and Buddhist art.
As European culture moved into the Dark Ages the Visionary experience could still be detected in Viking gold and Nordic woodwork, in the scant remains of objects carved by the Celts: their animal heraldry, horned gods, and rich interweaving of serpentine motifs. And in North America as well, native tribes were developing their complex animal mythologies through totems, weavings and carvings.
From the Middle Ages onward the richly emblematic and enigmatic language of alchemy emerged, coupled with heraldry, astrology, mysticism, and the mysterious images of the tarot. Bible covers encrusted with precious gemstones and gold, their contents illumined with arabesques, and bestiaries – this was the early expression of the visionary in Christianity. Then in the stone and stained-glass facades of Gothic cathedrals and the egg tempra icons of the Byzantines, a new visionary trend emerged in Christian art. The frescoes of the Italians, and the oil and resin altarpieces of the Netherlandish painters soon followed these.
Hieronymus Bosch (1453-1516) is considered the founding father of visionary art as it first appeared in the “civilized” world. His art was an introduction to a new vision in the history of painting. His images of heaven and hell were conjured and created out of the visions and myths that swirled within the minds of those poised between the middle ages and the reformation. Images, which seem to have a special relevance to our own time and experience, Bosch creates an art and elevates the painter to the pantheon of heroes who face the human condition. His tormented demons prefigure the discovery of the subconscious and unconscious mind with demonic force, and his portrayal of materialism prophesize our modern dilemma. While the subjects he chose to paint were unusual, his grasp of their sources in biblical scripture, mystical texts, and homiletic literature reveal an intellect of staggering power as in “ The Garden of Earthly Delights”.
Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) was a brilliant painter, draftsman, and writer though his first and greatest artistic impact was in the medium of printmaking. By the age of thirty, Dürer had completed or begun three of his most famous series of woodcuts on religious subjects: The Apocalypse (1498), the Large Woodcut Passion cycle (ca. 1497–1500), and the Life of the Virgin (begun 1500). He went on to produce independent prints, such as the engraving Adam and Eve (1504; 19.73.1), and small, self-contained groups of images, such as the so-called Master Engravings featuring Saint Jerome in His Study (1514), and Melencolia I (1514; 43.106.1) which were intended more for connoisseurs and collectors than for popular devotion. Their technical virtuosity, intellectual scope, and psychological depth were unmatched by earlier printed work. He became official court artist to Holy Roman Emperors Maximilian I and his successor Charles V, for whom Dürer designed and helped execute a range of artistic projects in Nuremberg, a vibrant center of humanism and one of the first to officially embrace the principles of the Reformation.
William Blake (1757-1827) was an English poet, painter, printmaker, and mystic. Largely unrecognized during his lifetime, his work is today considered seminal and significant in the history of poetry, visual arts, and the visionary movement. He has often been credited with being the most spiritual writer of his time. While his visual art and written poetry are usually considered separately, Blake often employed them in concert to create a product that at once defied and superseded convention. Blake’s affection for the bible was belied by his hostility for the church, his beliefs modified by a fascination with mysticism and the unfolding of the romantic movement around him. Once considered mad for his single mindedness, Blake is highly regarded today for his expressiveness and creativity, and the philosophical vision that underlies his work. As he himself once indicated “the imagination is not a state: it is the human existence itself.”
Art History has found John Martin (1789-1854) caught between William Blake’s philosphopic and artistic genius and Turner’s brilliant technical skills. Martin specialized in cataclysmic and apocalyptic images, and employed this same intellectual structure throughout his career in his many representations of biblical history. Turner, of course, also painted similar embodiments of the religious sublime, such as The Fifth Plague of Egypt (1800, John Herron Art Museum, Indianapolis) and The Angel Standing in the Sun (1846, Tate Gallery), but he more frequently drew his subjects of catastrophic sublimity from history, classical literature, or his own experience. In contrast, Martin, who was extraordinarily popular in his own time, devoted most of his energies to creating images of divine presence. In The Great Day of His Wrath (1852, Tate Gallery) this master of the theatrical sublime created an image of the Last Judgment, which can stand as a type of his entire career. Using his characteristic elongated horizontal format, Martin follows his usual pictorial strategy of juxtaposing many diminutive human beings to a world whose scale, depth, and energy is about to destroy them. In all these representations of catastrophe and crisis, Martin relies upon the great disparity of scale between his personages and the world in which they find themselves to emphasize man's essential helplessness in the face of natural phenomena. Throughout Martin's work lightning, flood, avalanche, volcanic action, and earthquake destroy human beings and their guilty civilizations, and when he came to paint The Great Day of His Wrath, he employed them all, as if to provide a final summation of this situation and of his own career in depicting its various forms.
Under the broader heading of Mannerist Art, many visionaries after the Renaissance may be numbered, though their names are little known today:
Bartholomaus Spranger, Wendel Dieterlin, Jacques Callot, Antoine Caron, Monsu Desiderio, and Giovanni Battista Piranesi.
Western civilization however, began taking its artistic journey within man’s psyche through the advent of impressionism in the later part of the 19th century. Just prior to this, the discovery of photography as an instrument for reproducing reality caused artists to search for an innovative language that would communicate a deeper reality. Simply said, Impressionists painted the impression, or feeling, that an object left on the observer. Through the use of light and color Jean Corot,
Gustav Courbet, Eduard Manet, Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne, Edgard Degas, Pierre Renoir, Camile Pissarro, caused a major upheaval and revolution in technique and presentation.
Two movements grew out of Impressionism. The first was neo-impressionism or pointillism. The leaders of this movement, George Seurat and Paul Signac, developed a technique based on the division of color according to the scientific laws of optics. Paint was placed on the canvas in small dots, or points, which blended in the eye into an infinite polychromy. This technique would form the basis for the retinal techniques later used by the psychedelic masters. The second movement was symbolism, which developed as an antithesis to impressionism.
Gustave Moreau, Pierre Chavannes, Odline Redon attempted to move in a more mystical direction by reestablishing the primacy of inner reality over that of the external.
Other important artists of the last decades of the 19th Century were; the tormented Vincent Van Gogh, who painted sometimes with the palette knife, other times with thick brush strokes, capturing the charged etheric energy with chromatic tension and expressive force; Edvard Munch, a tragic Nordic, who’s emotional outbursts of angst led to The Bridge and German Expressionism; Paul Cezanne, originally an impressionist, whose work eventually laid the foundations for Cubism, by exploring reality beyond visual sensation to arrive at an objects most profound structure; Paul Gauguin and Henri Rousseau who were seminal among the naiveté of the Naturalist depicting man’s innocence and a new relationship with nature.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in England was led by Dante, Gabriel, Rossetti, and Edward Burne-Jones. The Decadent Movement of France and Belgium consisted of Fernand Kheoff, Felicien Rops, and Carlos Schwabe. The Symbolist include Jean Delville, Odilon Redon, Frantisek Kupka, Alfred Kubin, Giovanni Segantini and Max Klinger. These were followed by the Secessionist Visionaries-Gustav Klimt, Franz Von Stuck, Viteslaw Masek, and John Toorop.
But, singular amongst all of these stands the timeless, transcendent, and visionary art of Gustave Moreau (1826 – 1898) was a pioneer in the opening of hazy, disquieting vistas that could begin to plumb the depths of that subconscious fantasy life so prominent in the art and thought of the twentieth century. Moreau's floating world of cultivated inward sensation and fantasy was remarkably precocious, a voice in the wilderness that announced the more concerted explorations of morbid, inward reverie found in the Symbolist domain of the 1890s.
His preference was for mystically intense images evoking long-dead civilizations and mythologies, treated with an extraordinary sensuousness, his paint encrusted and jewel-like.
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) was an Austrian symbolist painter and the most prominent member of the Vienna art nouveau movement. His major works include paintings, murals,sketches and other art objects. His work is distinguished by the
elegant gold or coloured decoration, often phallic in shape that conceals the more erotic positions of the drawings he based many of his paintings on. Art historians note an eclectic range of influences contributing to Klimt's distinct style, including Egyptian, Minoan, Classical Greek and Byzantine inspirations. Klimt was also inspired by the engravings of Albrecht Dürer, late medieval European painting, and
Japanese Ukiyo-e. His works are also characterized by a rejection of earlier naturalistic styles, and the use of symbols or symbolic elements to convey psychological ideas and emphasize the "freedom" of art from traditional culture. Klimt was one of the founding members of the Wiener Sezession (Vienna Secession) and of the periodical Ver Sacrum. He left the movement in 1908. Klimt's paintings have brought some of the highest prices of any works of art.
The artists’ internal exploration continued into the subconscious with the evolution of Expressionism and the Fauves. Following Munch came Kirchner, Heckel, Schmidt-Ruttluff and Nolde. They criticized the Impressionist by interpreting the drama of life and the crisis of social and national ideals by means of a violent release of the Id through the subconscious bordering on the monstrous. Expressionism was feeling through action, no longer wishing to represent the world, choosing to live it through direct experience, to express subjective drama.
The Fauves were called “Wild Beasts” and included Henri Matisse, Kees Van Dongon, Raoul Duffy, Henri Derain, Maurice deVlamink, and George Braque. These artists rebelled against the decorativeness of Art Nouveau and the spiritual excesses of Symbolism. The Fauves created paintings of extraordinary intensity, with dazzling colors that did not appear in nature i.e. a red tree or orange grass.
Cubism took the next step to the doorway of the unconscious through the work of Pablo Picasso, George Braque, Juan Gris, Fernard Leger, and Marcel Duchamp. This genre had the subjects and objects analyzed, fragmented, reduced to elementary geometric forms, and reconstructed in a multitude of superimposed planes so as to render it pictorially in its entirety. It created a compositional order of geometric character where the structure of the painting was conceived as pictorial architecture. This is art brought to the relation of interior to exterior, the Zero Point, or the Tabula Rasa. The Cubist flatly stated that “ the truth is beyond any realism and the appearance of things should not be confused with their essence”.
Italian Futurism was a collaboration between Giocomo Balla, Emberto Boccioni, Carlo Carra, Lugi Russolo, Gino Severini, and Enrico Prampolini. In short, Futurism set the theoretic and analytic Cubist machine into motion and movement. The object must move and the space it moved within must be portrayed, illustrating propulsive forces.
Der Blaue Reiter, the Blue Rider movement, took its name from the title of a painting by Wassilly Kandinsky. Included in this genre were Franz Marc, August Macke, and Paul Klee. These artists wished to investigate the spiritual and empathic quality of art. They accentuated the spiritual characteristics by exploring Oriental cultures, fables, mythology and folklore. Like Rousseau they searched for man in his original state through harmonious representations and oriental art, looking for the world of meanings. Soon joined by Piet Mondrian and Marc Chagall this movement soon morphed into Abstract art, a psychology of form and color in order to define a spirituality in a work of art that could be expressed free from any reference to a representational or figurative character. They sought to depict a primary state of consciousness that had no ties to the conventional language of representation. This gave the artist total freedom to manifest their inner nature, feeling, and spirituality, without being subject to any preordained representation.
Meanwhile, Metaphysical painting with the artists Georgio Dchirico, Carlo Carra, and Giorgio Morandi, suspended all the fundamental values of western culture, primarily through the elimination of space-time categories. The enigmas of metaphysical works posed questions with no answers, creating anguish and alarm because their pictorial reality had no relationship to phenomenal reality.
Dada initiated the American Avant Garde with Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Alfred Stieglitz, and Man Ray. Their German counterparts were George Grosz, Hanna Hoch, and Max Ernst. The founders of this group, Hans Arp, and Marcel Janco were from Zurich, Switzerland. The Dada described an event in which entertainment, pure chance, spontaneity, and total freedom were the decisive elements for making art. Dada attempted to transcend the confines of painting and sculpturing to open the infinite possibilities offered by the materials and events of daily life. If art was a pure aesthetic fact it could not produce objects of value, it was impossible for art to have a relationship with the perverse logic of reality.
Surrealism finally breaks through to the unconscious, investigating the hidden facets of the ego as well. Images did not spring from memory or dreams; they were itself a dream, Maya, the creation of a dream or vision through the materials of art. Surrealism would express the real process of thought. The unconscious was the true dimension of existence. Dreams and visions were manifestations of how the unconscious makes itself known. Max Ernst, Juan Miro, Yves Tanguy, Henri Masson, Rene Magritte, Paul Delvaux, and Salvador Dali mirrored the philosophy of Surrealisms father, Andre Breton. While their works varied greatly, they adhered to the spirit of the movement, rejecting any previous stylistic, cultural, or technical conventions, following their own instincts, sensations, and craft in total freedom. Other artist later embraced this movement, such as Maurice Utrillo, Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall, Alberto Giacometti, George Rouault, and Amedeo Modigliani, who formed the Ecole de Paris.
Two strains within this movement must be separated and identified. The one, Automatist Surrealism, tended more toward form and abstraction-Miro, Arp, Tanguy, and Matta, for example. These inspired movements towards Abstract Expressionism and Action Painting in America. Of these, Visionary Art has less in common. The other, Figurative Surrealism, tended more toward the accurate, plastic representation of dreams and their imagery in paint. Here, Picasso, Ernst, Magritte, Delvaux, Bellmer, Fini, and particularly Salvador Dali must be recognized as the modern forefathers of contemporary visionary art.
Artistically, the American Renaissance begins with Abstract Expressionism. Jackson Pollack, William de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Franz Kline, and Robert Motherwell drew on the eclectic sources such as Surrealism, Myths, the archetypical forms found in the work of Carl Jung, and the spirituality of Kandinsky. Here the canvas became a space to act in more than to construct. The result is an event, not a reproduction. The artist experience took shape as a vital expressive flow. To this art form was added Art Brut, founded by Jean Dubuffet, which was art produced by the free expression of the individual, and free from the rigid rules governing the structures of art, spontaneously generated, authentically true, ignoring the “ official” language of art and its criticism.
Two unknown Twentieth Century Visionary Artist of note are Nicholas Kalmakoff (1873-1955) and Johfra (1919-1998). Kalmakoff was a Russian imgre who lived in Paris at the Hotel du la Rochefoucault until his death in 1955. He has been called “ The Forgotten Visionary” and only after his death earned belated recognition as the “Proto-Visionary of the Twentieth Century”. He was saved from total obscurity when two discerning collectors, Bertrand Collin du Bocage, and Georges Martin du Nord, discovered forty canvas in the Marche aux Puces, a large flea market north of Paris. Among these was a poster of an exhibition at the Galerie LeRoy in Brussels dated 1924. Kalmakoff’s works were finally exhibited at the Galerie Motte, Paris, in February of 1964. Finally, in May of 1986 a large exhibition of his collected works was organized by the Musee-galerie de la Seita and resulted in a documentary film by Annie Tresgot called L’Ange de L’Abime.
Johfra (Franciscus Johannes Gijsbertus van den Berg) is another Twentieth Century unsung hero of the Visionary movement. Born in Rotterdam in 1919 he was accepted to the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague at the age of 14. There he discovered Max Doerner’s classic work “ The Materials of the Artist” which revealed the methods of the old masters. By 1941 he was painting Surrealist works using classical techniques. Through the years his works reflected different periods: classical nudes on mythological subjects, and strange surreal humorous themes. Then Johfra and his wife, Diana Vandenberg met Cor Damme, who commissioned esoteric illustrations. This introduced them to the “Lectorium Rosicrucianum”, Anthroposophy, Gnosticism, Hermeticism, and Neo – Platonism.
Johfra exhibited his works with a group called the Meta-Realist, and eventually had a book published with his works exclusively. He completed one of his masterpieces, the triptych “Unio Mystica”, in 1973. Immediately thereafter, he was commissioned to paint the Zodiac as a series of posters for Verkerke Reproductions, which gave him worldwide recognition among the cognicenti. He later wrote a book - Astrology; Signs of the Zodiac (1981) - which offered his own meditations and interpretations of the Zodiac Series.
Throughout the evolution of art movements and styles, one can see the components that contributed to Visionary Art’s ground breaking achievement, that of reaching the essence, the spirit, and the divine. Beginning with the artifacts of the indigenous peoples sand paintings and sun calendars, the Thangkas and Mandalas; the biblical and mythical images of Bosch, the feelings of Impressionism, the retinal techniques of Pointillism, the mysticism of Symbolism, the Id and subconscious of Expressionism, the colors of Fauvism, the essence of Cubism, the motion and movement of Futurism, the fables and folklore of Blue Rider, the primacy of consciousness of the Abstract, the space – time of the Metaphysical, the spontaneity of Dada, the unconscious of Surrealism, and the freedom of Abstract Expressionism all contribute to Visionary Art.
Ironically the artistic expression of the journey into man’s psyche, and the exploration of man’s nature, begin and end with Visionary Art. This is for the simple reason that through time man has attempted to portray his inner most core, his essence, his spirit, through the mechanism of art. It is with the result of the evolution of artistic movements, and the level of man’s consciousness, that allows psychedelic artists to achieve this goal. Through the psychedelic experience, when the eternal and the infinite are revealed to the artist the result is inspiration, the deepest of motivations to create. As a result of the evolutionary unfolding of the mind comes concepts and images in a never ending variety, for it is there beyond time and space, where all and its source are seen and experienced. Visionary Art is an alchemical process of transmuting the higher self through images and symbols in order to communicate its source, cosmic love and divine wisdom. It is the quest for the sacred and the search for the spirit. The Psychedelic experience unveils the ultimate reality - that we are the light, and the light is God.
True Visionary art is not a depiction of one’s dreams or hallucinations. It transcends the human mind’s conscious, subconscious, and unconscious states. It goes deeper than the Id, Ego, or Super Ego. It is inspired by the artist’s mystical experiences. Mystical in this context is defined as unity with the divine. Therefore, visionary art should be judged by its spiritual content, as the artist motivation beyond portraying their visionary experiences, is to produce a profound spiritual awakening in the observer.
Art will always continue to portray the human condition. However, this will always lead to the same inevitable conclusion. Ken Wilber states, “ The secret of all genuinely spiritual works of art is that they issue from non dual or unity consciousness, no matter what ‘objects’ they portray…. which is itself Spirit. At the height of transcendence spirit is also purely immanent and all pervading, present equally and totally in each and every object whether matter, body, mind, or soul…. a direct expression of spirit”. At this level art becomes a catalyst for producing a mystical experience. Wilbur explains the transcendent state when “the viewer momentarily becomes the art and is for that moment released from the alienation that is ego. Great spiritual art dissolves ego into non-dual consciousness, and is to that extent experienced as an epiphany, a revelation, release, or liberation from the tyranny of the separate-self sense”. To this we are compelled to add that this sublime experience reveals the unity of all things - all things are one, and it is here where the artistic challenge lies. How does the artist make non sensory, or what is beyond the senses capacity to perceive, visible and perceptible to the observer.
The history of Visionary Arts latest incarnation begins with the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism founded in post war Austria by a group of young artists. These artists attended the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts where they studied with Albert Paris Gutersloh, whose mentor Albert Conrad Kiehtreiber studied with Gustav Klimt. The artists included Fritz Janschka, Ernst Fuchs, Rudolf Hausner, Wolfgang Hutter, Anton Lehmden, Arik Brauer, and Edger Jene. Friedesreich Hundertwasser, HR Giger and Dieter Schwertberger later joined them. This school embraced the “Old Masters” technique, sometimes referred to as the mische technique, which can be traced back to Albrecht Durer.
In the 1960’s a group of young Psychedelic Visionary American artists, Isaac Abrams, Angelo Miranda, Linda Gardner, Carol Herzer, Olga Spiegel, Mati Klarwein, Brigid Marlin, Philip Jacoboson, Hanna Kay, Martina Hoffman and Robert Venosa among others went to Vienna to attend and study with Ernst Fuchs. This cultural exchange was an important event in the evolution of Visionary Art.
The Rock Art Posters give us a window thru which we can experience a historical phenomenon, born in America that affected the whole world. The Hippie movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s produced a renaissance, a new discovery and understanding of ancient wisdom and traditions; it’s simple yet profound message; Peace and Love.
Jules Cheret (1836-1932) was a French Painter and Lithographer who became a master of poster art. He is often called the Father of the Modern Poster. Like most other fledgling artists, Chéret studied the techniques of various artists, past and present, by visiting Paris museums. Although some of his paintings earned him a certain respect, it was work creating advertising posters that he took on just to pay his bills that that eventually became his dedication and for which he is remembered today.
Influenced by the scenes of frivolity depicted in the works of Jean-Honore Fragonard and other Rocco artists such as Antoine Wattear, Cheret created vivid posters ads for the cabarets, music halls and theaters such as the Eldorado, the Olympia, the Folies Bergeres, Theatre del L’Opera, the Alcarzar d’Ete and the Moulin Rouge.
As his work became more popular and his large posters displaying modestly free-spirited females found a larger audience, pundits began calling him the "father of the women's liberation." Females had previously been depicted as prostitues or puritans, and the Cheréts—as his women were popularly called—were neither. It was freeing for the women of paris, and lead to a noticably more open atmosphere in Paris where women were able to engage in formerly taboo activities, such as wearing low-cut bodices and smoking in public.
He was awarded the Legion of Honour by the French Government in 1890 for his outstanding contributions to the graphic arts. In 1895, Chéret created the Maitres de L’Affiche (Masters of the Poster) collection, a significant art publication of smaller sized reproductions featuring the best works of ninety-seven Parisian artists. His success inspired an industry that saw the emergence of a new generation of poster designers and painters such as Charles Gesmar and Henri de Toulouse –Lautrec. Over the years, Chéret's posters became much sought after by collectors from around the world.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec ( 1864-1901) a French painter, printmaker, draftsman and illustrator, whose immersion in the decadent and theatrical life of fin de siecle Paris yielded an oeuvre of provocative images of modern life. He was born into an aristocratic family that dated back a thousand years, that had recently fallen on hard times, the Toulouse-Lautrecs were still feeling the effects of the inbreeding of past generations; the Comte and Comtesse were first cousins, and Henri suffered
from a number of congenital health conditions attributed to this tradition of intermarriage. At ages 13 and 14, Henri fractured his left and right thigh bones respectively. The breaks did not heal properly and his legs ceased to grow, so that as an adult he was only 5 ft tall, having developed an adult-sized torso but retained his child-sized legs (27.5 in long). Physically unable to participate in most of the activities typically enjoyed by men his age, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in his art. He became an important post-impressionist painter, art nouvear illustrator, and lithographer and recorded in his works many details of the late-19th century bohemian lifestyle in Paris. He was declared to be “The soul of Montmarte” the Parisian quarter where he made his home. He often portrayed life at the Moulin Rouge and othe Montmarte and Parisian cabaret and theaters, and , particulary, the the brothels that he frequented avidly. He lived ther for long periods among the women that adopted him wholeheartedly and made him their confidant the the witness of their most intimate acts that inspired the lesbian scenes of many of his drawings and paintings. An alcoholic for most of his adult life, he died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis.
Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) is most often remembered for the prominent role he played in shaping the aesthetics of French Art Nouveau at the turn of the century. As a struggling and relatively unknown artist of Czech origin living in Paris, Mucha achieved immediate fame when, in December 1894, he accepted a commission to create a poster for one of the greatest actresses of this time, Sarah Bernhardt. Though the printer was apprehensive about submitting Mucha´s final design because of its new unconventional style, Bernhardt loved it and so did the public. ´Le style Mucha´, as Art Nouveau was known in its earliest days, was born. The success of that first poster brought a 6 years contract between Bernhardt and Mucha and in the following years his work for her and others included costumes and stage decorations, designs for magazines and book covers, jewelry and furniture and numerous posters. Mucha returned to Czechoslovakia in 1910, where he dedicated the remainder of his life to the production of an epic series of 20 paintings depicting the history of the Slav people, the “Slav Epic”.
Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872-1898) was a influential English illustrator and author, best known for his erotic illustrations. He was aligned with the Yellow Book coterie of artists and writers. He was an art editor for the first four editions and produced many illustrations for the magazine. He was also closely aligned with Aestheticism, the British counterpart of Decadence and Symbolism. Aubrey Beardsley was the most controversial artist of the Art Nouveau era, renowned for his dark and perverse images and the grotesque erotica, which were the main themes of his later work. His most famous erotic illustrations were on themes of history and mythology including his illustrations for Lysistrataand Salomé. Beardsley's work reflected the decadence of his era and his influence was enormous, clearly visible in the work of the French Symbolists, the Poster art Movement of the 1890s and the work of many later-period Art Nouveau artists like Pape and Clarke. Most of his images are done in ink, and feature large dark areas contrasted with large blank ones, and areas of fine detail contrasted with areas with none at all.
MC Escher (1898-1972) was a Dutch graphic artist known for his often mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs and mezzotints which feature impossible constructions, explorations of infinity, architecture, and tessellations. His artistic expression was created from images in his mind, rather than directly from observations and travels to other countrieHe worked primarily in the media of lithographs and woodcuts, though the few mezzotints he made are considered to be masterpieces of the technique. In his graphic art, he portrayed mathematical relationships among shapes, figures and space. Additionally, he explored interlocking figures using black and white to enhance different dimensions. Integrated into his prints were mirror images of cones, spheres, cubes, rings, and spirals. After his journey to the Alhambra, Escher tried to improve upon the art works of the Moors using geometric grids as the basis for his sketches, which he then overlaid with additional designs, mainly animals such as birds and lions.
The Poster Artists because of their medium were forced to create within parameters: constraints set by printers, colorists, and lithographers. They were further limited, as the posters were a commercial vehicle to communicate information. They were used to promote and advertise Rock and Roll concerts while informing the observer of the who, what, where, when, why and how relating to that event. These artists did not enjoy the freedom to create that the painters possessed. While the painters struggled with depicting their mystical experiences, the poster artists – thru their psychedelic experiences – gave the observer the experience of an enlightened observation.
This was accomplished with the mechanism of retinal techniques, which allowed objects to morph into other objects so that what was apparent then becomes what was revealed. When we observe what is revealed we experience a moment of awakening, or revelation and in that moment we achieve objective observation. We have transcended the ego; it’s duality and its defense mechanisms, the very obstacles that keep us from this state in the first place.
This moment of revelation also results in a deeper understanding of what manifests as existence. It is the realization that there is a unity of all things and that Maya does not mean that all is illusion, but means the physical reality before us is not the only reality. It means that everything has an essence, and that essence is divine.
This is no small accomplishment. In all the world’s major religions there is a mystical sect; the Kabbalists of Judaism, the Rosicrucian’s of Christianity, the Sufi’s of Islam, and the intrinsic nature of the Hindu, Buddhist, Zen and Tao, which recognize this awakened state of pure observation as the first step to enlightenment.
The psychedelic artists are under no illusion that the alteration of consciousness, the expansion and super sensitivity of consciousness that the psychedelic experience provides confers the ability to create great works of art. The artist, not the substance, has to provide the intelligence, feeling, imagination, and artistic talent to create. The psychedelic experience is just that, experience, not injected or ingested artistic ability. The reality is the whole history of art, along with its creative process, is concerned with altered states of consciousness. The fact that an artist draws upon experience, and that the experience may be produced by psychotropic substances may be true and relevant for the artist, but it reveals nothing about the art itself. In the final analysis art justifies its existence by assisting man in his pursuit of a more human self-realization. This is the very “Raison d’etre” of Psychedelic Visionary Art.
Eventually art will turn into life, and life into art. Until that time we need art. It is the promise as well as the guide for something that does not yet exist but could exist eventually. It is the revelation of man’s undiscovered potentials and man’s course of possible future development. In that sense Psychedelic Visionary Art leads us to man’s highest calling, that he may discover the purpose of his life, and the source of existence, his ultimate discovery of the divine.
So it is with great pleasure that we invite you on this Magical Mystery Art Tour. Our only requests is that we check our egos at the door, reserve our opinions, suspend all projections, and transcend all judgments in order to observe these treasures from an objective point of view. It is there we will find where the magic resides, and where the mysteries are revealed.
VISIONARY ART IN ART HISTORY