Sunday, April 25, 2010

The 7EVEN guiding principles of my art (part 1)

The number seven is a number that has captured my imagination and deeply resonates in me.  There are so many philosophical systems and religions that have given this number a special place that there must be something sacred about it. Just to give a few examples: SEVEN is found 735 times in the Bible. SEVENFOLD is mentioned 6 times and SEVENTH is found 119 times. In Genesis, in the Seventh day of creation God decided it was time to rest, relating the number with completion and perfection.  There are seven deadly sins, seven virtues and seven liberal arts. Seven were the wonders of the ancient world and seven are the Hermetic principles. Issac Newton identified 7 colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Seven are the notes of the western musical scale and there are seven chakras or energy centers in the human body. The recurrence of this number goes on and on across ages and cultures and areas of study. 
 The seven Chakras with their corresponding colors located in the human body.

In 2007 I remember painting my first series of saints. They were seven in total. That year I got legally married on July 27 and then by the Church on August 17. My wife and I did not choose these dates, they were the dates available for us to get married. Mysterious number 7 seemed to be following me.

 In 2008 I decided to explore the different relationships of the number starting with the seven days of the week named after the gods and seven astral bodies known to the ancient world. Since my paintings always relate and react to our times and being our time defined by this phenomenon called “Globalization”, I decided to address seven global issues that I thought were of key importance (Energy sources, The Environment, Wars, Migration, Corporate power, Media and Consumerism). I related these with seven archetypal figures that are a syncretism between classical mythology and Christian iconography. This is how the work “Syncretisms” was born.

 Drawing and painting  inspired in the figure of the Virgin Mary and part of the work Syncretisms

  Today my ideas keep evolving but I’m still deeply inspired by the mystery of the number seven and how to make this ancient mystery more relevant to my art studio practice. After studying and reconciling different religious and philosophical traditions that dealt with the septenary system, I started to think of my work in seven terms. Not only have I identified certain qualities that describe the work, I’ve also identified these with seven stages of the creative process. So I came up with an ordered sequence of seven principles that apply to my own art practice experience. Even though related, these in no way are modeled after the systems studied. These are rather redefined according to how my own art studio practice and the way it has worked for me almost every time, freeing it from any constraining theory. These are my first three guiding principles in art:

1. The principle of Thought 

“Mens agitat molem” The mind moves the matter - Virgil

Often in popular culture cartoons and comics an idea is depicted by a light bulb above a characters head. It is not difficult then to connect ideas with light. It is the inner Sun light that we all carry within our minds

I like to think of my creative work starting not as a line or brushstroke on a surface but in the mind as an abstract idea. Art is primarily an idea before becoming matter. For this reason a healthy creative mind must be nourished with vital intellectual pursuits such as reading, writing and drawing.  Keeping an art journal, brainstorming regularly and jotting down ideas either as drawings or writings keeps the mind busy and productive.  An art journal is the womb where great works of art gestate. 

 My art journal

 Most of my ideas come from studying history and contemporary culture. I often quote both historical and present day figures in my work. Someone like Leonardo Da Vinci would perfectly exemplify the practice of keeping an art journal. I would suggest drawing and writing every day to keep the ideas in constant flux. I am reminded of Pliny the elder's aphorism “Nulla Dies Sine Linea” (Do not let a day go by without a line).
 Detail of "Alternative Energy Sources under the Sign of the Sun" Work by Patrick McGrath Muñiz 

 2. The Principle of Form
“As above, so below”  - Hermes Trimegistus

 In a drawing form is composed by lines and governed by both the mind and hand. A line is an idea taking on a physical dimension on paper or any other surface and becoming a word or a drawing. A line can be described as point A connecting with a point B, therefore we can understand it as a means to connecting. 
In this second stage I start finding interesting correspondence between my idea and the way I represent it formally. I build up and organize a composition, conceptually as well as formally. At this point I also study the relation between the negative and the positive forms in my composition. 
Disneyfied saints, graphite on paper by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

 These first two principles occur in the journal and separate preliminary sketches. The first is a thought. The second is thought becoming matter and finding new ways to relate with each other. 
 Preliminary sketch for "Magna Regina" (Great Queen) work by the artist
 In my work I frequently bring together icons from different times and cultures.  To bring together and reconcile past and present times, cultures and beliefs into a harmonious unity is one of my aims in art. Two is the number that eloquently expresses this creative approach.
The Moon seems to embody this second principle as it may be seen as both a thin curved line and then as a fully formed circle. It is the principle of line becoming form.  We are able to see  the Moon  thanks to the reflected light of the Sun. In the same way the principle of thought defines the principle of form.

3. The principle of Anatomy (the study of the parts)

"The kingly crowned head, the vigilant eye, the counsellor heart, the arm our soldier, our steed the leg, the tongue our trumpeter." - Shakespeare

  Anatomical charcoal study for "Insula Ignominiae" work by the artist

On this third stage of the process I then proceed to take notes of the anatomy for my models. Being the human figure the main protagonist in my paintings I find it very important to dedicate myself to the study of their parts, from bones to muscles to clothing.  When I refer to anatomy I do not limit the term to just human anatomy but I go beyond the human body to also study animals, trees and what humans wear. 
 Study of camera man and coin symbols for Magna Regina work by the artist
There are basically three types of drawings: contour, gesture and modeled drawings, that is with light and shade.  These are the three types of approaches I take with my anatomical studies.  By doing so, I learn how to represent my characters accurately endowing them life. My primary interest here is to focus on how the line expresses personality and vitality.  

Portrait charcoal study for "Insula Ignominiae" work by the artist
 While drawing or painting from photographs I regularly refer back to classical models, nature as it appears and my mental image of how things should look like. These three sources inform my work. While the first principle was about the creative thought and the second about the thought becoming form in a whole composition, the third principle guides me through the specific parts of the composition. By focusing on specifics I also make sure there is diversity in forms and ideas within  the whole of my composition.

 Sanguine study for "Exodus Exvoto Profugus" work by the artist

This concludes my first part dealing with the guiding principles of my art. These first three principles can be applied to drawing as well as paintings but most of the time they are reflected in sketches and writings contained in my art journal. They serve as the basis for all of my work. On the next four guiding principles I will talk more about issues that concern finished work and completing paintings.

All text on this blog is  copyrighted material© by the artist and author Patrick McGrath Muñiz