22 Nov Back to Black
I had an idle moment recently and decided to watch a biography of John Coltrane. This period in US history of the 1930s-mid-1960s for some reason is beguilingly fascinating to me, and not only music-wise, but also for its art scene. American Abstract Expressionist art will always be my favourite, followed swiftly by the German Expressionists who started earlier. In fact, I have I have 2 Jackson Pollocks and a Rothko in my house; authentic, of course.
To listen to the story of Coltrane and how his music evolved into an invitation to explore spirituality through his compositions was equally mesmerising. He was raised as a Methodist, but spoke of having experienced a spiritual awakening at some point, and he pulled away from contemporary jazz to explore sounds from many other traditions, but specifically from India and its music. In the early 1960s, Coltrane was heavily influenced by India and its philosophy, producing the titles India in 1961 and Om in 1965. He had befriended Ravi Shankar and had planned to study with him in depth in the mid-60s, but had died too young.
However, what caught my ear especially was a statement by Carlos Santana who said, “John’s music really rearranged your molecular structure,” or words to that effect. It sounded nauseatingly trite, but it was apt in the moment because I had just written in this blog about the effect of profound words or great teachings actually creating major change in awareness – by shifting through actual resonance.
In September 2016, I made a rather undignified dash to the Royal Academy of Arts in London to see a unique, unmissable exhibition. I had been a patron of this esteemed but conservative institution in the early 2000s, but without a VIP pass this time, I stood in the queue. This was for the largest and most valuable art exhibition of art ever to be curated by the RA with over $1billion worth of works which arrived into the UK undercover. The American Abstract Expressionists were in town.
As I stood waiting to pay, an older couple behind me were having an argument. I turned around and smiled, and the husband said, “I don’t understand all this nonsense. It’s just uncontrolled scrawling – what does it all mean?” he asked me. I gave a quick one-liner and said, “It’s not about what it means, it’s about what you feel,” and then raced into the gallery to escape.
After I had found my breath and dispensed with the stunned awe while viewing the Pollocks, I found myself in front of a painting I had not seen before. It was by Ad Reinhardt in 1963 called, Abstract Painting No.5. It is simply a huge black square on canvas (very similar to Malevich’s of 1915, but double the size):
Ad Reinhardt. 1963. Oil on canvas, 60 x 60" (152.4 x 152.4 cm)
Rupert Spira, the emerging giant of Non-Duality spirituality from the Jean Klein line, had a eminent career as an acclaimed ceramist before he taught Non-Duality full time. He often spoke of how he was led in his art by the exploring of consciousness, and his ceramics are absolutely sublime. When we are moved by a piece of art or music (or beauty in any form) is when our molecules are completely re-arranged beyond the stagnation of the norm, to use Santana’s gauche, unattractive phrase. All external forms point us back, actually, but especially art and music.
But – what is reflected back to us in this experience of beauty is only a reminder of what we ARE. Enduring works of art hailed as masterpieces in all genres are simply those which are acknowledged to provoke profound meaning and tacit agreement of transcendence into our natural and authentic state. What we see on the external is a reflection of our inner beings, whether we view that from a spiritual point of view, or a neuro-scientific fact. Whether it is via Coltrane, Davis, Brubeck; Mozart, Da Vinci or Pollock.
So what happened to me when I stood in front of Reinhardt’s black canvas? I gasped and all sensation left me. I was fixed to the floor and completely immobile with no evidence of life-form at all. After a few moments (no idea how long), I reached forwards to read the name. I was absolutely sure it would be called Home. I was resonating on every conceivable atomic level with this painting, with nowhere to go, nothing to say, nothing to do. It was finality in recognition, and ultimate potential within the void – in precisely this moment.
Can you see why I had this reaction? Can you feel where this image is taking you? Can you follow its gaze as it reflects you back to your ultimate nature?
The void is not only empty, it is source of pure creation within you. That’s where you must go for liberation, inwardly, to experience the magnificence of who you really are. There is no other way – you need to go back to black.
With love and joy,