Thursday, September 22, 2011
Max Weiler Retrospective: Finding the Sublime through Nature and Art
Ironically, my last post about our visit to Vienna is about the first thing I did there. I think it has taken all this time to consider that first moment and what it meant to me. While Eric bustled off for his first day of the Mozart seminar, I went out for cappuccino & a chocolate croissant and then meandered over to the Albertina. It was my first museum of the trip and I arrived just at opening time and so had the place practically to myself.
I wandered in to a special exhibit on the works of Max Weiler, an Austrian artist whose work I had never seen before. It was a retrospective, and it was moving to see someone's entire life's work gathered up from start to finish. You could see the ideas he was grappling with as a young man and how they clarified and matured as he gained insight and experience.
His work is abstract, yet clearly refers to nature. It is loose, but contemplative. Some are colorful, some are simple charcoal drawings, but all employ a tangled network of lines and shadows. Many are on paper and despite the large scale, this seems to give a simplicity and temporal quality to the work.
As I looked, a phrase from "Light on Life"echoed in my mind over and over again:
"Nature wants to occupy every available space."
Obviously so inspired by the natural world, Weiler's drawings and paintings reminded me of dark caves covered in glittering crystals, dripping with stalagtites like some hidden cathedral in the bowels of the earth. Or perhaps of coves deep beneath the sea, dotted with spiky urchins or swirls of delicate crabs clicking about in elaborate shells. Perhaps even the windswept green and gold hills of his beloved Tyrolean hills. His work seemed so alive, so vibrant. And yet so full of space and calm.
In "Light on Life" Iyengar says that the ancient yogis retreated from the Indian jungles so choked with life, struggle and birth from decay to the Himalayas because they were barren and silent. A good place with space for the spirit to fill. A quiet museum is another such place.
I stood there silently looking and felt overwhelmed. I found a deep relief at being there alone, with no other person to consider or interfere with my experience. A sadness at not being able to enjoy that experience more often. Tears came to my eyes when the question I most want to answer (and most fear answering) bubbled to the surface: What is the desire of my heart? What is it I am called to do?
As I looked, I found a renewed sense that making art can be a holy life, full of contemplation and stripped of egotism and selfishness. It can be a way to consider the world and deepen your humanity at the same time. A path to God perhaps. Creativity is a powerful thing that rushes through us, like a river carving away at a gorge. It employs, energizes, enlarges what is best in us, washing away what is decayed and crumbling. When stopped up or clung to it becomes stagnant or destructive. It is one thing and yet no-thing, just as the Buddha described the self. Constant and yet defined by change.
I also felt fear- fear of being unskilled, untrained, unversed in the philosophies and traditions someone like this was using as a kind of shorthand in creating his own private vocabulary. Fear of the solitude creation like that demands. Fear of the boredom, the silence, the intellectual heavy lifting.
What a fascinating way to spend your life- immersed in a world you are creating and re-creating, constantly purifying, simplifying, stripping away.
From Weiler's journals:
"Whenever I stand in nature, I am overcome by an enormous sense of exaltation. I look, I see and I am moved by a variety of times of day and seasons, by a variety of localities. A feeling of union with nature seizes me. Nature becomes quite transparent for me. I am drawn into the weaving of its being. A great sense of calm streams from the expansive, fulfilled plenum, the most perfect contentment – a joy of becoming one with an immense, sublime creation. Huge respect in the face of such a creative force. Boundless reverence. This would seem to be a world feeling. It becomes visible in artists from different times, almost always in the same way, in a most magnificent way by the Chinese of the 10th to the 13th centuries. (1973)"
That is the sublime. I wonder how my path to it will unfold.