The world as we know it has changed so much in the last 20 years. The technological advancements we expected have for the most part come to pass, and we are living in a highly charged world where the search for meaning has become extremely elusive. Those looking for personal meaning cannot help but become mired in the complexities of contemporary society, which has become thoroughly enmeshed in systems of communication, politics, and issues relating to ethnic and sexual conflict that distract us from the greater importance of our lives. In 2020 we are facing the most profound challenges to our existence. Coronavirus has affected every aspect of our lives. With culture supposedly frozen in order to slow the surge in virus cases, how does consciousness develop? We are now more self-conscious of who and what we are than we ever were before. Our newfound stasis has produced a circumstance perfect for the reevaluation of the concept of consciousness.
Dee Solin has chosen this interval as an opportunity to address these conditions in her art. Her new series “Exploring Consciousness” represents a full statement towards addressing ultimate meaning in this era of crisis. Each work in this series utilizes three basic elements: a central sphere; a square area surrounding and subsuming it; and a mass of swirling, ideogrammatic, interconnected glyphs that permeate the other forms. The dynamic between the forms is commingled with her use of color to create a series of alternating contrasts. The structure of these paintings may appear overtly simple, but it’s within the context of appearances that complexities emerge. The circle within a square that each painting presents is a symbol of the dualistic nature of existence, presenting both inner and outer selves, inner not necessarily being more private but ultimately a deeper, more primal self.
The circle is the “Vita Activa” where urges that fulfill needs for survival exist. The urge to fight or to procreate are the best known among these. In contemporary terms, we can think of them as our need for fulfillment in physiological terms, that in turn, take on our need to succeed in any endeavor, to beat out any competitor, and to gain the prize that is offered, whether that is money, fame, or the passionate attention of a love interest. Language resides in this space as validation for the satisfaction of deep-seated needs, and as a tool toward their achievement. Once such needs are fulfilled, language ceases to be equally necessary. Such is perhaps the case in addressing the appeal of an art work, which is first visual, then at least suggestively tactile, and finally it is metaphorically dimensional, expanding beyond mere form into a meaning that each person can take as their own. This is the artist’s gift to the world.
The square is the “Vita Contemplativa” which is the residence of intellectual thought, where language actively constructs, and justifies, the further distances of considered existence. This is where the urges are limited by their entry into polite society, where norms are instituted, and ideas expand beyond the Id. It’s where our urges get is into the most trouble if they are not adequately adjusted. Yet there is intense satisfaction in the fulfillment of contemplation, of the thinking and dreaming of all things relative to the raising of human consciousness. The third visual element of these paintings is the one that connects the others. It appears like a lattice, extending in all directions and covering all extremities. This is perhaps best observed as an expression of language. It also invites a symbolism of cosmic characteristics, such as the Quarks that compose all matter, or as the primal dark matter that scientists now understand connect all the larger planetary systems from one distant galaxy to the next. It’s best understood as a symbol for connection commingling with vibration. Solin uses it to best effect in her succeeding canvases.
Each of these works achieves a powerful effect that is separate but equal. As Solin evolves the ideas behind her formal elements, she also progresses in expressing what she calls Chromatic Contrast, a defining feature that connects the primal to the raised consciousness. Color is what defines and characterizes everything in existence. Even objects glimpsed in extreme darkness show some elements of color, and it is by our recognition of this quality that we are most apt to judge what we experience. The subject and uniformity of the image plays upon our senses, and invites our visceral response to scale. The circle in the center of each painting is so overpoweringly present that it takes on a persona, or at the very least, an imprimatur of cosmic gravity. It could be a portal into a different reality, or a structuring of our reality like a map, of which the glyphlike structure is an innate example.
No. 1 presents the circle as pale blue, paler than a blue sky, covered completely in her elemental lattice as a bright red. The lattice extends into the outer square of dark blue, but reverses as it travels beyond the edge pf the sphere, becoming a shadow, and darkening the areas it obscures. Here we have a very active image showing an energy being expended at all points, the Active area showing as more intense due to its red color. This is the red of fire, or blood. Not the brightest flame but the most poignant.
In painting No. 2, we have an even more intense visual image showing the emanations of the elements throughout the combined symbols. In this version the red glyphs of the center have moved beyond the edge of the sphere, so that the entire image looks like it’s either on fire, or the energy that flows between all connections is flowing with a more powerful intensity. The alteration of perception from one painting to the next finds the viewer intensely engaged with a movement of forces flowing beyond forms, and becoming easily overwhelmed by the colors.
No. 3 moves again into different evocative territory. It becomes more muted by merely toning the color of the lattice from a bright red to a murky gray/green. There is light here but no burning. Illumination is paired to an intimate calmness. Perhaps the Activa is sleeping, even dreaming. The area beyond is still blue, like an azure sky or the deepest of seas.
No. 4 is like a sea change, as the saying goes. Both the Activa and the Contemplativa are covered by the lattice, but now it seems to unite them although they are still represented by different chromatic suggestions. The Active appears white, like snow, like a blank sheet of paper, or a fine mist obscuring all sight, though in fact it is a metallic aluminum so affected by reflection, --what we may call Chromatically Fugitive--that its whiteness fools the eye. The Contemplativa has gone from blue to black, from the blue of dreams to the black of nightmares. But as black it’s more honest, if more savage. Though contemplation can be structured, it only ends when we open our eyes. It is the darkness of the unknown mind, perhaps connected to the Ancient mind. The whiteness of the Activa shines forward into this outer darkness, its primal purity making the black seem gray. The unknown is not fear but unsureness.
In No. 5, the circle turns a deep red, the crimson of roses or lips. This red core is passionate but true. The core of ancient urges pulses with a passionate intensity. Beyond it the former graying of the darkness is now two layers of the void, the blackness of the beyond with the suggestion of the edges of the lattice forming a net to catch all uncertainty or a filigree of lace to decorate infinity.
In conclusion, let us not confuse contemplation with a lack of passion. The best sort of contemplation is equally engaged on all levels with the truths: primal, intellectual, and otherwise, that inform and energize our lives. It is thought that at any moment can be converted into action, and likewise it is a cumulative acknowledgement of the powers that surround and infuse us as active participants not only in our individual lives, but for each of us as a member of the human race. The importance of our roles as conscious beings swings upon the symbols we choose. The archetypes of the sphere and the square represent Interiority and Exteriority. Like a world that pulses with the dynamism of a billion souls, the sphere represents potential. The square on the other hand, represents order. Its’ hard and fast edges and sharp corners create a boundary for that potential, either to delimit it according to certain assumed values, or to provide a zone through which potential must past in order to become greater. Solin’s new series provides an experience by which we may transcend our current crisis. The first step is the most important.
(1) The terms used here are borrowed from Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958)