The Theme Of Illumination In Art

From time immemorial, light has always marveled man. Those used to this phenomenon were also in the dark as they could not explain how it came to being. Some would even attribute it to a supreme being that would gift them with it on a daily basis. Over the years, this has not changed as more and more people have had to grapple with the mystery that light holds in man’s life and all his endeavors. It is this intrigue that even led others to revere it as the creator of everything 1. All these assertions were as a result of man trying to come to terms with his mortality and all that surrounded him. Man had a conscience that allowed him to reason and question all that surrounded him, light included and it was during this moment that pragmatic attempts were made to understand light.

Man was able to come to the conclusion that light was a form of energy. It could prove dangerous when misused and had the capability of causing death and destruction. Light and all other forms of its manifestation were thus deemed a force to reckon with and had to be respected by all in order to live a peaceful life devoid of misfortune. Additionally, man came to understand that light not only came from supernatural or inanimate bodies but could also emanate from human beings 2. In particular, there were those individuals who were  “enlightened” and had a special type of light that shone in them which became visible to all who came into direct contact with them. Some even suggested that these individuals shone as bright as the sun, figuratively, as was the case with Buddha and Jesus Christ in the Holy Bible, suggesting that they had attributes that were quite different from the average person. The theme in this exhibition will center on illumination, which is directly related to light and seeks to explain the different aspects of light and how it is evident in art. To further explain this theme, the following works of art will be utilized in the quest to explain the enigma that is illumination; the Jina Vairochana Buddha sculpture, the Urban Light Sculpture by Chris Burden and Jacqueline, Head of a Woman painting by Palo Picasso.

The Jina Vairochana Buddha sculpture was first discovered in Jammu, India in the present day Kashmir region. Art historians agree that as part of South East Asian Art it was sculpted between circa 725 and 750 when the Indus Civilization was thriving in this region is evident from such a complex craftsmanship that went into creating it. Brass was the main material used to construct it but was further bolstered by an inlay of to ensure that it lasted longer and did not lose its luster even with time. It was this technique that has ensured that the sculpture still appears as it did during the period of its construction by adherents of the Buddhist religion. It measures 40.64 x 21.59 x 9.2 cm and was constructed by individuals who had a firm grip of mathematical principles as is evident in the impeccable nature of the work of art that they created 3.  As a sage from the Shakyan clan, the Buddha appears as an enlightened figure in a meditative posture deep in a form of transcendence. The illumination that the sculpture is meant to represent comes from within it and in particular the deep meditation that the Buddha is in.

Spiritual awakening is a form of internal enlightenment that only few people can experience. Some talk of out of body experiences, but those who happen to experience this rare phenomenon become a different person altogether. In most occasions, this is evident in the new light that they are purported to exude. The Buddha is no different. The Buddha was a simple human being who was able to attain an insight that has been considered by many as extraordinary especially when dealing with the nature of man’s existence. It was this enlightenment that rid his heart of hate or others, delusion, and craving for material possession while attaining happiness at the same time and being free from any form of suffering 4. A special type of light shone inside the Buddha, that of enlightenment. In his terms, the illumination that he seems to have even in his sculptures was as a result of his quest for spiritual awakening, a light that was soon lit inside him and later spread to the whole Asian Subcontinent.

            As one of the most iconic assemblage sculptures ever done by Chris Burden in 2008, The Urban Light represents light and illumination in its most elegant form. A large majority of the 202 lamps were restored or the purpose of this project as they once lit the streets of Southern California. The iron lamps are cast in iron and are in 17 distinct styles, none similar to the other as they vary from one municipality to another.  They are about 6 to 9 meters in height, 814.07 x 1743.71 x 1789.43 cm in dimension and gray in color to enhance the brightness of its light during night. It is important to note that they are solar powered and have been meticulously polished to provide an exuberant glow that is second to none. The main purpose of coming up with this assemblage was to appreciate light in its entirety. It is noteworthy to acknowledge that they were transforming the light that was available during the day in abundance so that it could light the area at night 5. Illumination is the primary concern of the sculpture as it is evident that its main purpose was to create an alternative source of lighting at night and what better way than using solar energy? The sculpture has illumination as its main theme. It does not focus much on the aesthetic value that it will be providing to the area but its primary concern seems to be that it provides light for people in the area. The lamps are arranged neatly in straight rows making the overall illumination from all the lamps even stronger and lighting the whole area under it.

The Head of a Woman painting by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was completed in 1962 in France after a year of painting. It is an oil on canvas painting that measures 111.76 × 93.98 × 7.62 cm) that features Jacqueline Rogue, a woman became his muse and whom he later married. He spent the last 20 years of his lie with her, 17 of which were spent painting her as the main subject in most of art work. As is with most portraits that feature Jacqueline, she appears to have a neck that is rather exaggerated and a somewhat feline face. From the painting, it is evident that her dark eyebrows and eyes are a prominent feature, enunciating her high cheekbones as she faces the viewer 6. The blue tones appear as though they are receding into her backdrop to add a heightened level of visual excitement to his expert composition. From the painting, it is clear that Picasso was exploring new and innovative ways in which three-dimensional objects could be best presented on a flat surface. A new twist is added to the subject’s appearance when her form is fragmented into complex geometric shapes that seem to be rearranged in chaotic composition. The thick outlines that permeate the face are complemented by the two sections that appear to be separated.

The painting represents Jacqueline, the light that shone in Picasso’s life. Although much younger than him, Picasso went ahead and married her, a move which he never regretted. His love for her burned like a wildfire, giving him inspiration after inspiration that saw him paint his best works of art. He painted her striking portrait 160 times in the year 1963 and would continue painting her in a Neo-classical style that had hitherto not been seen by artist during his era. With Jacqueline as his subject, he was able to try a mixture of artistic styles that he used specifically to push the limits of art in a colorful, daring and expressive way. She served as his light guiding him and his creativity to reach the heights that he reached before passing away in 1973. Jacqueline served as the light that guided illuminated Picasso’s artistic world.

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