The I Ching is one of the oldest books in the world; it is certainly the oldest book compiled by one author alone though, since its introduction, it has seen many interpretations, variations that range from high literary art to literal cartooning. Over the course of 50 years or so I went through many different versions of the I Ching and for most of that time, I just didn’t get it.
More recently, I also went through a journey of artistic exploration that began in Sept. 2014 when I realized that the work I was creating was no longer representative of my energy in the way that I would have liked it to be. Not that I hadn’t made some good art in the last almost year and a half; I had. I’d created work I was genuinely proud of but it was work happened in spite of me, not because of me.
In 2015, because of an awakening caused by a lengthy meditation on a number of variations of my Human Design Rave chart, I suddenly got The I Ching and got, at the same time, an urge to pursue a ‘translation’ of the concepts of the I Ching into visual terms for reasons which were unknown to me at that time but which are, in 2017, slowly becoming more clear.
What I’m going to present below is an illustrated path of my process, a process that was (and still is) both personally and artistically (because you can’t really separate the two!) transformative.
My first approach to the 64 hexagrams was very metaphorical.
For the very first painting I created, I focused on the ‘elemental’ qualities of the hexagram which consisted of the trigrams for Earth and Water. I did an abstract piece that satisfied the requirements I had set for myself of having the work bring to mind certain qualities of each element but then realized how limiting it would become, having to produce 64 paintings based on various combinations of the same eight elements so I abandoned that on the spot and decided upon a more metaphorical approach.
I used a common divination method for allowing the universe to decide what painting I would do next. Gnawing Through, the very first hexagram that reached out and grabbed me, should have given me a clue that even though I’d found my direction, this would not be a short trip and, sure enough, it wasn’t.
I had completed eight paintings, all depicting ‘realistic’ images but the work wasn’t ‘feeling’ right to me; it felt as if they the paintings were something anyone might have done and this was the very thing I’d been wrestling with for a couple of years already. I wanted to be creating work that was expressing something that was more essentially my take on why I was painting at all. I strongly felt that The I Ching held the potential for that… and that I simply hadn’t tapped into it yet.
Finally I created this piece, Healing, which carried a simplicity that grabbed my attention. There was nothing ‘extra’ here; it was simple, straightforward and, while still too literal for me, showed me what simplicity of shape meant to me.
Ironically, it was a three-stage painting and repainting of hexagram #53, known as Gradual Development that helped me to realize that, despite all the progress I’d made, I was still stuck, or was, at least, lingering in territory where I didn’t want to be. The piece had started as something clearly realistic, which I then altered to appear less realistic, and then altered again to the point where it was finally showing signs of abstraction but I recognized that the tree image I had begun with was still prominent and was the primary visual response one had when confronting the image. At that point I made up my mind to somehow, someway make sure that the things I was painting in future would not immediately identifiable.
The answer to my dilemma was to turn every part of the process over to my body every night on which there was something to be considered. It’s been smooth and satisfactory sailing ever since and I am beyond please with the work and I know now why it appeals to me so.
I have been tested out now, on more than one occasion, as having the two hemispheres of my brain functioning equally. I am functionally ambidextrous (a pretty hysterical joke on the part of the universe for someone with severely crippled hands); I can write with both hands, from the middle out and upside-down. My brain – as much as my heart and soul – likes to play, wants to be involved in the work. Deciphering the elaborate metaphors of the I Ching into visual images feels like what my brain has been waiting for its whole life.
Below is the first painting I produced that felt to me to be fully perfect in every respect, #61, Chung Fu, Innermost Sincerity. (A random throw of the sticks, just like every other painting in this series.) I went on to produce nine more paintings in what I now refer to as an ‘abstracted’ style because, while, yes, I had departed from immediately
identifiable forms, there were still identifiable components that I was using to convey the messages the hexagrams were bringing. Interestingly, it was my struggle with the concept of #54, Ambition, that allowed me the breakthrough I needed to realize that if what I wanted was to capture a ‘feeling,’ that what needed to be producing was not ‘abstract’ work but ‘abstract expressionistic’ work. I needed to convey the message of the hexagrams in color and in motion and in composition. I needed to abandon anything recognizable and that is where I am now… with about 20 deeply satisfying works complete.
I abandoned the 20×20″ canvasses on which I had been working in favor of small – 8×10″ – liquid art boards essentially creating book-sized paintings, paintings that are designed to be looked into deeply, paintings that offer more, the more you look, not unlike the way that the hexagrams of The Book of Changes (The I Ching) offer more, the more you look into them.
All the paintings in this series that ultimately led me into pretty pure abstraction, and the work that I am now in the process of creating can be viewed on my Gallery Site: saatchiart.com/pendragonart. All of the paintings are also available as prints.