By Philip Rubinov Jacobson
© Updated May 30, 2018
A Glimpse at paintings by members of the ''The New York Visionaries''. Just a few early and later works from the NY Group.
Visionary Art is not a new movement, not at all. Indeed, there are painters that weave a visionary tapestry throughout the history of art. A complete historical account of the global visionary art tradition would fill numrous volumes. Many have tried to define Visionary Art and as a result we have a picture of it done with a rather broad paint brush. For me a work that is visionary is what I call ‘creatuitive’, that is, it combines a heightened creativity with an acute intuition. It is ‘in-sight’; vision arising from the eye o contemplation ~ the place of the spiritual imagination. Visionary art is art that transcends but includes the physical world and portrays a wider vision of awareness including ecstatic or mystical themes - or is based in such experiences - accessible through the subjective realm of each individual. What unites visionary artists is the driving force and source of their art: their unconventionally intense psychic imaginations. Their gift to the world is to reveal "in minute particulars," (as Blake would say), the full spectrum of the vast visionary dimensions of the mind and the realms of spirit, from darkness to light, the full multifarious life of consciousness.
The term 'Visionary Art' was coined nearly a century ago in 1933 by Carl Gustav Jung in his seminal work: Modern Man in Search of a Soul. He describes visionary art as a revelation “whose heights and depths are beyond our fathoming, or a vision of beauty which we can never put into words.” This ''visionary mode‟ in contrast with the ''psychological mode‟ derives material from the contents of the primordial realm of the archetypes of the collective unconscious and the realms of transcendent consciousness. The result of the ''visionary mode‟ of art when created by able artists can be astonishing, frightening, confusing and at times, even disgusting. The presumption here is that the ''visionary artist‟ is seeking the ''Divine" or subject matter coming out of non-ordinary ‘states’ experienced in ordinary ‘stages’ of consciousness. However, this does not presuppose that all artistic outcomes in this genre' must arise only from the religious, be it a fundamental or new age belief system. Indeed, I have seen marvelous works that are dynamic, inspire and unleash an astounding vision from beyond which was created by atheists and people that have had ecstatic experiences of higher consciousness but are non-religious. That is, they consider themselves "spiritual but not religious", a wide-spread adage often adopted by New Agers. For them 'spirituality', in contrast, is associated with higher levels of interest in mysticism, experimentation with unorthodox beliefs and practices, the use of entheogens and drugs, and, most central, and at times, negative feelings toward organized religions. Observation reveals that before the 20th century the terms religious and spiritual were used more or less interchangeably. But a number of modern intellectual and cultural forces have accentuated differences between the "private" and "public" spheres of life. The increasing prestige of the sciences, the insights of modern biblical scholarship, and greater awareness of cultural relativism all made it more difficult for educated Americans and to some extent, Western Europeans, to sustain unqualified loyalty to religious institutions. Many began to associate genuine faith with the "private" realm of personal experience rather than with the "public" realm of institutions, creeds, and rituals. The word 'spiritual' gradually came to be associated with a private realm of thought, contemplative practices and experiences, while the word religious came to be connected with the public realm of membership in religious institutions, participation in formal rituals, and adherence to official denominational doctrines.
As a modern art movement, we can trace 20th century Visionary Art as it descends from Metaphysical art and veristic Surrealism, to the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism and on to the first generations of students that followed and were taught the masterly techniques associated to it. It is important to see and understand that the paintings they produced varied greatly from one artist to another, and continue to do today, offering a great constellation and spectrum of vision. As an art movement, it arose more than 40+ years ago as an organized force of a handful of artists based in New York and inspired by the Fantastic Realists in Vienna. Most of the New York Visionaries had studied Mische Technique painting with Ernst Fuchs between 1964 and 1974 and included Mati Klarwein, Brigid Marlin, (who had organized a group in England working exclusively from the imagination), De Es Schwertberger, Philip Rubinov Jacobson, Wolfgang Widmoser, Hanna Kay, Olga Spiegel, Isaac Abrams and associated comrades; Robert Venosa and Martina Hoffmann, H.R. Giger, Alex Grey, Jose’Arquelles, Mariu Suarez and Ingo Swan were associated in one way or another. It was really quite a small 'tribe'. Their themes were usually spiritual, mystical or expressing some inner awareness, or altered state of consciousnes. The pioneering work of these artists has helped to formulate some emerging definition to what constitutes the contemporary visionary art 'scene'. Prof. Michael Schwartz is a main figure in this endeavor and carries the whole view of visionary art into the realm of an Integral Art inspired by the work of Ken Wilber. (See Ken's Wilber's* Foreword to Rubinov Jacobson's forthcoming book):
Eyes of the Soul - Exploring Inspiration in Art on the LINK:
* Ken Wilber is widely acclaimed as the foremost thinker on integrating Western psychology and the Eastern spiritual traditions. His many books have reached across disciplines and synthesized the teachings of religion, psychology, physics, mysticism, sociology, and anthropology, earning him a devoted international following.
There were also some other individuals, called ‘visionary artists’ out there, but, in general,we did not know of them, and aside from the handful of California artists associated to the Illuminarium Gallery in Mill Valley, and Pomegranate Publication certainly there were no organized groups we were aware of. Working separately in the 1970s, we gathered as a group in 1980. The ‘World Wide Web’ would not be born for another 14 years. On occasion we would discover a kindred spirit, some artist living near or far away, like Johfra and his band of Magic Realists in Holland which we knew only from a few posters from his Astrology series, or Fabrizio Clerici in Italy, Eric Paetz in Germany and so on. Sometimes yet another artist would emerge through features in Avante Garde magazine, Magical Blend or from the emergence of the influential Omni Magazine. From this we would all somehow feel a little less alone, reassured and reinforced. The NY Visionaries on the East Coast had their counterparts on the West Coast and among the aforementioned California Visionaries were Gage Taylor, Cliff Mc Reynolds, Nick Hyde and Bill Martin who were doing some fantastic depictions of Nature and cosmic forces, and of course, the fantastic and the great psychedelic work of Mark Henson. There were others like Gilbert Williams, who, for a period, enjoyed widespread fame primarily producing more commercial works depicting unicorns, UFOs, angels, crystals; all the usual new age motifs we saw then and are over-loaded with today. Now, 45 + years later, such themes are more prevalent than ever and saturate the contemporary 'visionary art scene' and are common icons on the 'festival circuits'. It is here that I, personally, separate the New Age motifs in art from the iconic imagery revealed through a Visionary Art.
For a more personal account of the formative years of so-called, Fantastic and Visionary Art, see my first book, DRINKING LIGHTNING ~ Art, Creativity and Transformation. Anyways, as stated above, a few of the students who first studied with Fuchs became teachers themselves. Brigid Marlin, an American Ex-pat residing in England, myself from the USA and teaching internationally, and Fuchs’s son Michael who would sometimes teach alongside me, with an assistant - a young American girl named Amanda Sage, in the late 1990s and early 2000's. Since 1978, I have taught hundreds of art students and some dynamic new lights have emerged in many genres of painting, including some visionary-types like Amanda Sage, Andrew Gonzalez, Laurence Caruana and other more fantastic-types like Daniel Martin Diaz, Kim Evans, Madeline Von Foerster, Benjamin Vierling, Lucy Hardie, Kris Kukesi, Mariu Suarez, to name just a few. Today, there are thousands upon thousands of ‘’visionary artists’’ all over the world who, for the most part, in contrast to the New York Visionaries and that generation of artists, often share a common imagery often inspired by experiences from sacred sacraments and plant medicines and a strong influence from the artwork of a few figureheads on the scene, like Alex Grey, Android Jones and the late Robert Venosa. Many of them enjoy a captive audience on the international alternative festival circuit doing ‘live painting and selling their wares', which is quite a different environment than the concert-festival of 'free love and free everything else' of the Hippy Era. of the 1960's - early 70s. Nonethelesss, it is certainly gratifying to see the seeds that have grown worldwide but I often wonder about the course 'visionary art' is taking, its direction, commercial intentions and to what and to whom it is really serving. Time will tell.
SoHo, New York, 1980, ''The New York Visionaries'' Clockwise/bottom to top: Olga Spiegel, Isaac Abrams, Linda Gardner, De Es Schwertberger, Sandra Reamer, Philip Rubinov Jacobson and not present at the photo shoot: Mati Klarwein, Hanna Kay and Carol Herzer. PHOTO by Sidney Fortner
In summary, I would add that from the early 70s onward, we struggled with using the term 'visionary' to describe ourselves, or our art, as it felt, and still does, just so damn arrogant. We tried "Transformative", Transcendental, Energy, Psi Art or PsyArt, and a number of others I see floating around even today. There is a kind of elitist aire that surrounds the term "visionary" and an arrogance in the labeling of one's self as such. In light of that, artist, Bruce Rimmel has this to say:
If anything, 'visionary' is an honorific term you should never use on yourself, but you can get hooked on that too... So I keep it simple...
Our inner world is the only true source of meaning and purpose we have. Art is the way to discover for ourselves and others, by opening this door to the inner life. The artist attempts to make inner truths visible, audible, or sensible in some way, by manifesting them in the external, material world. To produce their finest works, artists lose themselves in the flow of creation from their inner worlds with an eye also firmly riveted on the outer world. Thus there is this fusion of feeling, intellect and the art created where intuition is born and what I call 'creatuitive work' is manifested.
The integral artist seeks to explore the furthest boundaries of human experience - entering domains that provide new and positive perspectives to embrace a world-centric vision that will draw us toward unity. Such artists explore dimensions of human creativity which are being neglected or forgotten which can enlarge our understanding and belief in our own inherent creative potentials, inspiring peace and a new sense of spiritual direction in life. We invite you to come and join us to expand and unleash your vision in an international community of like-minded individuals who hail from the same ''tribe''. A family formed in mind; connected in the heart, expressive through the spirit, and equally value skill, intuition and the reality of the spiritual imagination.