“In a mysterious cosmic exhalation, Spirit took a three-dimensional shape and started building the Universe according to timeless laws of geometry.”
– Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas is a Contemporary Coast Salish artist from the Lyackson First Nation, originally from Valdes Island. A past protégée of the renowned Susan Point, he has recently shifted his focus even more in the direction of the spiritual and aesthetic functions of sacred geometry in art. The prints and paintings of his new show are like sacred tondos, circular images that reference the ancient lineage of sacred geometry in expressions as diverse as Hindu mandalas, earthenware pot designs from 6,000 B.C., Islamic architecture, and medieval Christian stained glass windows. They constitute an homage to the sketched deliberations of Renaissance artist / magicians such as Leonardo da Vinci and Giordano Bruno, and are reminiscent of Albrecht Dürer’s recreations of the five Platonic solids or M. C. Escher’s geometric visual puns, the latter having been a main source of inspiration for Thomas. Functioning within the philosophical conventions of these metaphysicians, many of Thomas’ works employ repeated tilings called tessellations, and inserted whimsical curiosas or flukes, like animal forms or optical illusions, perhaps as an homage to the “ornamentations” of Bruno and Escher.
This artist well knows both the cultural lineage of his own Northwest Coast civilization, as well as the imported Eurocentric art history; his images reflect Indigenous traditional philosophy and design, and also delve into Western esotericism and the mysticism of pure numbers. Like Escher, Thomas uses mathematical tessellations and algorithms, such as those found in plants, flowers, crystallizations and other naturally occurring phenomena, in his patterned creations. “From the pattern-hungry perspective of the human mind,” he writes, “Nature seems to be written in the language of mathematics . . . From the concentric growth rings inside a tree, to the radial symmetry of flower pedal arrangements, to the logarithmic spirals of mollusk shells, geometry pervades the Cosmos.”
For Thomas, this combined tradition is what is meant by Sacred Geometry. Initially issuing from his hereditary artistic tradition, the artistic product of these cultural and philosophical intersections results in works that look both ancient and Modern, Op Art and scientific, traditional and mind-expanding, all at the same time. Keeping within the ancient tradition of Coast Salish spindle whorl designs, Thomas creates mandala- like images for prints, etchings, lithographs, and paintings. Phenomenally complex, they incorporate advanced mathematics, geometry, and principles of movement that have an infinitely regressive, kaleidoscope / fractal effect upon the eye. What is extraordinary is that he does all this by almost exclusively using the traditional Coast Salish design vocabulary of the circle, the crescent, the trigon and the extended crescent. These repeated forms create the impression of constant, expansive motion, like the concentric circles that radiate from the event of a pebble tossed into the smooth, clear surface of a lake. The effect is greatly enhanced when produced by the patterns inscribed or carved into a moving or rotating surface, as with their original uses on functional objects like that of a spindle whorl in spinning motion, or when used as stationary meditative patterns, as with Thomas’ spiritual and artistic applications. Then, the effect is mesmerizing, mind-altering, and perhaps also (given the right circumstances and intent) mind expanding.
Thomas deploys the special magic of a mathematical and geometric phenomenon known as the Fibonacci Spiral for his 2016 painting, Bohdi Tree. The Fibonacci Spiral is a version of “the golden spiral,” created by drawing circular arcs connecting the opposite corners of squares in the Fibonacci tiling. The Fibonacci numbers are known as Nature’s numbering system. They appear everywhere in Nature, from the leaf arrangement in plants, to the pattern of the florets of a flower, the bracts of a pinecone, or the scales of a pineapple. The Fibonacci numbers are therefore applicable to the growth of every living thing, including a single cell, a grain of wheat, a hive of bees, and even all of mankind. In describing this painting, Thomas gives us the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment: “In Buddhism, the Buddha was said to have spontaneously achieved Nirvana under a specific fig tree in India known as the “Bodhi Tree.” But leading up to his Awakening, the Buddha had been on quest searching for spiritual truth. He engaged in various forms or spiritual practice, and nothing seemed to work. When he had given up his quest, he rested under the Bodhi tree and, in a flash, found the truth he had been searching for. This is abstract depiction of the Bodhi tree, with orange figs growing. When the figs are young, they are green and when they are ripe they are purple. But when, they are in transition, they are orange. These figs represent a person in the midst of a spiritual journey, ripening towards ultimate “Truth.”
The tidal eddies, “flow” of form, and connectivity of all life, visible and replicable via geometric patterns and relationships, seems to have been the special design language of peoples in intimate relationships to large bodies of water throughout time. Measurements also seem to have been a specialty of peoples living in close proximity to water, in concert with their observations of astral bodies, their movements and precessions, contributing to the sciences of astral navigation and astronomical time calculations. But added to these eminently practical developments being evolved by water-dwelling cultures, a deep mysticism seems to grow alongside the science. As Thomas describes for his own process, “I know first hand that, in those purest expressive moments, art seems to be created through you, not by you. I have come to live for these moments, and I can say, without a hint of exaggeration, that these experiences are the sacred aspect of creating art.”
Dylan Thomas Sacred Geometry
Alcheringa Gallery, Victoria
August 6 – 31, 2016