The following is a commentary on works selected by Francis Spencer, teacher, writer and an old friend.
I first met Jonathan in 1997. I'd been trying to chat up a tall Belgian girl who designed her own jewellery. She had huge eyes and was full of light. I thought everything was going well. Then Jonathan showed up, her boyfriend. Oh. Unfortunately he seemed like a nice guy. A few days later we met up in a pub called The Haunch of Venison, the oldest pub in Salisbury.
He'd bought his portfolio, a large A3 folder full of photos, colour, black and white and sepia. There among the pints and ashtray, in the last pre-mobile years in the history of the world, we opened it up.
I was astonished. I still am. Page after page of the most extraordinary work; image after image that shot right through you, into you. It was a revelation. I knew immediately that this was the 'real thing'. Yes, even before seeing a single piece in the flesh. I did not know what the work was 'about', or what Jonathan had 'intended', or where he or this vision came from. I'm not sure Jonathan himself knew, or not in a way that would go into words. Shapes, textures, proportions, yes. The word 'Abstract' comes to mind, but this is not that. There is much staggeringly perfect geometry, conceptual acuity and generally no attempt at explicit representation, at least, not that you'd notice at first notice at first glance. But the longer you stay with a piece the more it reveals. It is, for example, more often than not, profoundly sensual. haunted by a distinctly human beauty, its curves and textures like the close-up memories of a lover; more primal still, of a mother. If our attention is initially caught by something clever or audacious, it is held by this subliminal scent of intimacy.
Jonathan also deploys symbolism and ambiguity with great subtlety. We are always not aware, for example, of how an upright rectangle of stone or marble may evoke a doorway or a gravestone, and with it a host of existential associations. A spiral may feel it is winding us into the disappearing centre, but could equally opening out towards us. Is this sense the work is also dynamic and draws the eye, and us, into the process of reflection through a series of puzzles or contradictions that snag the mind and/or emotions. This in turn takes us on a kind of journey into a liminal, possibly transformative space, the threshold of a new and deeper understanding.
Understanding of what? Jonathan insists that his work is not 'abstract' except in the sense of seeking to abstract or distil the essence of life. He sees the work as 'spiritual' in that it can connect us to our deepest values and search for meaning, and through that to an experience of the sacred, whether understood as transcendent, inward, or both. He is not concerned to push any particular religious or metaphysical beliefs. A Martin Buber says in his wonderful 'I-Thou',
"All real living is meeting". What matter is that we encounter the work, we are open to a meeting with some profound sense of ourselves, of our world and its realities, the sense of unity or oneness beyond and within it. And also, as Jonathan insist, to feel it.
Any such encounter will engage or own personal life experience, our current knowledge and beliefs. Having taught religion and spirituality, from both East and West, my own response to Jonathan's work inevitably draws on this from time to time. In context, these great systems of thought, symbol and practice are designed to carry us to the place where we abandon and transcend them altogether; to the place where words and concepts end; where we, vibrating with fullness of it, can simply 'be'. The extent to which a work of art can do this is a sure measure of its greatness.
These interpretations then are not in any way meant to be definitive, but are more a record of a meeting with these extraordinary works of art. Like any experience, this is necessarily subjective. Thus, while wanting to show at least a glimpse of the range and diversity of Jonathan's work, I have restricted myself to pieces that have really spoken to me. There are many, many others now scattered around the world, more than even he can recall! It amazes me now, as it did in that pub long ago, that Jonathan Loxley is not yet a household name.
Sand, Malindi, Kenya
Jonathan was 28. His work on film sets and modelling (Aliens, Labyrinth, etc) had come to an end. He'd moved to Notting Hill and got work as a painter and decorator. News came that his father, a fighter pilot, had just died. In the same breath an offer of helping out at a Safari camp. A few weeks later he was in East Africa. And a few weeks after that he started to carve this image out of sand: Pegasus, the white winged horse of the heavens, a friend of muses and a symbol of immortality. It was New Year's Eve; a turning point.
Though Jonathan had spent a day drawing horses at a nearby stables the week before, he hadn't done anything like this. Starting in the morning, he had just one day to complete it. The sea is not the kind of client to grant an extension. A few people gathered to watch, take photographs, have a picnic while he worked. Later some Swedish girls would try to build a wall to save it from the sea.
Digging down to the moist, compacted sand, the work, he says, was sculpting, a carving away of material, not shaping it together like clay. The innate skill is simply staggering. Pegasus, huge and lithe, some twenty feet long, emerges from the beach, anatomically perfect, alive and utterly graceful, knowing (as all horses are) of other realms, his tail a banner full of light and air. But of course this Pegasus is fallen, lain on one side. You can feel the weight of the rope that hold him down, a creature of sand awaiting its dissolution on the in-coming tide.
Why this image? Why sand? Why then? Perhaps he had also felt tied down, that his spirit belonged above like Pegasus', free in the heavens, slaying one Chimera after another, Apart from being (in Greek mythology) a fire-breathing monster a Chimera is 'a thing which is hoped for but illusory or impossible to achieve.' Perhaps then, this Pegasus was conjured up to set his mission as an artist in a world enslaved to countless delusions? Perhaps too, it was offered as an emblem, a sacrifice, a thanksgiving, for the life of his father, like Pegasus a fighter pilot too. Perhaps here also he felt the touch of immortality and the panic of time: eternal, ephemeral, both at once, sand at the ocean's edge.
It may have been then, at the end of the day, as everyone gathered to watch the sea come in and the great horse slip away, that Jonathan caught the cerebral malaria that would nearly kill him in the coming year, the year that would see him move decisively to Carrara and the marble quarries of Michelangelo to work "on something harder, something more durable"
ARRIVAL 1 AND 2
We have all seen stone and marble carved in elegant forms before, and wondered how it's done, but in what world does marble tear, or a canon ball burst clean through it like it was a rag? And when has marble ever been carved to hang on a wall, pretending to be pictures, framed but then bent and crumpled like cloth or card? It's a shock too, to see that something is happening, literally as we watch, like two frames in a film. In the first, some kind of canon ball seems to be on the point of bursting through the 'cloth'; in the second, it has just happened. In front of the first we feel uneasy and then alarmed as we realise what's going on. In front of the second we want to duck, to get out of the way! But it's too late. Whatever it is, is hitting us right between the eyes! Speed and danger, and in the slowest most sedate of mediums!
I can't help thinking of this as sculpture's, even art's revenge. Sick of being the passive victim of endless passers-by, this piece, alone among the centuries of its brothers and sisters, has decided to strike back-literally. Something is coming through to us. What?-we cannot see. From where?- from the other side, from beyond, from behind the surface. 'Wake up!'- this, all art says. (I wish) 'Things are not what they seem. There's more. Stay alert! Stay open! Catch the revelation, message, this whatever; be hit, killed, blown away!'
This is one of Jonathan's earliest pieces. He says he spent a long time punching holes in sheets of aluminium to see which way it tore. And then he set about carving it, How shocking and original this is. And what an extraordinary skill. And what a way to announce your 'Arrival'- to wake us up, to keep us looking out for whatever might becoming through next....
EMERGENCE - 1993
All of Jonathan's work is provocative. There is a puzzle, layers of meaning, hidden within each piece, and it asks us to sit with it, to work and feel it out. this begins and ends with 'feeling', a visceral attraction followed at length by a feeling of completion, of something understood. In between these 'Emergence' depicts a literal puzzle, a board etched with an endless repeated pattern that, as the carefully carved edges show, we are meant to understand as stretching out forever in all directions. Despite the discrete base necessarily supporting it, it is clearly meant to hang in sheer space, as the infinite blackness of this photo shows. This moves the 'puzzle' out from a domestic to a cosmic setting. In a child's puzzle, the pieces are all different, and correspond to a known picture. Putting the jumble of pieces together is a way of passing time. Here, though, the pieces are all the same, a kind of winged propeller or bird in flight that, like an Escher pattern, fits seamlessly together. The shapes have a real sense of movement, of spinning dynamism that makes what at first seem flat and dull, alive and buzzing.
The 'Emergence' itself is the visually shocking zoom of one piece right up into our faces. Its size expands on the way, which creates the perspective, and forces us to look. 'Look! Look at this!' it says. Look at what? Look at any one piece of the cosmic puzzle. As we do, it becomes for that moment the centre of the universe. Give it your full, mental, emotional, moral and spiritual attention, 'see', and then perhaps the whole, and even our own place in the whole, will become known to us, more deeply understood, more deeply felt. What is 'emergence' here, to the degree that we take notice of it, is our consciousness, our awareness of the interconnected whole, of life itself. Is this the mind I'm looking at, my soul? Or all minds, all souls equally, the same, just differently focused.
My immediate reaction is to gasp. Then a series of questions: How could anyone do this? How could they hollow out a marble block like this, find so much space in it, even space to carve and make more space without impinging on the curling threads? How could he know where they are, and carve where they are not? And how make stone obey the conception of the mind and then the hand? It is so daring to even attempt this.
More questions follow: what am I looking at? Is this a bowl or cup, or a ball that is unravelling itself upwards, trying to escape its original solid form? Or is it ore like a comet flying downwards, landing on earth 9though I suspect the base is more of a grudging concession to gravity0 trailing its spiralling tail in its wake? And that tail - the double helix fusing at the top, yet the shape implies a perspective shading off into infinity; or, if the Journey goes upwards, life and consciousness evolving, growing up out of solid matter, the rock of the earth? And reaching up to what - fusion, infinity, nothing? Is this the journey of its enigmatic title? Is so, then it throws its own question back at us.... A journey of what, to where, and why? A taking off or a falling to earth? Or is that up to us, a choice? And if all that sounds too solemn, the stone itself is playful, gracious, full of light.
SPRUNG - 1993
Not many sculpture want you to laugh out loud, but this one....? This is such an outrageous and totally unexpected thing to do in marble! A Jack-in-a-box literally just sprung open. You can almost still hear it going 'Boi-ing!'; see it still vibrating in the air and balancing (just) on its improbable, tilting base. The audacity and originality, and the astonishing artistic skill involve to make it happen, are quite breath-taking, but, as with all great jokes, there are all kinds of depths and human questions sprung-loaded within them.
It is hard not to see this as a companion to The Journey (1991). Here, as there, is the bowl or cup unravelling itself upwards in a double helix and veering off to one side. But whereas the 'journey of our DNA in the earlier work was open, vanishing into the skies (or rooting, expressing itself in earth). here you have the sense that all of it has been contained, bottled up, inside us, in our own skulls/minds/world. That this sheer life-force has just irrepressibly burst out of us, is even singing like a concertinas! In this piece, then, the journey is not so much about where we're going to as a species, as a world coming into consciousness, as the explosion of life in the moment. Ha! 'Sprung' out of jail! Like a chick from an egg, a birth. Life! There is even the sense here of lovers, the male above tilting his cap at his lover below, or vice versa; the two of them threaded together in the rocking DNA of love.
Again, to conjure this (and us) from the depths of the earth, from mountain, stone, from solid rock - astonishing!
We are used to sculpture being 'of a piece', one discrete form carved from a single block. It is disturbing then, to realise that these two twisting rings, like tortuous mobius strips, are hewn from one rock, that they are in fact rings; that they pass through each other, links from some impossible chain. It looks like a mess. The mangled rings of dark black marble, cut thick as if from strips of leather, are polished to look wet. Flecks and veins of white mark them like snakes. They seem to glisten, slide and move. The thing is alive, is coiling, writhing, wrapped in its selves, is fighting itself. The eye has nowhere to rest. Touch it, though, and it is cold, clunky, inert, still stone at heart.
It is then that you realise the title: 'Us".
When Jonathan explained the obvious but revelatory truth that these two tangled rings had lain together in the mountain forever, were formed together, belonged together, it seemed the most romantic truth imaginable. These two 'eternity rings' were soulmates, who now found themselves, through the magic of creation, in the open air: 'Us', a truth for all to see. we could, of course, take a less intense view and see them just rocking along like two old friends. But the reality of the piece seems far from this: a torment of likeness and difference, of two inseparably separate souls in a bond that both haver chosen yet neither can escape; an image of obsessional love, and hate. Choose any line and follow it, and you are drawn into their irresolvable relationship; staying locked in to your chosen 'self', you touch then slide on past the other, the beloved you crave, then fly out on a loop. You turn, return again, again the same, over and over; the 'other' doing likewise. Hope and hopelessness, together, as one; a rollercoaster: 'Us".
Is this then a cynical piece, a study in emotional masochism? Has the ideal itself been raised only to show it cruelly impossible? I don't think so. It is the mistake of lovers on the midst of life to feel this and despair. Perhaps though, this is the most realistic and shows the dynamics of love, the paradox of projection, of two beings driven to become 'one again' (with 'the vanished mother of infancy', with the All, with God?), to lose the self in the other; the way this brings our fear of that same loss up to the surface, the way we cling and flee from it. Through this, however painful, we become aware of our 'shadow'. as Jung would say, and grow towards integration, healing, wholeness. The luminous end of this process is shown in Jonathan's other piece in this form, 'One', an image of rest and unity achieved, the two rings interlocking in serenely circular white marble.
ONE - 1991
On another level, the rings, however contorted, suggest a kind of Ouroborus, withn two serpents eating each other's tails. Her though, both lovers are dying and coming to life, again and again through the many-lived process of transformation of the fearful separate self to the oneness of the whole. Through their love and conflict that the ego is chiselled away and they enable each other's spiritual growth.
Through the ancient symbol, even if only subliminally evoked, the 'Us' of the title has become much more than the 'us' of the two lovers. In this piece then, we can sense the obsessional conflicts of us all, of sex, class, culture, race and power, our darkness flecked with light, our writhing loves, attachments, grief, residual cold, fear and desire, played out through all the centuries. It is this that Jonathan has seen and dug out of the mountain. It is for 'Us' to see and understand.
‘One’ should perhaps ideally be seen alongside ‘Us’, in sequence, as a journey. The darkness of the original has been purged along the way. Apart from a few traces, lines on a wise face, ‘One’ is filled with light. The contortions have been ironed out as well. The two perfected circles nestle in one another. They may be ‘One’, but they are not identical. Curved and fluted inward and outward respectively, they are distinct and different, yet equal, inseparably completing each other. They look full-filled. They glow.
Looking at the finished work, it’s easy to forget the pain of their journey here, of their/our history. Sculpting marble, perhaps more than any other medium, involves such sustained physical effort, will and violence. Who would guess that this/these two intimate, gently curving forms have been blasted, hammered, drilled, carved, sanded down, and probably cursed and sworn at, too, on their way to their perfected form? Whether the physical or spiritual process, to have and to hold such a vision all the way through imbues the end with everything that has gone before, with feeling, knowledge, humanity.
In this picture the couple, all that behind, within them now, are gazing out over the mountains that gave them birth; the mountains gaze back, holding them in their embrace. As the mystics of all faiths and none all tell us: All is love. All is One.
In an historical twist, ‘Us’ was destroyed in a fire in the late 1990’s. ‘One’, however, remains.
‘Split’ takes a ball, a 3-D circle, the most perfectly compact and whole form there is, and drills it apart. Not in two obvious halves, as you might cut an apple through the middle, but in two equal, scooped out halves, that feel like two cupped hands set at a distance from each other. Each is displaying its loss of the other half in a kind of irremediable emptiness, vulnerable, wide open to the world for all to see, and feel. By this time we are not simply looking at two hard objects, but at personified symbols of separation, of two beings, lovers, parent/child, or of some kind of inner division. The tension between the two is palpable and intense. As we look, we long to fit the two back together, can see that they belong together, yet are apart.
Why? What has happened here? The marks of the drill running deep into the centre suggest the violence and pain of their separation. There is nothing superficial here. The lines go right to the heart. And what is found there? One retains it’s (his/her) wholeness, a small but intact ball that mirrors the whole of the couple. The other is left with a gaping void, an empty cup, the shape of memory only. Is this how separation always ends? The rejecter and the rejected? Perhaps. Or perhaps we are being shown a process of separation, hidden in the private core of relationship, whereby the two toss the ‘ball’ back and forth, their commitment to each other, responsibility for the cost of such a choice? And if the ‘ball’ is their child...? A momentous game of catch, played out between them, but also in the mind of each as the decision to remain as one or ‘split’ flickers it’s agonising yes/no in the heart.
Perhaps this most private and most personal division reveals a larger, universal, even spiritual sense of separation, of our earth itself, its peoples, cultures and communities, divided, ‘split’ open, unfulfilled, longing for two great hands to fit the broken halves back together, to restore the whole, which, as all can see, is surely possible, fitting, home.
Twenty-five years after Continuum, Jonathan revisited the same idea, the same extraordinary geometric discipline, simplicity and economy of means. Thematically too, all that was said above remains, though if anything the darker grey brings the image of the gravestone yet more intensely into the foreground.
The one significant change is that the listening ‘ears’ (or portals, ways through the stone) have doubled up. Together, and extending out from the other side, they describe a perfect circle, a ‘head’ or an intelligence that is ‘all ears’. Carved into the four quarters of a globe, and making a perfect ‘S’ as they intersect the stone, they and the world seem to revolve and spin.
Does our life appear dead, drab, inert? Listen. Look. Come closer. All is alive. Even us.
Forever - 1993
The Penrose (or Escher) triangle is a triangular ‘impossible object’, an optical illusion consisting of an object which can be depicted in a perspective drawing, but cannot exist as a solid object. “Impossibility in its purest form.” Or so the definitions say. What sculptor could not take up the challenge? Jonathan was haunted (even taunted) by it, and could not rest until he’d worked it out.
The first thing is the shock of it, the double-take. Escher has escaped! A Trojan triangle has found its way into our world. Really? Sceptic or not, we are drawn in. But because it comes wrapped in geometry and mathematics, we feel safe enough to explore it as a kind of mental puzzle only, a diversion, like a crossword. Nothing that’s going to rock my inner, or my outer world too much. And yet... even when you’ve come up close and seen ‘how it’s been done’ (a subtle twisting of the bars), the eyes still travel round the disappearing planes, looking for the catch, or even a way out. It is in fact a kind of angular Moebius strip. If you set off on one plane and stay on it, you will, eventually, find yourself back where you started. In the process you’ll have covered every single plane and angle on this ‘impossible object’. Round and round we go, ‘Forever’, in this weirdly self-contained, contorted world, following its self-contorting logics, knowing something’s wrong, but powerless to change it. Or is it our ordinary ‘normal’ logic that’s at fault or insufficient? The effect of a work like this is to shock us into entertaining even the possibility of there being some ‘other’ plane or dimension of existence, something beyond our understanding and control, something that we cannot define, or fake, manipulate, market, emasculate or turn into a ‘thing’.
‘Forever’ has no obvious base, no necessary up or down. In the photo, with its dark background, it seems to float, as if in space, like a planet, like our own... What began as a mere puzzle ends with an experience of the endless. Perhaps, if we can stand back far enough and see ourselves with this ‘impossible objectivity’, we may find the compassion and the wit to straighten out our illusory world one day.
The geometry and cyclical energy that Jonathan discovered in the making of this piece was to inspire a whole series of extraordinary works. He returned to this form in particular in 2008 with this:
Lambda (1999) continues the exploration of the Escher (or Penrose) Triangle begun with ‘Forever’ in 1993, ‘an object which can be depicted in a perspective drawing, but cannot exist as a solid object’. This reaches its culmination in the huge, grey marble Lambda of 2016, currently in Hong Kong.
In this piece the ‘impossibility’ is achieved by ‘folding’ the three corners back on themselves to create an equilateral triangle out of a continuously flowing, three cornered kind of Moebius strip. The thickness of the stone is constant in all places and it’s ‘edges’ sharply defined, which accentuates the impression of ‘folded card’. The propeller-like folds moving towards and/or out from the centre mark out an exactly central space or window in an inverted unilateral triangle that echoes the whole. The monochrome stone accentuates the lines and pure geometry involved.
The sustained concentration and mathematical awareness required in the physical making of this piece is simply breath-taking. It has been carved by hand, not a machine. How is such ‘origami’ even possible in solid stone? Jonathon recalls one amazed viewer asking how he managed ‘to bend the stone like that?’ “Well”, he said, “I put it across my knee, like this, and push.”
The sense of wonder at the artist’s skill persists as we are both drawn in and excluded by its extraordinary, self-contained perfection. This seems to come from the inward, anti-clockwise motion curling the eye in to and around the absent centre. At the same time, however, the lines that pull us in also spin us out again on the widening perspective of those ‘propeller shafts’. The geometrically still and perfect equilateral triangle contains a constantly revolving movement that gives the eyes no resting place. Now the mind struggles to hold these two contrary sensations together, the timeless rational ideal and the ever-shifting, uncertain experience of movement and change. It is about now that you remember the piece has a title.
It is named after the Greek letter ‘L’, ‘lambda’, Λ λ. This was the symbol Einstein chose when he needed something, a symbol, to represent the latent, underlying, subliminal energy of the universe in an equation, the so-called ‘cosmological constant’. Is this what Jonathan is bringing to our awareness here? The movement in and out, like folding hands or wings, like breath, a beating heart? Somehow the energy of life itself is here: the endless, beginning-less cycle of life, death and rebirth around an invisible, ineffable centre; a centre that is not in some impossible transcendent other realm, but here in the heart and processes of life, and whose lines, as we now notice, are gently curved by its involvement in the whole. ‘There are no straight lines in Nature’ (Gaudi), or it seems in Lambda, where geometry takes human, even spiritual form before our eyes.
60cm wide, 20cm deep
This piece continues the exploration of the ‘Escher Triangle’ that Jonathan began with Forever (199-). Here two interlocking equilateral triangles form the familiar Jewish ‘Star of David’ and/or the Hindu ‘Anahata’ (Heart Chakra). This is disguised, however, or rendered implicit, by the clipping of their corners, and the suggestion of a circle bounding the whole. Neither the triangles nor the circle are complete. The mind expects what the eye denies. This comes to us as a kind of puzzle, geometric at first, but then a something more dynamic as we are drawn in to its inner life and movement. The lines set the whole piece spinning, blurred even as the truncated corners disappear into each other, as if left behind, or too fast for the eye to hold: a ring of whirling, pure white light.
It is then that we notice the stillness and calm of the perfect hexagram in the centre. Given the speed around it, this feels strange and counterintuitive, almost shocking. Its edges do not move, while everything around them does. You can focus on one or the other, but holding both simultaneously seems practically impossible. And yet this is perhaps what we are asked to do.
‘Anahata’ is a Sanscrit word meaning ‘unstruck, unhurt and unbeaten’. It refers to the Heart Chakra and is symbolised by two interlocking triangles within a circle (chakra – wheel or circle of life) of twelve lotus petals. This in turn symbolises the attainment of enlightenment, integration, ‘balance, calmness and serenity’. When we look carefully at the perimeter of the sculpture we can see these twelve ‘petals’ in attenuated form as, and between, the points of the triangles.
The triangles themselves, pointing up and down, represent the marriage of consciousness and matter, male and female, and all the different and apparently contradictory forces of creation and of our experience. The hub of the wheel, that perfect hexagram in the centre, shows our potential for calm detachment in the midst of these conflicting energies and emotions, pointing by the way of the heart to our ultimate peace and union with our Self and with God in unconditional love. This is, it seems to say, a present, constant truth, abiding in the heart of the churning world.
There is, of course a wealth of profound mystical symbolism and practice (Hindu, Jewish, Sufi and other) associated with this image, and this is not the place to spell it all out. The point is to be aware of how this sculpture, re-inventing and paring down the ancient form into a talismanic radiance and dynamism of its own, has the power to connect us the depths of our own experience. Perhaps too, to take us by means too deep for words, to a place beyond confusion, fear and death, a place of safety, Anahata, ‘unstruck, unhurt, unbeaten’. Somehow this spiritual truth is made almost unbearably poignant when we see the Star of David here, its edges beaten, battered off durintgthe whirling centuries, but its luminous heart intact and beating still.
Continua is a ring twisted into a Mobius Strip. Everyone has made these from strips of card or paper as children, but that does not make it any less magical, intriguing or impossible. To see it here, on a plinth and in the solidity of marble, feels like a return to something already known but with the possibility of seeing it for the first time. More than just an abstract shape, as the eyes travel and glide around its surface, from inside to outside and back again, around and around, Continua makes us aware of time, time and timelessness at once.
The Möbius strip is often understood as an infinity symbol (in mathematics like a figure 8 lain on its side), since if one were to stand on its surface one could walk along it forever. You could of course do this around a plain circle, through then you could only ever walk on either the inside or the outside. In the Mobius Strip, however, the two sides interweave, like eternal opposites (subject-object, male-female, alone-together, fear-love, life-death) all roiled together.
The opposites are not eternal or implacable, however, or even in conflict, though we may feel and suffer them as such. For as you walk the path all are experienced alternately, as aspects of the journey, a journey which takes us to inhabit all sides in the end, for the road is one and there is no other. What’s more, each opposite is experienced as temporary, passing. There is no fixed or abstract ‘thing’ called ‘life’ or ‘death’, ‘fear’ or ‘love’. So long as we keep moving. And in the spiritual symbolism of the piece, we have to keep moving around the primordial cycle of life, death and rebirth, travelled again and again, until, or so the sages tell, we attain a level of awareness that releases us altogether.
In the picture above, we can drive the spiritual symbolism still further and see the shape of a tear or an egg; the tear to represent the enormous cost of this journey, the cosmic egg to represent creation, both held in the very centre of our ever-circling life from which our emancipation will eventually be born.
None of this is simple, or automatic. The contortion of the stone is immensely powerful, full of internal, barely contained stress. Continua has been physically, painstakingly carved and twisted. Beautiful and awry, we are in its grip.
"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." TS Eliot
‘Gia Panta’ translates as ‘forever’ as in ‘for good’. Here are two versions in strikingly different marble. Both are carved so fine and thin their flesh becomes translucent, glowing. The form is drawn from a triangle, and rendered into a Moebius Strip, its open side retaining its circularity. The triangle is thus drawn back out of the circle, combining these two essential and primary forms in one image. The Moebius Strip enables us to ‘walk’ the eye back and forth between them. It is this geometric purity that gives the work its profound integrity and cohesion.
If this sounds too cold and mathematical, the reality of meeting with these pieces couldn’t be more different. As well as the immediate sensuous attraction of the light through the translucent marble, it’s almost impossible not to want to slide your hand into its heart, to feel its curves, its inwardness, its mystery and invitation. For all its self-contained perfection, it exerts such a charisma that we can barely keep our eyes or hands off it!
There is a memory of some great sea shell or conch here too. It is not hard to imagine coming across it on a beach in any century, before or after the arrival of us humans. Perhaps, if we pressed it to our ear, we could hear all the oceans in the world, the echo of our origins in the womb of the sea. It is this sense of evocation, of intimate, sensual connectedness with other times and peoples, places, that seems to be at the core of Gia Panta.
At first sight this piece is, as its title suggests, an ellipse, its outer line drawn perfectly around a solid, impenetrable dark centre. As the eye zones in, however, we see the light play on a polished curve, like a protective arm or claw concealing some shy secret to itself. Or herself? – ‘Elipsa’ is a feminine word.
It is enough to draw us in. Is this a defence or an invitation? As we approach and move to the side, the ellipse begins to open. The eye glides through into its inner space. No cave or dark interior collecting bones, but light and air. Apart from the shape, the word ‘ellipsis’ also means the removal of all that is superfluous. What at first seemed dark and solid turns out to be extraordinarily slender, with all but the bare minimum carved clean away.
As we continue round, another ellipse, this time of emptiness, of pure space, appears within what has become a perfect outer circle. Its band of polished black marble picks up whatever is around it (trees, sky, us, projections), flashing it back like a fairground mirror, distorted echoes shimmering round the heart of things that is no ‘thing’ at all, that is ineffable, pure form; the whole – a sculpture, a person, a universe.
Ubik grew out of a bubble. More precisely, out of experiments with a bubble-blowing ring. When the ring is twisted, the film of soap naturally stretches and curves, but always taking the absolute minimum surface area. Twisting the ring by 90 degrees is about as far as it will go before the surface tension is too great and the ‘bubble’ bursts. Ubik describes precisely that point, but as the intersection of two rings, as it were, of two ellipses.
Ubik, like all things, changes shape as you walk around it. From the ‘front’ it appears to be simply a black ellipse, perhaps with the light catching a slender vertical line down the middle. Move left or right and the second disk becomes visible, joined at the hip with first, the two making a kind of cross, or a ball with all unnecessary matter removed. You can feel the surface tension stretched and twisted between the two, as the marble ‘seeks’ its minimum surface area. The two together set off an irresistible spinning motion, like a top or a gyroscope, from dark to light and back again. Here then there is light, space (implied but invisible ‘dark matter’), movement, geometric simplicity, perfection - and all carved out from one dense block of the blackest marble.
Like almost all of Jonathan’s work, Ubik has no real base, but spins in pure conceptual space. It seems no accident that the two intersecting disks suggest models of electrons from particle physics, or planets on their elliptical journey round their suns. From the smallest components to whole universes, this form is everywhere around and within us. We are it and it is us. Ubik – Ubiquitous, omnipresent.
It takes its name as a tribute to Philip K Dick’s extraordinary novel of 1969. Dick's former wife Tessa remarked: "Ubik is a metaphor for God. Ubik is all-powerful and all-knowing, and Ubik is everywhere. The spray can (appearing in the novel to restore life from death) is only a form that Ubik takes to make it easy for people to understand it and use it. It is not the substance inside the can that helps them, but rather their faith in the promise that it will help them." Over to us, then...
HEADRESS - 2004
I saw the angel in the marble, and carved until I set him free.’ [Michelangelo]
Jonathan spent several years in Africa (Kenya, Botswana...) both teaching and learning how to carve. When there, he was struck by the scale and verticality of the headdresses, in life as in the traditional art. They seemed to express the latent power and depth in the women’s faces underneath, their warrior spirit. When at length he came to carve faces himself, this memory returned. Perhaps too, a memory of Michelangelo’s unfinished works in Florence. The same face emerged twice more in ‘Daydream’ and in ‘Sara’. Perhaps the three, each arrestingly powerful in its own right, can also be seen together, as a sequence and as a whole.
In ‘Headdress’ Jonathan describes how furiously he chased down the image buried in the stone. He paid no attention to the rest, he said, until the face had appeared. The face, not the head. For that, its temples, ears, hair and scull, remain in the rock, unhewn. And yet... all that the head contains, the mind, the unconscious, our long evolutionary history, its spiritual depth and resonance, is somehow all implied and felt in those towering, un-sculpted cliffs above. They are not threatening, but protective, in the way one’s own experience of life might be, or the spirits of our ancestors; a presence or an aura, gathered round the ineffable human face that has emerged into the light. Is this a birth? Those circling cliffs an opening womb, our way out of the earth?
The face itself, without the markers of hair, dress, jewellery, etc., is strictly speaking androgynous, neither male nor female, but inclusively, essentially, human. That said, subjectively, the face feels feminine, the more so with the other two that follow.
Its (her?) eyes are closed. Because of this, everything behind, that whole rich mountain of life, is still connected, drawn into her being, hers into its. Her expression is thus inward, contemplative, self-contained, even while the face itself is broad and open. This is a person, of luminous beauty, sacred, full of possibility.
More shockingly, though depending on how it is exhibited, we might imagine (as in this photo) that the woman has been de-capitated or buried alive, right up to the neck; a disturbing image of the suppression and virtual disappearance of women from public life throughout the human story. Her face though, here representing her inviolable spirit, remains ‘unstruck, unhurt and unbeaten’, as in the Heart Chakra in ‘Eternity’. This inner life protects her, though she be brought so low; you have to bow to see her.
In ‘Daydream’, while the back of head remains uncarved, the face is lifted up and thrusts up out of the stone as if feeling the sunlight on her skin. The jaw is set in determination. Above it the sensuous lips, inhaling nostrils, closed lids and tautened brow, all convey a powerful sense of concentration, of her full awareness of ‘being alive’.
There is intelligence and discrimination here, but no trace of judgement on what is experienced; simply a vivid sense of being in the present. The richness and fullness of this experience is intensified and drawn up into the huge arc of stone that towers up from her crown, that is, in fact, her ‘crown’. Here, all the implied history and experience in the unhewn rock of ‘Headdress’ has been subsumed into her conscious, now emancipated self. It curls up into a powerful hammer-like head that balances the weight and heft of the base that supports her from below. It’s rough, unpolished surface feels like raw potential, as yet un-formed and unexpressed, in marked contrast to the deciding intelligence of the perfect, polished lines of the face. Like a cobra poised to strike, the woman, conscious of her power, is ready to act. Her ‘crown’ is no symbol of arbitrary authority or inheritance. Filled with the wisdom and experience of Mankind, when her eyes open, she will act, as the healing serpent of old, decisively, with truth and kindness.
‘Sara’ is a work of haunting, unforgettable beauty. The face, with its wide sensuous lips, huge eyes and lovingly caressed skin, has an intense calm, a sense of mystery and promise. It is as if we are looking at her as she sleeps, as a child might gaze on its mother, or a man on his lover: physical, intimate, and otherworldly all at once. She is so present you can practically smell her. And yet, at the same time, she is as in a dream (hers, ours, both?) and might float off and disappear, leave us, at any moment, like Pegasus in the sand, eternal and ephemeral at once.
How is his achieved? Dispensing with a supporting base altogether, the disembodied face hangs suspended beneath its own huge, rough cast question mark. It is this, emerging from the top of her head and curling forward over her brow, that denotes her thought, mind, her indeterminate future. While this is perhaps the most literal symbolic gesture in all of Jonathan’s work, it is no less powerful. We see and feel a life, a spirit, in process, tentative but on the move. And this sets off a speculation about her and our future, our purpose, our un-finalized, un-finalizable life.
Hanging, whether from a tree or in some gallery, or in the artist’s studio, this gentle, weighty mirror of our deliberating souls is no-one’s possession, not even hers. In the photo, she floats free of the tools of her own making. The chains are set aside. The spiritual (or ‘silver’) cord that mystics say connects us to the divine, the source of life, supports her from above. She will turn on every breeze as she moves forward, for ‘The wind (or spirit) blows where it will.’ [John 3:8]
Headdress – Daydream – Sara
If Michelangelo worked to free the statue from the stone, the spirit from base matter, then Jonathan may have achieved something comparable or even greater in these three sculptures. Seen in sequence, and/or all at once, we can here track our human emergence from the past, through our birth (body), our life experience in the present (mind) and lastly, in ‘Sara’, our transcendence into a future, more purely spiritual realm or mode of existence (spirit).
In ‘Headdress’ we are buried in the earth, with only the face emerging; the surrounding high collar of ‘cliffs’ are like a tunnel cut down into the mountain to liberate us, but are also now the way of escape, of our rebirth. In ‘Daydream’ the face has moved up into the light, is still connected to the earth but has drawn much of its weight and strength up into itself, ready to act in the world. With ‘Sara’ the face has left the earth altogether, bearing its memory, its karma and its potential, aloft in the form a huge question mark. We have become pure disembodied spirit. As she floats into her unknown future, is the question, the uncertainty hers, or ours?
We can also, though, see them as continuously present, active forces in our lives, even as three modes or aspects of being (body, mind and spirit) that together make a human being.
The face, of course, is the same in all three, which suggests a continuing core identity or soul. Perhaps Michelangelo’s angel is there all along, inviolable, ‘unstruck, unhurt and unbeaten’, as in the Heart Chakra of ‘Eternity’. It is the emancipation that has to be achieved, not some change in who we are, but a discovery and reclamation of who we are through experience, choices and their consequences.
As we gaze on these three profound images, like a child or a lover, it’s hard not to fall silent or to be afraid of waking her, of breaking the spell. Surely, if she were to open those great veiled eyes, we might not be able to bear their complex kindness, power and truth – and have to look away.
Marble and gold leaf
Unique 200cm high, 70cm wide
“Concealed in the heart of all beings is the Atman, the Spirit, the Self; smaller than the smallest atom, greater than the vast spaces.” [Katha Upanishad]
At two metres tall, this glimpse of the Atman comes to us at human height and with the face of the Sun. It is, in its way, a statement of faith. Behind the worlds of change, appearance and delusion, lies its ineradicable, divine essence, the true Self (beyond all individual ego) at one with the One. To lose sight of this is be lost, as a person, as a world.
The ‘face’ or disk of pure gold is here shown concealed by the marble. It is the work of life (and lifetimes) to chisel away at the carapace of fear, lies and false desires, to see through it and be no more confused. As Michelangelo carved into the stone to release the angel buried in its midst, so Jonathan carves down in search of the perfect form that will ignite our awareness of this Truth, and engage our spiritual interaction with it. When you come up close to this, you are struck by how flimsy the marble surface has become. The gold lines leading to the centre show how the ‘true Self’, the spiritual, has eaten away at the false. In time what is false will simply fall away.
The arrangement of lines running toward the centre suggests the face of a clock and a cyclical understanding of time that likewise clings to the surface of the timeless beneath. Though we live in time and space and journey through countless lifetimes to free ourselves from its illusions, the glimpses of ‘real’ life, of courage, honesty, selfless love and humility, are unmistakeable. Some are small acts, flashes of kindness, laughter; some though cut us deeper, breaking the heart’s stone armour, almost to the centre. “That’s how the light gets in” as Cohen sang. These take us closer to the Atman, shafts of light, pure gold, pointing us to the centre, the One at the heart of every living thing we meet, “smaller than the smallest atom, greater than the vast spaces.” This wonderful and inspiring work sets all this before us with an extraordinary simplicity and spiritual power.
“He (Atman) is never born and never dies. He is in eternity: he is forevermore. Never born and eternal, beyond times gone or to come, he does not die when the body dies.” [Bhagavad Gita 2.20 - 22]
‘Sunflower’ picks up themes from ‘Continua’ and ‘Atman’. Here is the human scale, the allusion to a gravestone and our limitations; the mathematical intrigue of Escher and ‘Forever’, also. Here too, the way through to other dimensions and/or ways of seeing, the faith in the light. It may be addressing weighty issues, then, but ‘Sunflower’ feels light, full of air and sunlight, ‘reasons to be cheerful’! How is this achieved?
Here, as in those others, it’s what’s been taken away that draws us in. Well over a hundred holes (Count them, if you can!) have been drilled through the marble slab, around a slightly larger one in the centre. They are more densely packed (if you can say that of absences?) towards the middle where the light pours through; a sunflower indeed.
It is then that you start to notice the patterns, the flowing curves that seem to surge up and rotate outwards from the centre. There’s even the sense of a propeller’s movement in the blur of its five ‘petals’. This ordering is not random, but rests on the famous Fibonacce sequence and spiral. This mathematically ordered pattern is found at every level of the natural world, from cancer cells to galaxies, snail shells to hurricanes, and of course, at the heart of the beautiful, mesmerising sunflower. This pattern, it is said, together with the ‘Golden Ratio’ to which it is linked, is so deeply embedded in the creative structure of life that we instinctively feel drawn in and at home with it.
As we encounter it, we are reassured by the sense that it, reason, order, beauty and proportion, permeate all things, even us, even the grave. The grey veined marble, as we now notice, moves and drifts like clouds, stars, thought. Not solid at all, but alive.
This haunting and strangely moving piece has been conjured up out of chance. A couple of pool tables were being retired. What might have been heading for the skip, Jonathan saw as an opportunity, and a challenge. For ‘Moonscape’ the two slates have been glued, one on top of the other. The top slate has been worked. Framed and carefully lit, the result virtually puts us in orbit round the moon.
As we look down at its eerily smooth, yet asteroid-pocked surface, it’s hard not to be made aware of the vastness of space, its seemingly infinite unexplored dark, its barren alien beauty, wheeling around before our eyes. The sense of movement, and of our seeing this planet for the first time, is uncanny.
So too, is its contrast to own interstellar home, the ‘blue planet’, Earth. With planets scattered like billiard balls, the thought of our lives being played out on some cosmic pool table is difficult to shake off.
It is hard to say why, but this work really does exert a gentle, but compelling fascination, or ‘spell’ over us. The longer we stay with it, the more we feel, are drawn in; the more is found in us.
Part of this comes from its sensuality, the soft grey marble folding over itself like a dove’s wing, nesting. It has a circling movement created by the three folds of this flattened but unending Mobius strip. Its lulling, hypnotic effect winds us in, again and again, around the softened, almost heart-shaped triangle in its midst. Extending the sides of this triangle outwards into the marble allows us to sense the presence of three overlapping ellipses like petals. Is this some kind of flower? [NEED a Diagram here!] Everything is harmonious and beautifully, internally proportioned within its perfect circle.
But then we notice the sharper lines and edges cutting in towards the centre. Not soothing, but more like whirling scimitars, or propellers, scything away at all that is superfluous, as it feeds into the blades. There is a cost to this enchantment.
The removal of the superfluous is, of course, the essence of the sculptor’s work. Only in this way can the pure Form be revealed and exert its subliminal, redemptive power over us. This particular form is composed of geometric and mathematical harmonies and proportions that lie at the heart of the natural world, of our nature, of creation itself (See ‘Forever’, ‘Sunflower’, ‘Lambda’ 1 & 2). To fall under this ‘Spell’ is to find ourselves seeing into the workings of life itself, and to wonder just how far it might take us – out from our present life and into the Real.
‘Locutus’ has a powerful presense. Its elliptical shape towers nearly three metres tall and weighs four tons. An ellipse is the tightest a ‘circle’ can be drawn around a human form, even if magnified as here. Thus, what at first might seem an ‘abstract’ work is in fact subliminally figurative. Locutus is ‘an entity’; you sense its being and, however distant, its relation to us. Jonathan asks us to imagine coming across it in some ancient forest: a numinous encounter with a mysterious, alien, even threatening being, with one possessed of some great knowing or wisdom far beyond our own. Standing, dwarfed before it, I feel known, exposed. A huge, full silence pulls us almost altogether out of time. Silence, and yet... ‘Locutus’ means (in Latin) ‘having spoken’. I feel I am being addressed, though not with words.
It is then I notice, or rather pay attention to the thought that Locutus is opening out to us, and at the level of the heart (and heart chakra). Another ellipse, identical to the whole, though smaller, like a child to the man – or mother, has been carved in to the centre. The dimensions here are reminiscent of some icons of ‘the Mother of God’ that show the holy child emanating from the centre of her being, almost literally being born out of her, of infinite creative love.
The eye is drawn, swept in to this central ellipse, along a forest of grooves that both flow inwards and outwards, to and from the heart of the ‘child’, of the ‘mother’, Locutus. This carving in to the stone creates the opportunity for relationship with what otherwise appears cold and forbidding. As we are drawn closer in we find to our surprise an aperture, no bigger than an unclenched fist, cut through to the other side.
When the sun stands behind it, this hole emits a beam of pure light. This is an active, dynamic part of the sculpture’s conception. The light pours through, tracking down and across its own forbidding shadow, the ground we’re standing on. If we come up close, it will light us up, or even blind us. Whatever (or Whoever) it may be ‘has spoken’.
The word ‘Portal’ carries a range of meanings, even apart from its modern computer use. Literally ‘a doorway’, in science fiction it denotes a way through to a different dimension, and in spiritual terms a place or person that can channel spiritual power and awareness. Here, as in numerous other of Jonathan’s works, Portal carries a subliminal connection to the grave, the doorway to “the undiscovered country”. In the presence of death, our own, everyone’s, all of life, we are immediately engaged at the most fundamental levels. This is what great art does. It is a sacred site.
Like every door, Portal has two sides. They have identical patterns carved into them, though their surfaces could hardly be more different. Our response may depend on which side we approach. Suppose we come first to the dark side. Its sleek, smooth, highly polished whirlpool gathers force and intensity towards the centre. The Fibonacci spiral hints at distant galaxies. It pulls us in like a ‘black hole’. The eye has nothing to cling on to. As if caught up in its current, we feel ourselves sliding ineluctably into the vortex. This visceral sense of movement is created by the four deepening lines or ripples that swirl inwards, sweeping the eye upwards from the base to their intersection at the centre. It is as if a cross, or even swastika, has been stirred into the liquid stone. If this is death, then it sucks everything we have and are, and hope for, into itself. It feels intensely threatening, and yet... As we come closer to the centre we find (as in ‘Locutus’) a way through. It is hidden from sight until the last moment. The elliptical hole has been carved downwards behind the whirlpool’s lip. It is a stunning surprise, and leads us naturally, inquisitively, to the awareness that there is another side.
That other side, carved from the one stone, mirror’s the patterns of the first exactly, but is light in colour, textured not smooth, and finely worked throughout. Around the same four major lines of force are countless grooves, carved roughly, imperfectly, spreading outward from the centre. The far side of the black hole is not the nothingness feared, but an explosion of light; creation. Whereas the black side seemed to offer no possibility of action or choice, the light side, with its human imperfections, seems to be offering a thousand individual paths, not given but carved out as it were by hand. Look closely and you can see the lines are sometimes shared, sometimes alone, and sometimes broken. They are our lines though, not fate’s or some mechanical process.
The two sides of the sculpture map our ambiguity in this. We can of course see both sides as flowing inwards to the centre or as opening outwards like a flower. In this we are being asked to consider how we approach our days, meetings, situations, lives. As our moods, hopes and fears flicker from one to the other, the question reasserts the reality of our choice, of our essential freedom. The notion of a ‘spiritual portal’ here affirms the belief and experience of millions that they are being supported from ‘the other side’.
What ‘other side’? Interestingly, as we step back from the sculpture a little, we can see those four lines of force take on a human shape, like a child’s, curling into the head near the top. This is after all the door or Portal through which all pass, whether to life or death, or life through death. Perhaps, too, the figure is not simply human, but angelic also, as if some high spiritual being stood over us in understanding and compassion, a witness to our struggles, failure and success, to our on-going journey.
When I first saw this piece at a sculpture show there was a woman there who could not tear her eyes away from it. She had lost her son not long before. She didn’t know how or why, but Portal spoke to her of him, and gave her hope, connection, a glimpse into another realm. I couldn’t see it at the time, though Jonathan could. I do now.
‘Nexus’ is a profound and many-levelled work, truly a nexus of ambiguities. To stand before it and allow oneself to be addressed by or through it is a sobering experience. Why? Firstly, of course (as in ‘Continuum’ and ‘Portal’), its form or essential shape is a headstone. To stand before any grave, no matter who’s name or dates it has, is to become aware of life and of death, our own, everyone’s. ‘Where are you (in your life)?’, as God calls to Adam in the Garden. That question. The question.
As we step into this frame (of mind, of the sculpture) we feel the pull of the vortex, the scoured lines of energy, converging into and around the emptiness at its core. In the picture (above) this is echoed by the brilliant grass: ‘All flesh is grass’, said the prophet Isaiah, ‘the grass withers, the flower fades...’ The two great sweeping blades scythe together, reaping all we have sown. Their metallic power and precision alerts us, but too late, to the vast karmic mechanism of the universe that surely nothing can escape.
But it is then that we notice: the blades are interlocked. They cannot close. The rush of time is stopped. We look again. Now we can see those same lines flowing out, expansive, opening up into the sky and at our feet, the ground on which we stand. The ambiguities of life and death, of opening and closing, faith and fear, the dynamics of creation, are held together in constant equilibrium, a choice. And in the centre, the feminine ellipse, our birth and death, our origin and destiny, the portal to another realm, free of choice yet free.
Only now do we see the clouds. They drift serenely through the stone, just as (in this setting) their reflection in the stream below, flowing through everything, timeless, indifferent, peaceful, home.
‘Nexus’, literally a ‘binding together’ from the Latin nectere ‘to bind’; from this comes the idea at the heart of this sublime and deceptively simple sculpture: ‘Nexus’ as the core or centre, the place where different elements converge and meet, are ‘bound together’ as one, in which (or whom) we live and have our being.
It looked so small at first, an absurd thought for I knew this was his largest, most monumental work and had taken him three to four months to complete. But there it was, tucked in on itself, perched up on its huge, blue slate-grey base, exactly, mathematically, three times its size; a triangle on three triangles, extending itself down to the earth. It needs this base, though it had no part in the original conception. Almost all of Jonathon’s work comes to us in pure space, as if floating, in the ether, in the mind, timelessly self-contained. There is no up or down or left or right, or even location, for the form is everywhere, within everything, everything within it. This is its universality. And Jonathon has seen it, found it somehow, in his heart and life, buried in space and mind and mountain, and wrestled it down to the earth, and out of it too, to this specific time and place: the ordered, alchemical mess and dust of his studio.
We are talking, and not, about the piece. It is high summer. When he began it was winter. This has exhausted him, more than any other. The continuous gruelling daily mental and physical effort and concentration has left him spent and almost speechless. It’s hard to know where the energy for another piece will come from. “I hate it”, he says. “I hate it.”
I ask him about its name. This piece, the latest, perhaps last, of many variations in stone as well as marble stretching back to the 1990s, is called ‘Lambda’. I ask him why and he begins to talk about Einstein. Einstein was building an equation and needed a symbol to represent the latent, underlying, subliminal energy of the universe. The symbol he chose was the Greek letter ‘L’, ‘lambda’, Λ λ, to represent the ‘cosmological constant’, now thought to be ‘dark matter’. As he spoke, I felt myself being pulled, almost physically, towards the sculpture beside us. Jonathon wandered off. I am left alone with this Lambda for the first time.
The first thing that strikes you again, even after seeing all the earlier versions, is the ambition, the sheer chutzpah of attempting and pulling off a kind of Escher triangle, not just in actual 3D, but in marble, carved so it looks like thickly folded card. The Mobius strip, the Fibonacci spiral, they are all here. You walk around it, in part to look for the catch, to check that it is real. Precise, mathematically perfect, elegant and clever, it is. A concept rendered perfectly into the most obdurate material on the planet. This in itself is astonishing. But, having been initially surprised at how small it looked on its base, and then its conceptual elegance, now, up close, I am confronted with its massive weight and presence, the cold solidity of marble. I have the sense of a huge primeval animal curled into its thick grey ‘legs’ and ‘trunk’, a contained power like an elephant that could tear down trees and houses, if it chose.
Colour: the greyness of it surprises me. I do not like it. It is not beautiful or attractive. I feel disappointment, and then disappointed that I feel this, as if it is a personal betrayal of my friend, his work and vision. His other marbles have been stunningly, intrinsically beautiful, honeyed, white or black, or even pink, some streaked with gold. But this, this Lambda was so grey, a dull grey streaked right to left with a kind of white mucous. From a little further back it seemed like driving rain, spitting, pouring through the stone itself, beating down without end. There is nothing restful here, but a sense of speed, of perpetual falling, of being in the heart of some great inter-continental storm.
This was the downward sense of the piece, its energy rushing right to left down through the Λ and into the earth. Except that it isn’t, or is. The rain, like a notional Lambda sub-atomic particle itself, passes clean through the physical world, the stone, as if it were not there at all. We glimpse the dual reality of matter, its wave and particle, it’s ‘is and is not’, in motion. It is grasped and it is not.
And then the eye is caught in the curves, the endless, impossible, Escher-like folding of the triangle back in on itself, up from the left, then across from the right, then down from the top, then curling itself over, around and around, again and again, disappearing into a hidden space that you know will be exactly the same. Like a fugue and canon roiled into one, there is no rest here. The movement does not cease. I have an image now of a vast propeller churning the depths of the ocean, the engine of the world; the universe as one immense convulsive storm, a brooding elemental power, relentless, cruel, malignant even, a drowning. This is Samsara, the Dance of Shiva, the cycle of life, death and rebirth, in which all things and people, thoughts, feelings and desires are caught, creating their own futures out of their pasts, again and again; families, tribes and civilizations, flourishing and atrophy, conflict, war, collapse.
I begin to understand why Jonathon hated it, and why, once engaged, sucked in, he had no choice but to ‘finish’ it, no matter what it may cost him, physically, emotionally, spiritually, no matter if it ‘finishes’ him. Everything is caught up in this process, and the individual, me, us, is both as lost and insignificant as the skeletons of those creatures caught in the fossiliferous grey and as vast and precious as our spiritual intelligence to behold it, both at once, wave and particle, motion and stillness, life and death.
This Lambda is so powerful, so disturbing, I have to get away. Like Jonathon, I will be glad when it is packed up and transported to the far side of the world, where it will hide, apparently small, grey, cold and self-contained, amongst the churning Babel towers of Hong Kong, awaiting their destruction, awaiting our rebirth.