This article explores some relationships of color and energy associated with spiritual energy centers in the body. The Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle provided the inspiration for the seven paintings in the series.
Visitors enter the Seattle Conservatory through doors under an arch located at the southern end of what appears an atrium or transept. The shape of the arch is repeated above long aisles, which stretch east and west from the atrium, and end in an L-shape instead of an apse. Inside the building, sounds are hushed. The air is warm and moist. Heavenly scents, complex visual patterns, and intensely rich colors blend into a joyous hymn that one feels rather than hears.
What we see in a building depends on our business and purpose. To an insurance agent, the Seattle Conservatory with its 3,426 panes of glass might represent a liability. An accountant might have seen red ink because entry to the Conservatory was once free to more than 150,000 annual visitors, but now a fee is charged. To an artist, the building may have multiple meanings.
When I include a building in a painting, it might be only for the sake of the composition, or it might be a metaphor or simile for an inner state of awareness. The interior of a school, a gym, or a home may represent an inner condition of the psyche associated with that type of building. Seeing buildings as symbols for the human condition is only one of many ways to view them, and done too often or carried too far, it’s a recipe for sterility. Occasionally, however, when structural parts of a building align with other elements in a painting, metaphor seems to fit the artwork like the final piece of a jig-saw puzzle.
The Seattle Conservatory slightly echoes the architecture of a gothic church. Most people who visit the conservatory don’t notice the resemblance; they come to look at exotic plants that would not survive outside the building. They stroll, look, and marvel. I marvel with them; yet, with imagination I see more. For me, the conservatory is a sanctuary, a place for reflection and meditation. It is a metaphor for my inner spiritual life as it should exist. In root, stem, leaf, and flower, I see the glory of the Creator.
What most visitors see are the natural forms and colors of plants. Most painters, too, whether they work abstractly or realistically, focus on form and color because artists construct a painting primarily with these two elements. Wassily Kandinsky, a famous pioneer of abstract art, devoted a chapter to form and color in his influential book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, which was first published in German in 1911. Kandinsky’s thinking is still important to any artist who wishes to see beyond the surface of things. His opinion was that form and color have a mutual influence on each other, and that both elements in a work of art connect with the observer’s soul. Kandinsky had doubts about the material world as a source for art because he believed that the excessively material-minded culture of his time retarded artistic and spiritual growth. “The more abstract is form, the more clear and direct is its appeal,” he wrote.
Kandinsky was not the first artist to construct completely abstract paintings derived from an inner quest. A Swedish woman was a step or two ahead of him. When you have the time for it, search the Internet for Hilma Af Klint and Gertrud Sandqvist’s lecture on Klint’s mystical union of form, color and spirit. It’s an astonishing presentation about a great artist who deserves wider recognition.
Although Kandinsky championed abstract art, he elevated freedom of artistic expression over style, as long as artistic expression came from an inner spiritual source. “The artist may use any form which his expression demands; for his inner impulse must find suitable outward expression. All means are sacred which are called for by the inner need. All means are sinful which obscure that need.” Kandinsky asserted that the study of color is the starting point in developing an artists’ understanding of spirit in art. We might say that color has three fields of inquiry: the scientific, the artistic, and the spiritual. An understanding of color based on science is verifiable by empirical experiments. The general public has an elementary grasp of the physics and psychology of color, and some knowledge about mixing pigments. Artists, especially painters, can be expected to know more than the general public about the physics and psychology of color, and much more about the properties of pigments, because it’s their business to know more.
Most people, including artists, don’t consider color from a spiritual perspective; however, color as a manifestation of spiritual energy is supported by non-empirical traditions and by personal experience. To the extent that an artist works with color intuitively, his or her work functions as a bridge between the scientific and the spiritual. Many artists might be uncomfortable with the term “spiritual” in this context, but in working with color, artists often work from near trance, a state of mind that opens them to the influence of Spirit, or the Creative Force. Kandinsky called it working from innere Notwendigkeit, or “inner need” which means an urge for spiritual expression. Kandinsky also used the term for the spiritual expression itself in a work of art.
Science informs us that color and everything else is vibrating energy. Consider for example, Albert Einstein’s famous remark about matter and vibration, “Concerning matter, we have been all wrong. What we have called matter is energy, whose vibration has been so lowered as to be perceptible to the senses. There is no matter.” Color is an interpretation of specific vibrations, or frequencies, of electromagnetic energy. Color is descriptive of objects, for instance a green leaf or a red rose, but color is in the eye and brain, not in the objects.
I value what science tells me about color; unfortunately, science doesn’t have answers for all my questions. If vibrational frequencies we call color are outside of us, are similar vibrational energies within us? In working with pigments, can an artist generate similar color vibrations from within? Can the inner experience of color become an intuitive source for developing color harmonies? Can artwork based on the “inner need” of an artist directly affect the inner spirit of observers? My experiences in painting and with meditation make me open to possibilities, many of which are rooted in spiritual traditions.
Mystics and psychics state that the loci of major spiritual centers in the human body run from the base of the spinal area to the crown of the head. The existence of spiritual centers in our bodies, while not empirical, is supported by anecdotes of extraordinary and ordinary people throughout history. I’m among the ordinary people who have experienced the opening of energy fields during meditation. The experience is difficult to describe; it’s like trying to describe the taste of a banana to someone who has never eaten one. In the literature on spiritual centers, the association of color with them is not entirely consistent, and there is some disagreement about the order of the sixth and seventh spiritual center.
Even if spiritual centers in the body are a metaphysical myth, the concept is useful in making paintings that are symbolic of the spiritual potential within us. Thus, in my imagination, the Seattle Conservatory is symbolic of the spiritual body. In my imagination, plants in the conservatory represent the sites within us where spirit interacts with the physical. Imagination is powerful; nevertheless, I’m not deluding myself. My paintings are just paintings. They cannot be used to open the spiritual centers of the body. They have no power to foster wondrous spiritual growth. They cannot cure illness. Such powers are within the observer.
The paintings can, however, be enjoyed as art. Contemplation of the paintings should feel up-lifting. According to Kandinsky, the artist’s “deeds, feelings, and thoughts, as those of every man, create a spiritual atmosphere which is either pure or poisonous. Those deeds and thoughts are materials for his creations, which themselves exercise influence on the spiritual atmosphere.” I agree wholeheartedly. In making the seven paintings in this series, I hope innere Notwendigkeit informs the artworks’ “spiritual atmosphere”.
Seven key spiritual centers in our bodies are located at the sites of our endocrine glands, according to contemporary literature on the topic. The spiritual centers can be associated with Newton’s classic colors of the visible light spectrum. The energy of the colors can be related to how we think and act.
In the conservatory series, I have paired seven paintings with the spiritual centers they represent. The paintings have a dominate color that matches the center’s energy, but they are multihued because they are paintings of real plants. As I painted each plant, my awareness was on the specific spiritual center being represented. Although we can assume the spiritual centers and their representative color are the same for all of us, the significance of a color is not necessarily the same. The meaning of a color varies from culture to culture and from person to person.
First Center – Gonads (testes and ovaries) - The Root
Positive: energetic, productive
Negative: self-indulgent, aggressive
Second Center – Cells of Leydig – The Navel
Positive: creative, vital.
Negative: sexually imbalanced, indecisive
Third Center – Adrenal Glands – The Solar Plexus
Positive: intelligent, optimistic
Negative: impractical, suspicious
Fourth Center – Thymus Gland – The Heart
Positive: able to heal, generous
Negative: envious, jealous
Fifth Center – Thyroid Gland – The Throat
Positive: spiritual, cooperative
Negative: too idealistic, willful
Sixth Center – Pineal Gland – The Crown
Positive: intuitive, spiritually wise
Seventh Center – Pituitary Gland – The Third Eye
Positive: having great spiritual powers, love Divine
Copyright by Nick Payne