HAROLD TERRY LINDAHL
SPIRITUALITY IN ART
The art world often seems caught between the Scylla of pointless shock and awe and the Charybdis of status consumerism. Art and life have converged, unpleasantly, in the art-as-business (and entertainment and fashion) era. We take heart, however, at the Guggenheim Museum’s exhibition, Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future of the Swedish mystic artist.
A polymath and visionary who supported herself making traditional botanical drawings and painted landscape and portrait paintings during a six-decade career, af Klint (1862-1944) worked, in secret, on abstract paintings that are, a century later, garnering amazed interest. She left twelve hundred works, including one hundred ninety-three paintings. The seventy-six paintings in the Guggenheim show are both huge and ambitious: in scale, they are unmatched until the Abstract Expressionist era, fifty years later; and in their cosmic/philosophical themes, embodied in geometrized organic forms and singing color harmonies, they are far from the safe decoration of domesticated rote abstraction. Indeed, Peter Schjeldahl of The New Yorker abandoned critical understatement and called the show nothing less than ‘flabbergasting.’
As important as the works’ visual impact is their new place in art history: begun in 1906, they precede by some five years the abstractions of af Klint’s generational contemporaries who had been heretofore accorded discoverers’ honors: Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Frantisek Kupka (1871-1957), Konstantin Malevich (1879-1935), and Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). This is not to diminish the men’s work, or to cite yet another ‘obstacle race’ (to employ Germaine Greer’s term) that women artists have always faced.
Af Klint made no effort to compete with the boys, and worked in virtual seclusion, known only to four women friends who studied the Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, and other esoteric Spiritualist practices—New Age avant la lettre— that flourished at the turn of the century. The Five (as they dubbed themselves), who even held séances, were far from unique: William James and Arthur Conan Doyle studied the spirit world; Mondrian studied Theosophy; and utopianism was in the air. Af Klint, however, took such a dim (or realistic) view of the art audience of a century ago that she stipulated in her will that her work not be shown until twenty years after her death, for a presumably more enlightened audience. It is gratifying to report that both her work found her audience and received its overdue accolades, if only posthumously. It is also refreshing that af Klint’s art is free of the fashionable irony and cynical commercialism of current art fashion. Her major series, The Paintings for the Temple, (1906-15) was created at the behest of Amaliel, a “High Master” spirit guide, and was intended for a circular Temple, never built, which would have centered on a spiral, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum. The poetic justice of af Klint’s show appearing—like an apport, a substance materialized at a séance by a medium—in Wright’s cultural “temple of the spirit” (his words), almost suggests supernatural connivance.
HAROLD TERRY LINDAHL
The art of San Francisco architect and painter Harold Terry Lindahl, like af Klint’s, transcends artistic zeitgeist, and is both deeply personal and universal, offering beauty and meaning to viewers of both aesthetic and philosophic bents. Like her, he worked in solitude, “carried along by a persistent Scandinavian/Scots hermeticism.”
Lindahl, now in his late eighties, worked fin Bay Area or nearly five decades as a modernist architect, in the Frank Lloyd Wright tradition of Organic Architecture, before turning to painting full-time in 2008, in order to express his views about humanity and its evolution. Studying at the University of Oklahoma in the 1950s with Bruce Goff, who was influenced by Wright, Lindahl became fascinated with geometric order and metamorphic form-generation through systematic variations and modulations. After discovering the teachings of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, the Greek-Armenian philosopher and gnostic, he studied with the Gurdjieffian, Lord Pentland, in New York and San Francisco from the late 1960s to the 1980s, when he would eventually found the Intropy=Entropy Institute, housed on Potrero Hill in a building that had housed San Francisco’s first silent movie theater. The theater has been transformed into a kind of red-brick temple, partly modernist and partly Greco-Roman, replete with cast-concrete columns. It’s a fitting display space for Lindahl’s artwork, living quarters, office and workshop. (‘Intropy,’ incidentally, is a neologism coined to express the opposite of ‘entropy’: an increase in energy, potential and organization; a reduction in random.)
Gurdjieff posits the coexistence of three brains in human beings: the ancient, primitive lizard brain, controlling our bodily functions; the more evolved mammal brain, with emotional functioning; and the neocortical human brain, endowed with logic, emotion and imagination: ”coherent conscience and reason, in Lindahl’s words. These ‘internecine’ brains have different functions, and too often the lower, atavistic brains rule us when coherent conscience and objective reason are required. So do the habits and institutions from previous eras.
Lindahl discerns a spiritual crisis in contemporary culture. In 2010, in an art-exhibit catalog Signals from the Vagus Gyre, he wrote (p.2): “Traditional religions are and logical speculation moot. Yet we’re in awe, we yearn for meaning, and aspire to realize our psychological potential.” Like the visionary English Romantic, William Blake, Lindahl sees a mystical marriage between competing modes of perception as the cure for our rootless anomie. In Lindahl’s cosmology and philosophy, ancient lore (Parmenides, Lucretius, and Gnosticism) and contemporary science (Darwin, Einstein, Schrödinger) converge. The synthesis of these normally antagonistic worldviews and modes knowledge results in “an Objective Religion and an Objective Art that informs science of religion and religion of science, ” or, alternatively, “Objectivity in Art and Religion and Morality in Science.” Such an integration of our fragmented consciousness sounds appealing, of course; even without any explication of the underlying philosophy, Lindahl’s complexly beautiful works stands on their own, but a brief introduction to this hermetic polymath’s drawings, paintings and sculptures may be helpful.
AN OBJECTIVE ART
Gestation History and Potential of Man (2018) is a suite of forty-nine India-ink drawings, each15-1/2” high by11-1/4” wide, on Arches watercolor paper, and mounted on 8-ply museum board, which is them mounted to 24”x84” sheets of polished copper, seven to a panel. They represent the potential for human evolution, with evolved cortices overlaid atop earlier cortices, from ‘post-simian’ man (endowed with a Paleozoic reptilian brain) into a true Homo sapiens, worthy of the name (endowed with a Mesozoic mammalian brain). There are seven levels of development: School Man, Transition Man, Psyolving Man (i.e., psychologically and psychically progressing), 3-Brained Gestation Man, Native Virtue Man, Indulgent Man, and Searching Man. Each developmental level is represented by an octave of variations, eight tones as in music, do re mi fa so la ti (or si) do, or rather seven, since the first tone and the last are the same note. In Lindahl’s schema, these tones have mystical resonances:
The Harmonics of Unity (2017) is an array of forty-two small, vivid watercolor paintings, 9” tall by 7” wide, accompanied by an explanatory treatise. These abstractions give full range to Lindahl’s technical talent, and are accessible as independent artworks to those unfamiliar with their theoretical foundations; with their stylistic affinities to Cubism, Surrealism, and even Abstract Expressionism and Symbolism, they would complement with the best modernist art of the first half of the twentieth century.
Displayed on a long wall, as they are at the Intropy=Entropy Institute, they’re imposing en masse, arranged in fourteen vertical rows in three bands or registers, which are to be read vertically, bottom to top, as 1) Involutionary Formation; 2) Evolutionary Transformation; and 3) Psyvolutionary Transformation; or, again from bottom to top, the Lizard Brain of physical survival, the Lithosphere; the Mammalian Brain of consciousness, the Atmosphere; and,at the top, the Higher Brain of an evolved humanity, the Cognosphere. “Objective art,” writes Lindahl, ...arises from the psychologically “vertical” or existential dynamics of aspiration; it functions to illuminate the relations between biological place and psychological purpose; it awakens one’s consciousness to the otherwise subconscious potential latent in ... our manifold of being-brains.”
Lindahl also associates geometric forms with various personality traits: acute angles, for example, denote a shrewd and ardent character, while obtuse angles denote a mundane and credulous one, and mobile, random lines denote a desultory, chaotic one. Whether or not you accept Lindahl’s existential vision, linking geometry with psychology, his formidable gift for orchestrating and modulating color and form to suggest evolution makes one a believer at the very least in the artist’s conviction and aesthetic vision, a marriage of systematic process—“Geometry is the alphabet and vocabulary of artistic expression”—and artistic intuition.
Pensive and Vigilant (2016) are stunning abstract sculptures that depict the relationship between the sympathetic and parasympathetic functions of the Autonomic Nervous System. The ANS, Lindahl writes (The Harmonics of Unity, p.24), is “a semiotic medium through which assessments and assignments of energy to fight, flight, or freeze reactions, or to the innervation of the vital organs, are processed.” If you imagine the spine as a bodily tree trunk, then the vagus nerve, enclosed by spinal vertebrae, is a communicative lattice, processing incoming signals from nerve receptors, evaluating them, and commanding the appropriate responses from muscles and organs. In Lindahl’s sculptures, triple layers of laminated glass and colored plexiglass are cut into wing forms surmounted by volutes that suggest bowed, intently focused heads, in simplified form. With the wing forms radiating from the cylindrical aluminum cores, or spines, and illuminated by colored LED lighting, the sculptures suggest both organs or embryos, self-contained and self-monitoring, and futuristic guardians or messengers, both avian and angelic.
While it is natural these days to wonder if we clever primates can manage not to exterminate ourselves, the model of intellectual evolution presented by Lindahl’s brilliant, Beardsleyesque draftsmanship and his surrealist/abstract metamorphic bipeds (Reptilian Man, Neo-Mammal, Impartial Conscience, et al., including Catholicism’s Seven Deadly Sins) is compelling and ingenious. As with religious art and even aesthetic art, we need not necessarily subscribe to the program—Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescos, for the profane? Duchamp’s Large Glass, for the uninitiated?—to appreciate the art on its own visual terms. We may even be able to absorb, osmotically, a bit of the content. Even in our skeptical age, we must renew our faith in the human adventure, and the power of reason. The New Man, that dream of modernist artists, a century ago, may prove to be, in the words of long ago and far away, our last hope.
Lindahl, H.T., Post-Simian Pre-Homo Sapiens Conundrum, 2019, I=E Institute San Francisco, California, www.intropy-entropy-institute.org
Lindahl, H.T., Gestation History and Potential Of Mankind, 2018, I=E Institute San Francisco, California, www.intropy-entropy-institute.org
Lindahl, H.T., The Harmonics of Unity, 2017, Trioctave Editions, San Francisco, California. www.intropy-entropy-institute.org
Lindahl, H.T., Signals From The Vagus Gyre: Studies toward Objectivity in Art, 2010,Trioctave Editions, San Francisco, California https://www.haroldterrylindahl.com/publications/
Selz, P.; Lindahl, H.T.; Hays, S.: Harmonics of Unity: An Interview with Art Historian Dr. Peter Selz, 2011; Trioctave Editions, San Francisco, California https://www.haroldterrylindahl.com/publications/
Moan, Rebekah, “Gurdjieff Society Mounts Exhibitions on Harmonics,” The Potrero View, April 2015