Silent Mantra: The Possible beyond the Visible

What can we see, and what can we not see? What do we see when we go beyond the visible? Is it possible to go beyond vision using painting?

These questions and many others form the base of Deenesh Ghyczy’s painting research. “You are blind if you are a slave to your eyes”, says Osho Rajneesh, the famous mystic and Indian spiritual guru, whose books became bestsellers in many countries. Deenesh takes this quote as a starting point in determining what it really means to be able to see. For the artist, it is an individual journey to which each of us is called, and painting must have the mission of supporting such a quest. Vision must go beyond what is visible, beyond the sensorial image that is produced by our visual system, which relies on the rigidity of the crystalline lens, and on the optical chamber that every individual is, as discovered by neurology.

Deenesh does not suggest abandoning the “visible”; he does not choose the intuitive path of Mark Rothko, through the use of colour fields that endeavour to become pure light, a focused emotional vibration. No, he remains in the field of the truly visible, and uses it to play against itself, to destabilise it to the extent that the same subject, form and shape – usually the portrait of a single person – becomes its own dissolution. Although motionless, the body or a part of it begins to vibrate, and to leave its own limits, to give us a sense of extreme dynamism in the fixed image of the portrayed pose.

The painted substance expands and shatters in order to find a pace and pulsation that leads the viewer to see beyond the perceived image, to feel in an obvious way (just because it is visual) the presence of another dimension, beyond that of the concrete “portrait”. Unlike Francis Bacon, who emphasised the despair of the contemporary, and of his own viewpoint, Deenesh brings into his painting a gentle calm, a self-control that materialises in the control of colour, which is never violent and contains an “unsaturated” luminosity. A light typical of the place in Holland where he grew up. An old house from 1550, with a “beautiful melancholic atmosphere”, as he refers to it.

While Bacon “disfigured” the subjects that were around him, closing them into hopeless spaces, Deenesh, on the contrary, takes the portraits of his friends and acquaintances beyond the form, with a movement of the soul that seems unwilling to remain in its place, and wants to exit. He thus trains the visible to go beyond itself: by using the form of the body to deal with spiritual themes.

In his awareness of being the pinnacle of “creation”, modern man (born with Descartes in the seventeenth century, and “dying” with Freud in the beginning of the twentieth century) took upon himself the responsibility for answers, thus becoming the one who “meets the world” through reasoning, justification, explanation and investigation, whether scientific, spiritual, religious or philosophical. In this way, man has become “the mirror of the world”. This mirror itself has become a metaphor for human consciousness: a visual model that allows us to consider consciousness as a place where everything, the whole universe, can find its own image. Continuing along this line of reasoning, we can say that man himself is the “mirror of the universe” – not only by repeating the universe on a micro scale, but also and especially as an awareness of it. A planet, a sun or even a galaxy, have no self-awareness. They are massive clusters of dull matter. In his weakness and insignificance, however, man is “that being in the middle”, placed between God and the inorganic, master of the animal world, which has self-consciousness and the infinite cosmos in which he “lives”. This consciousness, as a mirroring element, refers to the greatness of man, and to painting that is able to represent an indirect path of this singular way of being that is “human”.

“In general, I use two main approaches to represent human beings in my art”, says Deenesh. “The first relies on the elimination of visual information, the dissolution of their visual appearance. The second approach deals with an accumulation of visual information by means of repetition, distortion, movement and rhythm. Both methods have the same purpose. It feels like my art has a lot to do with uniting opposites and with duality”, he says. “I enjoy tension and the paradox that it involves, even if this leads me to constantly challenge my work. However, I believe that all this is a fundamental element of making art”. His paintings feature different levels of complexity. From a stylistic perspective, the artist owes a lot to research on the combination of the abstract and the figurative. His most recent series of works, Embedded, demonstrates a new approach to this combination. Deenesh begins by filling the canvas with a two-dimensional field of stripes, brushstrokes emphasising the handwritten form, in which the figure, the portrait, appears like a reality lacerated and folded, transformed into a “string” of energy. “Energetic painting” would be a possible definition of the genre of painting executed by Deenesh Ghyczy.

The “fragmentation and combination of the visual language” that the painter claims as “impossible” takes us to the centre of his work, a painting whose essence is comprised of its “vision-ability”, meant here as a visionary capacity or “mystical” ability. The mystic goes beyond the real, abstracting and then receiving visions. Deenesh seems to do the same with painting. The way he portrays his subjects seems to provide an image to the spiritual, exactly as Wassily Kandinsky wanted to do in his abstract painting project, i.e., a form of art that cancels the outer truth to produce an inner truth. Kandinsky wrote “The Spiritual in the Arts” in 1909.

Another source of inspiration is Chuck Close, and naturally, the relation between photography and painting that this reference implies. Photography can only show what exists, even when the subject is abstract; painting is the opposite: it can only show what does not exist because it is the result of the act of painting, of gestures, even if it displays something that looks real. In this dilemma, a relation is established, and Deenesh uses photography as the starting point of a journey towards the absolute: a product of the “expansion of consciousness”, which the artist himself has experienced in different ways, such as through meditation.

His subjects are “taken” in a very special moment: that in which we are alone with ourselves. “I don’t like to make a portrait of people when they look into the camera, or when they are smiling: a smile can often be a mask”, says Deenesh. There are a couple of older series of works in which the artist used found images: Tuning In and Dive! Today, he prefers to have a direct and personal relationship with his models. “It is a sort of visual diary of my social interactions”, he explains. In his daily life, he conceives this as a flux of energy, personal and universal, that is possible to catch in a painting. Intimacy is his topic, and his art tries to reach “a state of mind” that is precise and imperceptible: it is the line where mind and soul, grace and expression, meet together to produce a sort of brilliant awareness.

How does he explain the title of the exhibition, Silent Mantra? “Visual repetition of parts of the painting aims at filling the mind of the viewer until the point of confusion and renunciation. If one renounces the attempt to understand, the road to feeling opens. In his research of “sensation”, Deenesh’s painting acts as a dimensional gate, as a viaticum for a journey beyond the visible. “Mantra” is a Sanskrit word meaning “vehicle of thought”: this is a formula that can be mystical or magical – a prayer, a holy song. “Like in meditation, the goal is to empty the mind, and to leave space to intuition”. A mantra can be used to reach this goal.

With his painting, Deenesh tries to build a silent and visual mantra to take us to the dimension of feeling. It is enough to concentrate on one of his works to understand how his objective is met. In some works, the distorted image produces the powerful effects of optical destabilisation. Our eye is deceived, and the sense of balance is moved towards a red area, in which even a sensation of vertigo can be felt. Here, Deenesh translates the power of painting into an optical mechanism, referring to the great school of Op Art within the ancient and sublime technique that painting is.

In conclusion, Deenesh’s paintings make the most of all the strength of figuration and portraiture to get to a transmission of senses that is beyond the visible and provides an answer to the questions at the beginning of this text. These questions have always been, and will always be in each of us and in all cultures. Deenesh found his answer: intimate, powerful, and able to shift the sense of reality for a moment, leading us to the final and essential question that derives from the previous ones: “how much of what I see is truly ‘real’?”

September 2014 | Nicola Davide Angerame