G. Mark Mulleian's painting entitled “After the Hour” we see the vacated streets of Jerusalem 2000 years ago.
It is chiefly because of this mystical perspective that the word “sublime” has been used in regard to many of the subjects and themes of Mulleian’s works, but nowhere is that word more appropriate than here. According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, the word “sublime” is defined as a state of being or of having a quality of higher worth; something of outstanding spiritual, intellectual or moral worth, tending to inspire awe, usually because of elevated quality
of beauty, nobility or grandeur.
In this painting entitled “After the Hour” we see the vacated streets of Jerusalem 2000 years ago, where Christ was offered a drink of water.
If, as has been suggested elsewhere, Mullien’s painting Dies Irae is envisioned and executed on a symphonic scale, After The Hour might be compared, in scale and form, to that of the music written for chamber orchestra. It is intimate, it is reflective, it is personal, and like the instruments in a string quartet, the separate elements could be said to converse, one with the others. Indeed, it is the multi-faceted elements within the work in dialogue with one another, now stating, now developing, now defending and defining, that contribute their own character and comment as the theme of the piece develops. Taken altogether, it is this progression of tonal relationships within the work which ultimately produce a surprisingly powerful statement about individual and collective transformation. Renewal, transformation and rebirth, to a greater or lesser degree, are themes explored in virtually all of Mulleian’s paintings.
In its understated simplicity, After The Hour is much like Mulleian’s painting, Moccasins, in that in both works he employs a lush and poignant realism with the vivid economy of a haiku. Yet as in so many of his works, it is the process of creating meaning through symbolic relationships between the objects that enables the artist to create an atmosphere and a working dynamic that can rightly be described as mystical. In ferreting out those meanings the viewer takes part in the pursuit of what is eventually realized as a spiritual reality through direct experience. It is by means of intuition or revelatory insight that the viewer is able to find the meanings, hiding in plain sight. Mysticism, at its heart, centers on practices intended to nurture such intimate, immediate awareness through experience by such subjective means.
After The Hour Oil, 24"x18"
One of the principle objectives of this work is to recover a more immediate experience of truths that lie at the core of certain religious dogma, what one might term the “numinous presence”. This, however, is not a question of theology. Rather, it is an attempt to emphasize how spiritual/theological imagery reflects, symbolically, the essence of what we call “the Self”…images that represent the intrinsic wholeness of our truest selves. For many “believers”, the vitality of those truths has been obscured or lost altogether due to literalization, oversimplification, or mechanical, dogmatic repetition. Consequently, those truths have lost their transformative power. It is hoped by the artist that a different way of looking at those truths, and a more immediate way of experiencing them, will produce a transformation on many levels. It is a modest attempt to suggest an alternative, creative option to the three basic motivations of human existence: ignorance, desire, and the will to power.
The scene is one of apparent, absolute simplicity, residual evidence of an event that has taken place somewhere in time. Like the painting by the Dutch Master Jan Van Eyck, the Arnolfini Marriage Group, each object depicted in After the Hour hints at a symbolic assumption far beyond its literal representation. Indeed, like so many of the Dutch and Flemish paintings of the 16th and 17th century, in After The Hour symbols abound. We see a ladle resting in a barely flowing gutter of murky water, an olive leaf and several twigs floating on the surface, a coin resting at the bottom of the gutter. There is also water in the form of rain plopping its print on the surface of the stream and saturating the porous paving stones. Indeed the image of water saturates the whole painting. With the suggestion of falling rain, slowly flowing water and the rebounding raindrops from the water’s surface, a visual rhythm and cadence is established, and the element of time is introduced.
It isn’t immediately clear, however, that the “time” being referred to is both temporal and eternal, a perspective which is, itself, both intuitive and transcendental. Nor is it clear that this work is a snapshot of time intersecting with material and spiritual power, but as the context of symbolic values is established, those dimensions become more obvious. The one key object in the painting, the coin, resting unobtrusively at the bottom of the gutter, is the only clue as to the time period of the scene depicted. It isn’t until that clue is interpreted that the scene begins to make sense and the meaning begins to unfold.
The submerged coin is, in fact, a Roman coin that displays the image of the head of Caesar clearly imprinted on its side. This, in addition to the drops of what appear to be blood splattered over the pavement, oxidized to a dull brown, and a wooden ladle, probably handmade, lying haphazardly in the gutter, complete the pieces of the puzzle. Added together, these might be clues enough to suggest the remnants of an event that was hurriedly disrupted, perhaps a gathering that was roughly dispersed before its intention was complete. Otherwise why would the ladle remain, or the coin not have been noticed and retrieved? One slowly begins to understand that what we are looking at are the remnants of an act of kindness that took place on an empty street in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, the place where water was offered as comfort and relief to the fallen Christ as he made his way toward his death on a hill outside the walls of old Jerusalem.
In all of Christian doctrine the passion, death and resurrection of Christ are the defining events that complete the divine reconciliation of man with God. Such references would seem to be quite the opposite of secular in their implication. So, one might assume from the start that the subject of this painting is “religious” in nature. Or so it would seem. It is “religious”, in the sense that it deals with “the sacred” in a secular setting. And that is the fundamental point of the painting. Living, spiritual reality has little or nothing at all to do with religion. What is depicted here is intended to take the viewer, through subjective experience, into a territory that is profoundly more immediate and relevant to the living of ones life.
For anyone conversant with Christian Scripture this setting might recall the verses from the New Testament text in which Christ declares “If any man thirsts let him come to me and drink.” (John, 7.37-39). The artist’s use of this implicit reference is deliberate and, at the same time, slightly ironic. It is an attempt to step outside of traditional dogma and extract from the religious impulse the immediate focus and vitality of a living spiritual truth beyond the confines and trappings of what have become essentially dead or dying institutions. In that process, it is hoped that one may recognize that direct experience of the numinous must be re-envisioned from the very core of one’s being. Indeed, without such interior experience it is questionable whether any experience of the divine can be seen as anything more than ephemeral entertainment. In a sense the artist’s intention is to take the religious metaphor “The kingdom of heaven lies within.” at face value and explore the properties of spiritual experience first hand.
What is required for this to happen is a willingness to participate in an introspective process that transcends the defenses of the ego’s boundaries toward something that must necessarily seem completely “other”, though indeed, its potential realization lies deep within, in what Jung calls the archetypal dimension. For many, such intimate immediacy is deeply threatening and too far above the threshold of control for comfort. Therefore, embarking on such a journey further requires an attitude of profound humility, but according to those who have journeyed there before, and, incidentally, according to the vision at the core of this painting, within the silence of such an attitude lies an abundance of providential light. Such is the guiding principle and dynamic property of spiritual energy, which is the light that emanates from the numinous fountainhead at the center of this work.
It is because of these factors that there is implicit in the painting a sense of destiny. That is, a sense of the power or agency that determines the course of events, both in the unfolding destiny of the figure of Christ as he progressed toward his chosen end, but more significantly, in the suggestion that one’s own personal destiny will be determined through the nurturing of a more reflective disposition and a greater awareness of the spiritual realities that emanate, like a homing beacon, from within. Without using the ability to think symbolically, man loses his innate ability to access and live his deeper “symbolic nature”. In a materialist perspective, his symbols function merely as signs, devoid of symbolic power, attached as they are to static meaning, becoming merely “definition”. No longer do the symbols have the ability to be active in the mind or to transform consciousness, sparking imaginative insights or creative realizations, new experiences and transcendent actualization. The survival of mankind may ultimately depend upon this single, symbolic factor. So, in this respect, it is both the individual and collective destiny of mankind that is implied here. It is the artist’s view that consciousness prompted by enlightened intuition, in order to be effective and truly transformative, must be woven with threads drawn deeply from inner intuitive sources, creating a fabric of perception informed by more than intellect alone. Feeling is the silent shuttle at the heart of this process. In one’s perception, ultimately even meaning itself will be informed, indeed transformed, by spiritual energy. And, it is the artist’s belief that it is just such a power and agency, the spontaneous, autonomous life of the unconscious, which inherently resides in each of us, waiting to show the way. To quote the artist: “Only in the center of our being will we be able to find the guidance necessary to prevent our own extinction.” Put another way (and paraphrasing the equivalent allusion to the kingdom of heaven within), the source of wholeness lies within. In this respect, conceptually this painting is strongly referencing the earlier works Holy Grail, and in a more abstract yet more universal way, The Chalice.
It is useful at this point to consider the artist’s own commentary on the context of this work:
"In allegiances for conquests, great empires succumb to the reverence in a ladle, that nations may quench their thirsts with water without ever consuming its contents...reveals the end of a legacy beneath an olive leaf...in a Caesar's coin."
The Roman coin then, represents a specific historical period, but one with a legacy, it is implied by the artist, which is about to come to an end. It could be said that the coin represents the materially dynamic element that makes all of the other objects in the painting possible: from labor in quarrying and transporting of stone, labor in construction of the passageway and its drainage, construction and governance of the town and surrounding villages, the administration of social justice, the keeping of order and the view to growing, developing and maintaining of city and state interests; all are fueled by the principle and reality that the coin represents. The coin is a symbol for the regulation and practice of commerce and, by implication, with Caesar’s image impressed on its surface, a symbol for the powers of state, the ruling elite, and ultimately, for materialism itself. In this image there is also an echo of the admonition to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”. (Matthew 22:21).
Extrapolating from that, one senses from the context of “allegiances for conquests” that such distinct, intentional, all pervasive power is being viewed in a relative if not pejorative light. There is indeed a disparaging aspect in the symbolism of metal itself, in its unyielding hardness, coldness, and especially as it relates to its uses as implements of war, of oppression and domination. Given the circumstances in which the coin appears here, one could develop the argument as to the barbaric, parasitic, corrupt or depraved nature of a ruling class that uses military, political, or any other powers to control, oppress or exploit the fear of the people it would dominate. So, in the single image of the coin we have the symbol for human power, dominance and control and, considering the evidence of the blood spattered pavement, the administration of power that was excruciatingly brutal in relation to any perceived threat. Interestingly enough, apart from the associations above, metals in general are thought of as prenatal in the womb of Mother Earth, suggesting that matter is not evil in and of itself but it is the use to which matter is put which determines its moral quality and value. So, even the material chosen to symbolically represent the more uncompromising aspect of this mystery is interpreted as having suffered from a form of corruption but is potentially capable of being “redeemed”.
To the left of the coin, past the bowl of the ladle, at the other end of an implied spectrum is an olive leaf, floating on the surface of the water. The olive leaf is a vegetation symbol of living, growing nature. It is organic, it has the power to grow and to change, to constantly replenish in number, and by way of their vast number, leaves in general connote people. In Chinese tradition the leaves of the Cosmic Tree represent all the beings of the universe. While still green, leaves depict hope, renewal, and revival, and can be thought of as expectation in relation to spring hopes. Green also has long been a symbol for fertility, balance, harmony, and stability. The olive leaf is a symbol of peace, fruitfulness, purification, strength, victory and reward. In ancient Greece the leafy branches of the olive tree were used to crown the victors of friendly games and bloody wars. As emblems of benediction and purification, they were also ritually offered to deities and powerful figures; some were even found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. The olive branch was brought back to Noah to signal the end of the Great Flood. Christ’s cross was said to have been made out of olive- and cedar wood. It is estimated the cultivation of olive trees began more than 7,000 years ago and a single tree may grow for several hundred years. One olive tree in Bar, Montenegro, is claimed to be over 2000 years old. So, the traditions and associations relating to the olive tree go back many centuries. In addition to longevity and these other multiple aspects of meaning the olive leaf, along with the twigs seen floating on the water’s surface, are symbolic of transcendence. In the image of the leaf, there is more than a symbolic hint of the potential for transformation of the material to the spiritual. To quote Jung on this symbol “ ...a living spirit [which] grows and even outgrows its earlier forms of expression… is eternally renewed and pursues its goal in manifold and inconceivable ways throughout the history of mankind…the names and forms which men have given it mean very little; they are the changing leaves and blossoms on the stem of the eternal tree.” (CW:11:par.538) More about this later.
So, here is a hierarchy, or, if you will, a spectrum of power represented in this work. There are two powers held in the leaf and the coin respectively, the powers of nature vs. the power of man, with a third component represented by the water in the ladle. The bowl of the ladle is the very heart of the painting, both structurally and symbolically. Structurally, the bowl is the intersection between what we’ve called the “material” and “spiritual “ axes, between the temporal and eternal, the absolute center, the unifying principle uniting the multiple dimensions of time (past, present and, beyond time, eternal), space (tangible and intangible), and energy (material, psychic and spiritual), depicted and implied within the work. But most importantly, this intersection is the point at which all forms of power meet, and it is at the surface of the water where this union takes place. The question of whether this is the object or the source of power, the synchronous coming together or the miraculous originating outward burst of animating energy, is at this point unclear. But one senses that, perhaps, it is both. If so, this would also be an instance of the union of opposites.
Analysis and Review by Paul Deegan
"In allegiances for conquests,
great empires succumb to the reverence in a ladle, that nations may quench their thirsts with water without ever consuming its contents...reveals the end
of a legacy beneath an
olive leaf...in a
Caesar's coin."
Allegiances for Conquests
Symbolically, there are two elements that comprise this alchemical union. The first is to be found on the surface of the purified water in the bowl. If one looks quite carefully there will be seen a reflection on the surface of the water. What is reflected are cumulus clouds in the heavens above, clouds which have parted and are allowing a shaft of light to be cast on the scene below, surrounding the ladle in a pool of golden light. At the same moment, it will be seen that there are flecks of rain dotting the surrounding pavement and splashing on the surface of the water in the gutter, water from the clouds pouring down to create the beginnings of a thunderstorm.
By using the image of a cloudburst the artist is making full use of the symbolic value that has been associated with clouds for millennia. In all the great religions throughout history, clouds have been used as the symbol to express the most profound mystery of the nature of the divine, signifying the generative, the destructive, and the enigmatic aspects of divinity all at once. At a more immediate level, the image is also alluding to a fundamental enigma, to that which we believe will forever elude our human understanding, precisely because it seems beyond the range of human experience as one of life’s “eternal mysteries”. The reflection on the water’s surface is a threshold connection between the ephemeral here and now, the so-called “real” world as we know it, and the world of the spirit just below the surface.
The second symbolic element signifying the multidimensional union at the water’s surface is the starburst of light that radiates from the base of the ladle bowl. In spite of the dissimilarity of the images, the supernatural light is, in a very subtle, symbolic sense, a mirror image of the clouds above, both being the symbolic embodiment of theophany, the resonating manifestation of an ineffable divine presence. At first glance, this light might be mistaken as a reflection of the sunlight cast from above, until one realizes that the angle or tilt of the ladle is such that any reflection of the sun would have to appear more toward the center of the bowl. The light is clearly coming from the base of the bowl, well below the water’s surface, visually echoing the meaning hidden within the image of the clouds.
This peculiar, mismatched, irrational mirroring is the beginning of the suggestion that apprehension is not beyond our human capabilities of comprehension, but mere human, literal understanding is not able to fully grasp a comprehensive meaning without allowing for a spiritual dimension. Like the 14th century text “The Cloud Of Unknowing”, an anonymous work of Christian mysticism, it is suggesting that we reach understanding not by rational, linear thought, but by regarding intellectual entanglements as we would perceive our own reflection in a hall of mirrors. Ultimately all of our finite, ego perceptions are self-referential. In such a setting, the ultimate reality is finally beyond the grasp of the intellect.
In essence, the unifying effect of cloud above and light below is essentially a mystical perspective, intended to convey all that is meant by the word epiphany, a term describing the manifestation or appearance of a divine or superhuman being, but which also describes an illuminating realization or discovery leading to a personal feeling of elation, wonder, and awe precisely because it is beyond ordinary human experience. Such an encounter is a manifestation of the spirit. This double aspect, the starburst of light as the sublime complement (that which fills up or completes) of the essential nature of the cloud symbol, is intended by the artist to signify a numinous event, a “threshold experience”, an altered perception, completing the suggestion that all that has previously been hidden is being revealed, and the answer to the unknown is being given. One of the fundamental elements of the God-force is altered perception, the divine manifesting in the hearts and minds of men, transforming the very essence of what is “known”.
So here, below the surface of the water, at the heart of the "spiritual dimension", is the realm beyond the phenomenal world. The surface of the water is the gateway to that dimension, and, as such, contains yet another duality, a two-fold significance. The reason for this has to do with the double meaning of the word 'reflection'. If we use the first meaning, 'to mirror', the result is that we see only at a superficial, "worldly", "adapted" level, consequently grasping the perception of any meaning or value in an intrinsically limited way. In this aspect, one is seeing objectively, viewing only with the sense of sight, seeing only with the eyes, while overlooking the potential to grasp a deeper, more comprehensive, more profound level of perception and understanding.
If, on the other hand, we employ a second meaning, to “reflect”, in the sense of inner examination or meditation, we then begin to see on a more subjective, interior level. In doing so, we employ more than our sense of sight. Rather, our intellect, intuition and, most of all, our feeling are all brought into the process and combine to produce a deeper comprehension which is most likely to better “reflect” our truer nature, character and inner need in relation to the outer dimension. Both senses of the word ‘reflect’ are needed in order to understand the full nature of reality. But it is the inner reflecting which creates a true relationship with the outer world and produces an inner process that is most suggestive of totality, of a dimension that transcends the material and tangible, revealing a reality that cannot be seen with the eyes. By implication, the water’s surface reflecting clouds is, at the same time, the reflecting membrane between two dimensions, and, emphatically, is the opposite of a barrier. Rather, it is the link bringing the two worlds together, making it possible for our world to be part of the bigger, spiritual dimension. And it is this dimension, the artist is implying, that is most likely to transform not only the tension of opposites implicit in the leaf/coin duality, but, indeed, to transform the very nature and essence of the human condition.…TO BE CONTINUED.