Looking for Light in the Darkest Spaces

Related gallery: materiality – ink, paper, process

Dawn Csutoros chooses the ‘darker side’ of reality in the universe for explorations of her recent work. In this darkness lies all color possibility, value shifts and deep color coded mysteries that belie a place not easily deciphered within or without our own humanity. Finding inner light, which from a scientific perspective is mostly embedded in a physical universe, a spectrum of colors, that begins with a “Black Hole” or possibly a “White Hole”, or to put it simply, the ‘Ying and The Yang’. This prolific artist says “My long term interest in Daoist philosophy and its main underlying tenet of the harmony of opposites is the underpinning foundation of my artmaking”. Then there is ‘black blue’, and blue and blue-black, from which infinite intervals, transitions may prismatic-ally turn into purples and reds and yellows and finally; intense light that we cannot live without. Color transitionally returns to ‘white’ or to ‘black’ again as “opposites”. (Johannes Ittens)
The two color opposites noted and the intervals in the infinite color spectrum utilized by Csutoros can be described by traditionalists as opposite-colors, and in this respect, she subtly takes full advantage of an unbroken color spectrum, a circle creating highly complex, superb compositions, a -fluid mark-making, conceptual expression characterized by her tapping into the energy of the Ying and Yang. Like the fluidity of water, this color perspective may take on any form easily, and adapt to any formal issues it encounters such as her Blacks and Whites – Poetics of Entanglement, which she manifests with sweet and sophisticated tactile surfaces.
These works are executed with utter dexterity and passion. Her in-depth ‘selfhood’ as a woman no doubt plays a strong role in her unique spectrum and vision, culminating in a realization that, when all the complex colors are prismatic-ally mixed together, the result is unquestionably a return to “black” content that cannot go deeper than that space.

Dawn Csutoros has moved largely away from local colors, deep reds and yellows, or pure pinks or the ‘into-position’ of language and meddling with art of description for the convenience of culture: to embrace deeper, difficult and blue-er, ‘cooler’ perspectives. A deeper and darker side, the simultaneity of the concealed and the unconcealed coexisting. Her newly found ‘black-light’ has beautifully expressed her rich encounters with the mysterious nature of the universe, never before experienced by her with such tactility, visual wealth and artistic confrontation. The results are large bold canvases with profuse coal dust and fragmented gold particles, intermingling in built-up surfaces reminiscent of Richter’s intensity of expression and Kiefer’s unabated passion for brutally beautiful surfaces. She struggles to reach another plateau in this recent body of work while plumbing new experimental, conceptual and existential territories; extending her media with film and photography to embrace broader wealth and a more readable, complex phenomenology within her practice. She uses primeval and inventive sounds that are fundamental for the stimulation and healing of the human soul, inspired by Gregorian chants, musical scores and meditative humming sounds, she works with her own precious voice. Here Dawn is forced to tread more softly through her intuition, humility of faith and the quiet fibers of her being, through her primal senses, and every metaphysical makeup of her body. Mere sight does not suffice. Her choice of materials, with their formal, compositional underpinnings are beautiful as they exude visual power. Her timely and occasional dispassionate ink applications on mulberry paper, allow a dynamic surface quality to emerge in her work, with an unprecedented play of sensuality over previously, and more constructivist work, which did not uphold the same sensuous and tactile dimensions that her current work enjoys. A new traction characterizes the recent pieces which underscores her enormous, painful and yet delightful, search for a more enlightened path, which deeply testifies to a personal narrative: her natural struggles encountered throughout her journey on the Silk Road, only this time with this new traction she manifests the potential of deep redemption.

Current technology on one level encourages and conveniently contains us, often times erasing any retention of meaningful memory. Artists are also often required to survive in an international or local art market where they have to negotiate a space amongst the phonies and the follies of art-mongering, and where such a space for contemporary healing art may be systemically discouraged. Finding a genuine space or selfhood, culturally and internationally for those courting inner peace and spiritual transformation, is an uphill battle for many of the contemporary artists who strive for healing. In this battle for a meditative space, rather than a narcissistic one and or a hedonistic one, is planted indelibly in the mind and the soul. The stringent secularization and material culture of the West is overwhelming. The wrenching, struggles and loss Csutoros feels are evident in her formal expression and in the shameless beauty which she pours into her recent work. These new images resound, pulsate and throb like organic matter grounded, planted on the soil or skin of her papers, so unlike her earlier approach to hard edge color field abstractions. These new pieces are grafted onto each surface as powdered pigmented dust metabolizing human energy, for consumption, a necessary medicine which screams profusely, with healing and soothing non-stop chants. They are like trillions of tiny microbes traveling and accumulating from both ends of the universe, which calmly reclaim their own sounds of silence through ongoing and intense meditation and mediation for the spirit.

Through a fervent monastic life and capital indulgence, a yearning for the sacred and spiritual, Csutoros builds an artistic and creative life that is drawn from “ancient cultures around the world”. She garners an intellectual dimension from her interest in Chinese history and Daoism. Her mythological awareness spans the geographies of both East and West. It’s as if she collects the ‘gold dust’ and star dust particles of ancient or past lives and there-in, one by one, reclaims the wholeness of ancestral healing. She taps into regeneration and rebirth, and the enduring ghosts of the Silk Road’s past, which parallels for a measure of the survival of the heart of Chinese culture. Csutoros fills personal gaps of empty spaces pictorially “with real and tactile event” Robert Irwin’-1977. How can such pictorial spaces be void of anything but a dynamic narrative of play in her studio with her materials, with her love and endurance for her craft? The stamps of Shamans she has lived with around the world are evident, and leave their deep signatures infused in the blood of her work. Her actions throughout many years of making art witness a personal life of sacrifice as an artist.

Herein the black pieces are sometimes opaque, yet translucent and tactile with life force, thick with layers of rituals, dances which reach out to higher and eternal life forces, dances which commune with the infinite. Her larger composition and even the small pieces feel monumental; where she creates“ the infinite in minuteness” Gaston Bachelard’s, The Poetics of Space. Even in a closer examination of her black pieces, one feels the need to touch and smell them and even press one’s ear to listen to the harmonic sounds trapped in them. The dusty material surfaces equate with the soul and spirit of each piece, a mimetic call. The blue ovoid shapes become pregnant containers for these life forces and thus plunge our consciousness into a deeper place, indeed into a depth of ocean and sky spaces, constantly reminding us of the infinite cathedral, domes of the universe that extend to extraordinary physical and spiritual places without boundaries. Her blue pieces make us want to plunge into her ocean of creativity and transcend to places she herself has embodied or in which she has soared. Csutoros has simulated the four seasons with fire and water. Her choice expression is primeval, (coal with elemental dust, and the precious effects of gold leaf). She has survived the black of night and she teaches us how to become one with it, letting down all fears. From this triumph she spreads the precious glitter that is the forceful and the real in her aesthetics.

Professor Bryan McFarlane 2016
Tenured Professor, The University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth USA.
He lives and works in his studios in Boston / Beijing and Jamaica.