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The Musical Mandalas of Guadalupe Luceño

Foreword to the catalogue of the exhibition Everything started in Damascus, EssenHyp, Essen (Germany), 2005.

For as long as it has existed, painting has revolved around two poles. One is the desire to reproduce phenomic reality in such a way that observers may imagine themselves to be looking at the thing represented. The other is a human propensity to play with elementary geometric figures. The first pole is where we could situate the paintings from Altamira bisons and Las Meninas, while the Syrian-Phoenician art of the 10th century A.D. would be situated around the second, along with the Roman geometric-patterned mosaics and the intricate Arab traceries which to a large degree took up the Roman mosaic tradition, as can be seen in the Syrian art of the Omeya era. Between these two poles, there are some intermediate cases, such as the Levantine cave paintings and some archaic Greek ceramic paintings, where the artists reproduced scenes from everyday life in a schematic, stylised manner.

It is well know that the Muslim world preferred the an-iconism stemming from the Hebrew tradition, while the European Western world tended towards human-figure and landscape painting, relegating geometric intricacies to an ancillary position as ornamental art. It was not until the second decade of last century that this situation was challenged. The Suprematists and the Neoplasticists began to explore what Kant called pulchritudo vaga, ie, ‘free beauty’, the free interplay of visual sensations. More than a renewed view of reality, these artists held up the aesthetic ideal of an art that did not reproduce reality, but was a reality in itself, a reality in which structural fundaments were made evident with crystalline clarity.

After the second world war, this artistic current came back with force, flourishing above all in areas of German culture, as can be seen in the work of Max Bill. This may have been due to the an-iconic tradition of the Protestant religious culture or a special interest that the German spirit feels about the forging of art and technology, aesthetics and science. Shortly afterwards, during the fifties and sixties, various creative artists who were moving along this direction began to make their name in Spain, such as Oteiza, Equipo 57, Palazuelo, Sempere, Elena Asíns, Julio Plaza, Lugán, Julián Gil, Tomás García and José María Iturralde. Some of these, by the end of the 60’s and towards the beginning of the 70’s, entered into a ground-breaking debate between their art and science and new technologies within the framework of the Madrid Complutense University’s Calculation Centre.

Guadalupe Luceño’s mandalas can be found flowing in the wake of this movement. Although perhaps it would be more exact to say that they are to be found on the crossroads where the contemporary joins the ancient, the sacred joins the structural, the intimate joins the impersonal. For one of the peculiar features of Guadalupe Luceño’s art is that, for her, composing mandalas forms part of a spiritual process, a spiritual inspiration. To put it in her own words, mandalas are “the vehicle that I have chosen —or that chose me— to move down the path towards personal growth and the search for the ultimate truth, or at least my truth, that can only be part and parcel of that truth.”

The structures that the artist displays in her compositions, with their powerful central symmetry and a layout that often develops around a primordial cross from which all else irradiates, could be considered universal structures such as one might discern in a flower, a tree, crystals, atoms or astronomical revolutions. However, they are really structures of the psyche. Figures of totality and integration, the painter knows that the psyche can only grow and mature in a coordinated, harmonious fashion.

Intuitively, almost by revelation or through a certain inner understanding, Guadalupe Luceño has managed to alight upon the apex of an art that borders on secret. Impregnated with Sapential yearnings for transcendence, for this Spanish artist, the Indo-Tibetan mandalas and those preceding them, the second-century and later Gnostic and Manichean diagrams that I managed to reconstruct in El círculo de la Sabiduría (Siruela), are the ideal interlocutors in a process that uses intuition to uncover the essential forms of psycho-physical-mathematical composition. Hers is a composition stemming from an in-extensive point to reach out in all directions and dimensions of a space that is contemplated in its correlation with spirit.

A significant reference to Sophia Prouniko comes out on one occasion in Guadalupe Luceño’s painting. She was a central figure of Gnosticism, the aeonic mother of the ‘Pneumatics’ and, in the final instance, responsible for the creation of the universe, through the action of her ‘psychic’ son, the god Yaldabaoth. The Gnostics considered Sophia to be the celestial Jerusalem of the Apocalypse, whose mandalic structure they held in reverence. On this occasion, the reference to Syria, in an outstandingly different mandala, transports us to the country and a geographical and cultural situation in which, some two thousand years ago, the Mytraic and Gnostic diagrams arose which finally flowed into the Indo-Tibetan mandalas of Tantric Buddhism after being revalidated and filtered through Manichaeistic dualism. But Guadalupe Luceño’s art is not erudite art, at least not an irritatingly erudite art. If it has something in abundance, it is spontaneity. And that spontaneity is accompanied by both discipline and a playful spirit that transforms ornament into meditation and meditation into ornament.

With a language of pure colours and forms, Guadalupe Luceño’s mandalas lead us into a world that is in constant rhythmic expansion from an in-extensive, in-effable, in-figurable centre. This is a world originating from vectors of colour that mingle in space like the infinite, vibrant paths of life itself. It is a world in which structuring and integrating guidelines predominate, based on the circle (the Heavens), the square (the Earth) and, occasionally, the triangle. Again and again, the field of vision is struck by numerical-spatial values that play such a prominent part in the Gnostic diagrams and the Tantric mandalas, such as the Tetrade, which becomes the Pentade as the four vertices of the square meet in its centre, and their mysterious derivations, such as the Ogdoad, the Sixteen and the Thirty-two.

Often, when finding titles for her oils, Guadalupe looks at the compositions of great musicians (Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Mahler). This explains why her painting is sometimes music on the eye, a harmonious interplay of visual sensations in which the pictorial plane serves as the musical score. The reference to music goes deep into the heart of Guadalupe Luceño’s work, since music is something more than the mere modulation of sounds. Giordano Bruno, who apart from being a philosopher also wrote one of the main treatises of the art of memory, compared his mnemonic diagrams —we could call them his mandalas— with music. In Chapter 20 of section II in Part I of On the Composition of Images, Signs and Ideas, he wrote:

“There are three classes of music: the first is in the mind of God, the second in the order and movement of things of this world, the third is in those forms that steep the soul by virtue of the harmony that it enjoyed before it was imprisoned inside the body. Whereas light-weight, vulgar musicians base everything on the sounds of the voices and instruments, the more serious musicians, with sounder judgement and more profound reasoning, often feel inspired by a certain divine breath and draw into their soul the nourishment of celestial ambrosia. For these latter musicians, harmony is preferentially communicated through the eyes; for the light-weights, through the ears. Elsewhere I have dealt with the admirable similarity between true poets —those who are like musicians as the species to which both refer is identical— true painters and true philosophers. True philosophy is both music or poetry and painting; true painting is both music and philosophy; true poetry —or music— is both painting and a certain divine wisdom.”

Guadalupe Luceño forms part of this class of musicians that Bruno referred to. For them, harmony arrives through a vision that tries to dig to the musical depths of things. For the soul, as Plato declared, is either music or has an affinity with music.

© Ignacio Gómez de Liaño
(Reproduced with permission of the author)
(English translation: Victoria Hughes)