Over one hundred years ago in 1910, a small group of painters in Russia—a country about to spin out of control and alter the entire geopolitical map for the rest of the century—took a step into the unknown of abstraction that left the art world and art itself unrecognizable by all earlier standards. Torn fiercely from its roots in subjective narrative and theoretically from objective or material reality, art would never be the same again. Embracing the revolutionary new world of technology and its social and spiritual possibilities, the Russian avant-garde smashed the atoms of conventional realism into primitive and primary forms of a new painterly realism that looked simultaneously into the past and into the future while denying that their newly created present resembled or was related to either. Now one hundred years later there is a “new avant-garde” in the person of the American-born artist, Adi Da Samraj, whose work not only offers a radically new vision of human potential but also, and more importantly, reveals an integrity of purpose and an aesthetic, the efficacy of which poses a promising new model of dynamic ontological significance for all of earthkind.
In the last years of his life, Adi Da Samraj reviewed the work of Kazimir Malevich, the enigmatic Russian painter and aesthetic theorist. Malevich was one of the most significant and influential avant-garde artists of the twentieth century. His work defines the contours of a radical experimental disposition that has been emulated to one degree or another by practically all subsequent generations of avant-garde painters. Adi Da’s interest in Malevich as well as in other major artists of that period arose partly from a desire to clarify and articulate in his own writing and artistic creation the relationship between his creative process as the “new avant-garde” and that of the project of modernism as part of the development of twentieth century art as a whole. A comparison of the aesthetic intentions of the two artists informs the context and elucidates the intentions of their work in ways that may shed light on the individual claims and contributions that both artists have made for their work.
A brief juxtaposition of a single work by each artist, Malevich’s Black Square (1915) and Adi Da Samraj’s Midnight Sun (2001), begins this exploration and will serve as a pretext for further discussion. Both the Black Square and the Midnight Sun are, in effect, manifestos in the form of art that signal dramatic breakthroughs in the history of art and human culture. The pieces can be considered emblematic of central elements in the oeuvre of each artist and an examination of the formal choices in the creation of these works can tell us much about the artists’ worldviews and aesthetics.
Malevich worked in the medium of canvas and paint while, in the last phase of his work, Adi Da Samraj created his art largely utilizing digital technology. Given Malevich’s enthusiasm for the technological advances in his day, it is safe to say that had the same advanced digital technologies available at the end of the 20th century been available at the beginning of it, Malevich, too, might have created his suprematist images digitally. To make present pure essence through the use of squares, circles, rectangles, and triangles was the fundamental principle of Malevich’s Suprematism and of Adi Da Samraj’s Transcendental Realism. Through the use of primary geometric forms rather than conventional representations, each artist wanted to privilege the essence of the aesthetic experience in their work and to restore that essence to primacy in the experience of art beyond the familiar visual world of people, places, and things. The use of primary geometric forms enabled them to minimize what is inessential to that experience. Both artists believed that the purpose of art was to reveal a higher non-material reality and, in that sense, they considered themselves “realists” of the highest order. Suprematism is Malevich’s “new painterly realism” and Transcendental Realism is Adi Da Samraj’s “non-painterly … art of ego-less coincidence with Reality Itself.”
Both pieces are constructed out of two primary forms. The Black Square is a black square imposed on a larger white square. The Midnight Sun is a black square with a white circle in the center. Malevich’s Black Square has been called a faceless icon, but Malevich sees his square as more of a window on the cosmos. He uses black to express the “zero point of forms”, to which he has taken himself and his art to make the first step in creating a new art of broader cosmic possibilities. The artist notes: “I have transformed myself in the zero of form and through zero have reached creation, that is, suprematism, the new painterly realism-nonobjective creation”. Black suggests the mysteriousness of that process: its meaning and destiny remain ambiguous at best and unknown at worst. The black square is a doorway that beckons; it does not permit entry but only anxious conjecture. There is another side—the other side—that remains inaccessible. The black square established an economy of style critical to his work and that laconic style itself objectifies the paucity of what is known about the finality of such a creative process. It is more a revelation of form rather than meaning. As Malevich suggests in his theoretical writing, the white square, on which the black square is imposed, can be seen as the crucible of pure action out of which arises human creative energy. For Malevich the Black Square does not refract the material world, but, rather, it is a prism through which he projected his hope for the creative possibilities of art in human history.
Adi Da Samraj’s use of a black square naturally piques the viewer’s curiosity and invites comparison with Malevich’s use of it. Immediately the rearrangement of the black square strikes the viewer. It can be seen as the background in Adi Da’s piece rather than as the foreground as in Malevich’s. The white circle appears, at first, to be imposed on it. The white circle can also be seen as a hole in the black that represents the universe as “unprismed” light. The white, then, becomes a hole that penetrates and interposes itself in the material universe. There is no color in the circle because its white radiance outshines color; color is no match for the bright whiteness. This suggests that there is a brilliance, a whiteness prior to color, and that color is only a figment or an illusion of the human mind. The Midnight Sun is also, the artist allows, a two-dimensional rendering of a white sphere in a black cube. The square appears to be black only from the perspective of the white sphere; the black square or the universe does not know that it is black until the impulse to the perfection of conditional existence relents. Nevertheless, the white sphere or circle is a part and at the center of the cosmos so that the square is not exclusively black, but white shines in and through it to potentially illuminate the cosmos and dispel the ambiguity and duality of light and dark. Here the work of Malevich and Adi Da Samraj converge in their power to stop the mind and to draw the viewer into a depth of contemplation either to only linger in confusion or to go beyond the familiar.
Both Malevich and Adi Da Samraj share a dedicated radical purposefulness in their work. Both are concerned explicitly with the radicalization of art by removing conventionality to a zero-point in painting and, ultimately, within their own lives. On closer study, it seems that Adi Da radicalizes and realizes further in his work even the most progressive and challenging of Malevich’s intentions. Malevich continued the Russian tradition of creating an art that would transform or transfigure the world into what Dostoevsky called “a paradise on earth”. He intended to alter the ontological nature of painting itself from a narrative base of a storied relationship between the world and the canvas to a bourgeois exclusivity claimed by the avant-garde for the meaning of the canvas surface alone. Paradoxically, he worked at cross purposes to himself by cutting his work off from the life-creating power of the relationship of the canvas to life itself while insisting on its creative potential in life.
Adi Da Samraj valued Malevich’s pioneering work and created his own work in the spirit of Malevich’s innovations. He attempted to restore to art the very relationship and participatoriness that Malevich denied both himself and his work. In his radically non-dual art, Adi Da invites his viewer to drop the blinders of material perception in order to taste an aesthetic ecstasy not dependent on an egoic point of view but liberated from it. In the second edition of Transcendental Realism: The Art of Egoless Coincidence with Reality Itself, Adi Da Samraj gives the raison-d’etre of his work and defines his aesthetic process. In the process, he acknowledges the significance of the early twentieth century modernist project to his work and he places his own art in direct relationship to that of the avant-garde artists of the 1910s. In particular, he stresses his strong impulse to continue and further develop the “liberating instant” of “modernism” lest it be swallowed up in the miasma of post-modernism.
In their assessments of the art of Adi Da Samraj, a number of scholars have remarked on various modernist aspects of his work. In his catalogue introduction to the Spectra Suites of Adi Da Samraj, Donald Kuspit grounds and contextualizes the artist’s work by frequently underscoring its modernist affinities. Kuspit characterizes the artist’s use of color and non-objective geometric forms as deeply confounding and spiritually transformative. Kuspit also notes the implications of this geometric art for understanding perception itself, seeing in it a continuation of the early avant-garde’s attempts to capture the real reality beyond any particular point of view. In a study of the aperspectival experiment in the work of Adi Da Samraj, Gary Coates emphasizes the artist’s intention to bring to fruition the fundamentally sacred re-orientation of art initiated by the early avant-garde of the last century, i.e. to liberate humankind from its illusory self-definition as conditional form located in time and space as point of view. Achille Bonito Oliva, the curator of the collateral exhibition of Adi Da Samraj’s art at the Biennale di Venezia in 2007, focuses on the artist’s use of a modernist balance of symmetries and asymetries to create the “unexpected” or the apocalyptic in order to confound and shock the being. In this way, Bonito Oliva concludes, the images of Adi Da Samraj restore viewers, wearied by the insensitivity and rationality of a callous technocratic world, to the open disposition of reception and participation in a reality beyond the imagination. Peter Frank, in noting Adi Da Samraj’s respect for and appreciation of the work of the early avant-garde, calls attention to the artist’s own particular way of challenging conventional perceptions of reality and the very structure of perception and reality itself as the bete-noir of human existence and of the process of the realization of happiness.
While we obviously have the unmediated works of art themselves as the primary source of experiencing avant-garde art, it is equally important and useful, as well as sometimes indispensable, to have the manifesto of an artist’s aesthetic and theoretical structures because it can lead to a deeper understanding of both the art and the artist, and, potentially, to a deeper participation in the art. This is particularly true with the work of both Malevich and Adi Da Samraj. However, after reading Martin Puchner’s engaging article about the paradoxical nature of manifestos, it seems that the manifesto in painting, as a form of theatre, is as much preoccupied with the dramatic declaration of the artist’s intended aesthetic as it is with the final form of a work’s creation. The manifesto’s statement of artistic intentionality precedes the work itself with great flourish and its impact can sometimes mysteriously outstrip that of the created work itself. It is often a fiery impulse of creativity before a creation comes out of the fire and often we are left only with the artist’s intentionality expressed in the manifesto as the sole means of making sense of works that might otherwise remain incomprehensible. This is clearly the case with both Malevich and Adi Da Samraj.
Since both Malevich and Adi Da Samraj wrote at length to proclaim and clarify the nature of their work, a closer examination of their manifestos makes it possible to gauge where Malevich and the avant-garde of the 1910s left humankind when the great Russian experiment was over in 1932 and where Adi Da Samraj was prepared to take it at the beginning of the twenty-first century. In particular, by gauging the distance between Malevich’s intentionality as seen in his Black Square and that of Adi Da Samraj as may be seen in his Midnight Sun, it is possible to see how Adi Da Samraj’s art may offer the participatory viewer the possibility of a radical transcendence of point of view rather than a mere reorientation of it.
By the end of the last century it was clear to some observers that subsequent generations of the avant-garde had lost their connection with the work of the early avant-garde begun in the mid-1910s. For example, Harold Rosenberg writes that “the advanced art of 1914 was far advanced indeed. Art history holds that, looking forward from 1914, the following art movements were still to come: Dada, Surrealism, Social Realism, Abstract Expressionism. None of these modes, however, made any startling contribution to the formal repertory of 1914, in which Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism and Expressionism were already in full bloom.” Still coping with the doubt inherited from the end of the 19th century and after two calamitous world wars and the thermonuclear conflagrations of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the relationship of art to itself radically changed as humankind lost its cultural bearings. Rosenberg continues: “The subsequent breach of continuity occurs not in the manner of the art, but in the attitude of art to itself.” The process and aims of art were progressively co-opted by the social, political and economic spheres. Regeneration of art for aesthetic purposes, including the uncomplicated and equanimous resting and “gladdening” of the human heart, waned in an environment of commerce and competitive ideologies.
Malevich and Adi Da Samraj are in agreement that the purpose a work of art is the “gladdening” of humankind and each in his manifesto clarifies what that means. For Malevich, the supremacy of perceptual feeling in art was the key to “the rediscovery of pure art” and was the basis of Suprematism (1915-1918). In his manifesto entitled, Suprematism, he declares: “By Suprematism I understand the supremacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the Suprematist the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling, as such, quite apart from the environment in which it is called forth.” For both Malevich and Adi Da Samraj the substance of art is the feeling of non-objectivity rather than the definition of reality by moribund figurative or representational images or “rags”, as Malevich puts it. Malevich’s Black Square epitomizes his suprematist aesthetic, as he writes: “This was no ’empty square’ … but rather the feeling of nonobjectivity.” It is noteworthy that Donald Kuspit remarks on the appearance of an “iconic Suprematist square” in Adi Da Samraj’s 2006 Spectra Two: A Horse Appears in the Wild Is Always Already the Case”.
Particularly in the first phase of Suprematism or the Black Square phase, for Malevich, then at his most daringly dramatic and histrionic, this “gladdening” was the result of aesthetic liberation. It was an elation of freedom from natural forms as definitions of reality and was based on his radical romantic belief, in which the Russian avant-garde was steeped, that art itself was to perform a sacred life-creating function. He created the Black Square “to free art from the ballast of objectivity” and from the slavish traditional artistic conventions of painting. The Black Square was the complete fulfillment of Malevich’s artist-I; it was the height of romantic irony. The reality that he wanted to clarify and present was the one reality of feeling that was pure and independent of “things” themselves and of human conceptualizations and representations of “objects” and the world. He professed that his suprematist works captured the feelings arising from perceptions of interrelationships between “things” and even of “thingness” itself within the natural world. He intuited the meaning of “being” as the multitude of those interrelationships. He valued the feeling or non-objective sensation of that meaning within the natural order as the essence of the aesthetic experience and, thus, as the supreme goal of art. He felt the dynamics of relationship as energy, movement, tension and even staticity. The feeling of those dynamics is what he intended his work to convey and evoke through non-objectivity and a “new painterly realism” of pure color. Within his “Black Square” all of the principles of speculative theories of art are focused in their most concentrated and maximally expressive form. In his manifesto, Suprematism, Malevich declaims:
…to the Suprematist, the appropriate means of representation is always the one which gives fullest possible expression to feeling as such and which ignores the familiar appearance of objects. Objectivity, in itself, is meaningless to him; the concepts of the conscious mind are worthless. Feeling is the determining factor … and thus art arrives at non-objective representation at Suprematism. …[N]othing can be perceived but feeling … in the world of feeling. …[F]eeling, after all, is always and everywhere the one and only source of every creation.”
Nevertheless, as he describes it, his task was “arduous and painful” and he was “gripped by … timidity bordering on fear” as he departed the false “… world of will and idea” in which “….’the thing’ and the ‘concept’ were substituted for feeling.” With the Black Square Malevich placed himself and the viewer in a “world where ‘everything we loved and by which we have lived’…becomes lost to sight.” There is nothing recognizable to hold on to that can support the self-identification of either the artist or the viewer. This journey to such a vacant world and the “event” of feeling oneself at a loss that arises at every step of the way confounds the viewer. His critics and the public saw the Black Square as a “desert”, and, thus, it might be said that the experiment offered by the Russian avant-garde to its public and its contemporaries backfired. They could not follow him where he wanted to take them. It is true that the underlying “inner necessity” of Malevich’s suprematist work was the transformation of humankind through an attempted reorientation of point of view in order to make the presence of the absolute perceptible as pure feeling. However, as in the work of Kandinsky, non-objective, geometric forms became simply another “representation” of a subjective reality conditioned by convention and tradition and grounded and intensely maintained in place by a particularized point of view. In other words, to maximize the representation of an “unrepresentable” absolute, Malevich and Kandinsky used abstraction as their chosen form of representation. In short, it seems, the reorientation attempted by Malevich left point of view securely moored within a conceptual structure of space and time defined by the conjunction of a body and mind and its relationships to every other body or mass.
The Achilles’ heel of the modernist proved to be the susceptibility of the artist-I to the ineluctable and well-worn tradition and security of point of view and the lack of faith in the absolute nature of Truth and Its ability to effect a radical transformation or the transcendence of the “self”. Adi Da Samraj pinpoints early modernism’s lack of resolution as the moment the artist engaged “irony and seeming” as an artistic default for a highly aesthetic utopian intention to reorient point of view absolutely. Malevich writes: “The world as will and representation is capricious, but the world as non-objectivity, beyond the will and representation, is not capricious.” Perhaps, and with good reason, Malevich was only seeking to be free of the capriciousness and insanity of the world around him, which was beginning to fall apart. In any case, the mask of the artist-I and its subterfuge that made it something forever elusive and forever superior to its work and its viewer betrayed the modernist project in the end. Despite all of Malevich’s intentions to reveal an absolute, his Black Square, as he himself said, would stare out at its viewers, no matter where it might be hung, to remind us of what would always remain sealed and hidden away forever in its dark flatness. It seems the only alternative for the viewer then is to stare back. The ambiguity of Malevich’s artist-I found a true enough expression in his Black Square, however, in the end, one gets the sense that the radical romantic remained a nihilist at heart. “It’s not that modernists failed at anything,” writes Adi Da Samraj; they were simply part of a cultural moment in which their work gave painful witness to a collapse larger than they themselves could see.
Adi Da Samraj began to make his art in earnest in the midst of humankind’s rising angst as the twentieth century was drawing to a close. In his manifesto, Transcendental Realism, he writes:
Ecstasy is the primary and fundamental human motive and event…. The transcending of “objectification”—whether of “self” or “world” or Reality Itself—is the primary and fundamental characteristic of right and true human purpose. Therefore, the primary and fundamental purpose of right and true art is aesthetic ecstasy—wherein and whereby the human being is served toward the primary and fundamental human purpose and event that is ecstasy itself…
If it were to serve humankind’s natural inclination to ecstasy, as Adi Da Samraj firmly believed it should, art had to be transformed by an artist whose genius and purpose would re-establish the connection to the work begun by the avant-garde of the early 1900s to accomplish the transcendence of objective reality. This fundamental orientation of the early modernists toward art and reality itself and their particular orientation to both is germane to the art of Transcendental Realism. As his own unique aesthetic trajectory underivative from modernism, Transcendental Realism was for Adi Da Samraj the vehicle of that re-connection in powerful and convincing ways.
The “inner necessity” of the art of Adi Da Samraj is “to use the ‘aesthetic experience’ of ‘significant form’ as a means of moving people, by means of their feeling-response, to go beyond ‘point of view.’” His images “are simply to be felt.” Adi Da Samraj frequently reiterates the necessity of a participatory feeling-response to his images as fundamental to the process of experiencing his work in the most fully human way possible. It is the very feeling-response of his viewers to his images that is an intimate part of the life of his images. It appears to be indispensible to their purpose; it is the theurgic moment of the “event” of which his images are the story. According to the artist, there are different stages of this feeling-response, the ultimate being the transcendence of point of view and the recognition of Reality Itself as the prior condition of “being” or as Being, Itself. At this stage of perceptual feeling-response, which Adi Da Samraj characterizes as “right, true, and truly unguarded,” the viewer, ecstatic in being awakened to the true prior condition of being, is “already in, of, and as the …very context—or surface” space of the art.” The viewer’s image-assisted subjective process becomes the very event of the art itself.
The difference between the notions of feeling in Malevich’s work and in that of Adi Da Samraj is in the very nature of the process of viewing the art, in the “event” that occurs. Malevich intends his viewers as subjects to perceive and feel the relationships, in whatever form of intense abstracted energy they might appear, between separate objects in the natural world represented as geometric forms. Through his images, Adi Da Samraj draws his viewers to perceive and feel beyond the objective categories of separation inherent in the psycho-physical moorings of human existence and in a point of view that always sees, relates to and comprehends every “one” as “other” or separate. Only thus, he says, can one always be what one ultimately always is: in prior union with the ultimate Reality of everything. Although Malevich uses non-objective forms to draw his viewers into a new vision of a world not defined by or as objects, his ultimate purpose is to renew art as a tool to refurbish and rejuvenate human culture and to establish himself as the “President of space” more than it is to bring about an ultimate spiritual transformation of humankind. While both are significant in his work, the emphasis of Malevich’s aesthetic seems to be more on the ontology of non-objectivity in art than on the ontology of humankind in the cosmos. Adi Da Samraj sought to re-establish the connection with the early modernists to complete a task that he considered unwittingly but well begun by them. Malevich offers his viewers the feeling of the nearness of an aesthetically intuited utopian ultimacy whereas Adi Da Samraj proposes perceptual feeling-response and direct participation in Ultimacy as it is beyond any point of view.
In Transcendental Realism Adi Da Samraj writes that his images are the “object”-transcending process for the viewer to enter into, and … a means for the viewer to tacitly …participate in the Intrinsically egoless State of Reality Itself.” Malevich’s viewers can feel themselves abandoned in a “desert” with no reference points as they gaze into his “Black Square” staring into the void of non-objectivized space and time and poised on the precipice of either non-being or realization of some “other” but not necessarily true reality. The aesthetic of Adi Da Samraj’s art, as he says, “is rooted in how Reality Itself Is” and it “…always undermines the ‘position’ of the ego or the will of the ego to feel that it is ‘located’ in a world of its own construction,” comfortable in its own illusory sense of relationships within that world. This aesthetic has deeper implications for the viewer responding to and participating in Adi Da’s art with a depth of feeling. Whether there is “a sense of recognizability” or unrecognizability or both simultaneously, the viewer, fully participating in feeling-response to the art, can be confounded and disoriented momentarily or “entirely beyond ‘point of view,’” existing for a moment beyond the illusory locus of the ego-self and the tenuous stability of the relational nature of its world. Adi Da Samraj writes that this
…is, fundamentally, a tacit (or non-conceptual) process, which happens (experientially) in the aesthetic deep-domain (of bodily energies, emotional feeling awareness, and brain-and-nervous-system structures of responsive apprehension), and which (thus and thereby) happens … in the Primal Consciousness-Domain of Intrinsically Wordless Reality Itself.
In Transcendental Realism Adi Da Samraj repeatedly defines as “tacit” not only the participation in the process of feeling-response to his art and the moment or “event” of transcending point of view, but also the measure of the extent to which that process occurs. There is no content to such an “event”, no conceptual substance; it is a perceptual “nowness” not disjointed by the lag between what one sees and what one experiences. Adi Da Samraj writes that “when that perceptually articulated participatory process is effectively engaged, the … non-recognizability and indivisibility that are the characteristics of the image become extended and transmitted—such that they tacitly become the characteristics of the actual experiential … “point-of-view”-less…state of the viewer.” The confounding moment of unrecognizability in the process, he continues, “serves…the feelingly-participating viewer in an ecstatic and tacit understanding of Reality Itself, through the viewing of art without reference to “point of view”. Adi Da Samraj constructs his images to assist the process—“which is … a tacit … process of “knowing” and being … “known” by the image-form … present[ed] to the participatory viewer…” The artist’s use of the word “tacit” presumes the non-necessity of action and verbal articulation or of any form of conceptual manipulation of a perceived “experience”. Besides silence, the term connotes stillness, no movement or acting upon or being acted upon—no self in any case. In any given moment, it is simply to be in the state that is.
Adi Da Samraj has high expectations of his viewers and of those who study his work within conventional structures of art and art history. The direction that he gives for such study is that it be “well-considered” since visual art generally does and should resist verbal consideration as the only form of participation in it. In Transcendental Realism he gives the criteria for measuring the success of a true work of art, including his own work as an example of authentic and true art. At the heart of these standards of evaluation is the degree to which the human “event” of self-understanding is accurately captured and rendered as universal. That “event” is related to the more encompassing “event” of perceptual feeling participation in and “tacit” recognition of Reality Itself, which, as he defines it, is the functioning aesthetic in any ultimately true work of art. Measuring the degree to which a work of art authentically, rightly and truly stages this “event” is a tacit process that is as “tacit” as the “event” of Reality Itself. Adi Da Samraj concludes that the “event” itself is, finally, “…Inherently Immeasurable.” One would have to measure Reality Itself, the “Perfect Abstraction,” to determine the degree to which it is successfully staged in a work of art.
The argument of whether Adi Da Samraj achieves his artistic intentions as compared with other artists cannot be made collectively or generally based on empirical evidence marshalled with the typical academic rigor required for the study and conventional evaluation of art. Nor can a viewer be “convinced” by another’s argument. The argument can be made only individually in each one’s own case within the event of each individual’s experience of participation in the work and out of deeper experiences that result from that participation in the aesthetic process initiated by the artist and his work in each participant. In other words, one should not look to the knowledge explicitly acquired and presented as art history or art criticism that may be articulated collectively for all by one who knows and mediates between the viewer and art. Rather, one should be left with merely the tacit “knowledge” that arises from the unmediated process of full participation in the art.
Adi Da Samraj invites viewers to enjoy his works on many levels. The level of participation feeling-response as transcendence of point of view and the tacit understanding of Reality Itself, however, is, as the artist indicates, the most significant level on which his art is intended to serve humanity. “At the same time,” writes the artist, “the art I make and do can also be enjoyed simply in terms of its aesthetic characteristics. The formal characteristics, the structures, the colors, the relationship of forms to one another, and so forth, can be enjoyed in their own right—without involving oneself in consideration of the fundamental context and dilemma of existence.” Any viewer may participate in his art in any possible way since all possible ways of participation might lead ultimately to a deeper, more serious participation.
Although he encourages any aesthetic experience of his work, given his intention and purpose, Adi Da Samraj clearly establishes a hierarchy of participation. While the artist does not presume the necessity of any “sophisticated philosophical understanding” on the part of those viewing his work, he, nonetheless, reminds them that “…the visual process of right and true art is not merely a matter of “staring into space”—or, like a zombie, staring at the wallpaper, with a vaporous glee behind the eyes. [It] is not a demented kind of non-thinking. Rather, [it] is a different mode of intelligently apprehending Reality than the verbal process.” Indeed, the verbal process, even in serious discussions of art, if used as the primary means for accessing Adi Da Samraj’s art, or any art for that matter, can distance one from the deeper processes that may be available.
While Adi Da Samraj calls for a serious discipline in order to fully experience his art, he expects no less of himself as an artist or of any other artist than he does of those who come to participate in his art since the event of self-transcendence and participation in Reality Itself, the artist tells us, is the same event for both artist and viewer. He describes the process of his own participatory feeling response within the context of creating his images. He writes: “My art of image is, in the active doing, always … conformed to the Intrinsically Self-Evident event of Intrinsically egoless participatory Coincidence … with the Intrinsically Self-Evident State … of Reality Itself…. My art of image is–Thus, and As Such–always … purposed to serve and assist the Great Event of Reality-Coincidence in one and all who would perceive As Is.” By the creation of his images and through their availability to any one Adi Da Samraj seems to have set in motion a continuing artistic, visual narrative of the rare story of the very process in which he invites those approaching his work to take part. Aesthetically experienced, it appears to narrate his own process of discovering the very essence of art and life itself—ecstasy—through the rigorous disciplines of self-enquiry and self-transcendence in every aspect of his life and a fierce desire to draw everyone into that same process through an ego-less practice of apprehending Beauty in visual form and color. If art is thus made “free of all the irony of “difference,” the artist writes, “then the art that is made and done will authenticate and prove itself—by its intrinsic and great and ecstasy-transmitting power to awaken and change all who receive it.” The images of Adi Da Samraj can be seen, then, not as pictures but as this event itself—a visual narrative of the discovery of and a potentially perpetual practice of ecstasy. His art becomes simultaneously and mysteriously an enduring record of what one could call a yogic process in which ecstatic feeling participation in the confrontation with and the transcendence of point of view occur.
One can glimpse what Adi Da Samraj means by all of this when further considering the image of his Midnight Sun. By the artist’s design, screenings of his digital art always begin and end with the image of the Midnight Sun. Given the importance the artist himself attaches to the image, it might be considered the alpha and the omega and, perhaps, even the root of all his images. In The Aletheon he writes: “The Eternal Midnight Sun… is a visual Image of the Structure of Reality Itself and Truth Itself. . . . You must understand the profundity of This Image.” This may be the only one of his images, the profundity of which the artist tells us we must understand.
Malevich’s Black Square and Adi Da Samraj’s Midnight Sun stand as artistic “events” representing the quintessential aesthetic moment at the heart of the compendium of their artistic choices. In its original exhibition in 1915 Malevich hung the Black Square in the corner of a room as the family icon traditionally was for veneration in Russia. His positioning of the painting in this way led people to speculate that it was in some way to be viewed as an icon. Malevich himself eschewed all attempts to define his image as such. His Black Square, he declared, depicts “nothing and nobody”, whereas in the Orthodox tradition, the icon always represents the divine presence in the visible world. However, subsequent generations of artists and critics have shrouded the Black Square in mystical language to apotheosize it and its creator. The result is that the image has become “iconic” reflecting an impotence and redundancy in its detachment from the forces of life. In the face of an onslaught of the worst of times in Russia, Malevich intuited a world based on an aesthetic utopianism by which non-objective geometric forms themselves would become the means for the artist to escape the psychological and emotional threats of modernity and at the same time to embrace and aspire to implement its marvels. Among the many interpretations of his Black Square is that it resonates with echoes of Nietzsche’s pronouncements on the death of God and of the hopelessness and emptiness pursuant to it, of the frightening discoveries of Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis and of the nightmarish subconscious, and of Marx’s crippling excoriation of capitalism and the subsequent potential of man’s inhumanity to man. It is, as Malevich would say, ironically, all of that and none of that; it is merely a portal to a higher reality. On the other hand, by Adi Da’s intention and his very composition of the piece itself, the Midnight Sun is, particularly in any traditional sense, what may be called an icon because of the unambiguous theurgic nature of his art to accomplish a radical human transformation. The Midnight Sun of Adi Da Samraj stands in stark contrast to Malevich’s abstraction and reduction of the cosmos to an aestheticized void of utopian intuition in the form of a black square on a white background. The Midnight Sun is a white circle of “infinite brightness” in an infinite black field of “not yet prismed, or broken light”. The artist describes it as “a visual representation of the Divine …“Brightness” shining in the midst of the cosmic domain—a hole in the universe”. At a time when once again on all sides we face potential disasters of our own making, Adi Da puts his art at the disposal of humankind where, at the heart of the maelstrom, it is intended to radiate as a life-creating force of the “Bright”, as he calls it. Without equivocation he intends to initiate a new human culture of ecstasy through the creation of a stunning body of art that attracts human beings to participate in something beyond themselves.
For Adi Da Samraj the nature of art and of the aesthetic experience is sacred but in a much different sense than it was for Malevich and the symbolist tradition out of which the Russian avant-garde arose. By describing Adi Da Samraj’s art as “soteriological,” Kuspit places it within the modernist context. Malevich’s art is messianic in the same way as Russia herself was and remains, preoccupied with her role in history as the culture that contains the seed of essential salvation for all other nations. Malevich wanted to save art through his own dominating aesthetic ideology. Some argue that his ideological intensity, as well as that of other avant-garde artists, prefigured the totalitarian spirit of Socialist Realism. Nonetheless, it remains true that freeing the canvas from its bondage to objective reality so that art could serve higher functions of human existence was his contribution to that potential change in the role of culture. In recognition of the avant-garde’s contribution to his own greater purposes Adi Da writes: “… [art] is sacred because it is offered as a means of serving the Awakening to That Which Is Great, or Reality Itself.”
In its early development some proponents of modernism expressed the dialectic of evolution in art in ways that were dramatic and intended to shock the public. There were great theatrics on the streets of Petrograd to make the grand gesture of a slap in the face of public taste. At the top of their voices, artists publicly declaimed their innovations in manifestos that challenged and insulted their contemporaries. Mayakovsky and Burliuk were thrilled at the idea of a brawl. Malevich was one of the ringleaders and was always up for a scandal. Central to their flair for the dramatic was their keen understanding of the dynamics of the dialectic and how they should be played out, particularly in art. It was not the staid and civilized meeting of the minds of thesis and antithesis to arrive at a synthesis. Such behavior symbolized for them exactly what was wrong with art in the first place. The world around them was on the move and throbbing with the life of technology and revolution. They re-energized the very notion of the dialectic and added to it modern characteristics of their own. It meant collision and competition; division and chaos; calamity, convolution and, eventually revolution. To arrive at the new, the old order had to be destroyed. The innovations they introduced were not for the many, but for the few, and the artists, who did not emigrate from Russia, ended up isolated in their own time and cut off from future generations. The presuppositions of the dialectic are division, competition, isolation and a problem that must be resolved. It is an endless search for the truth. The imposing logic of the dialectic is alien to the prior unity with Reality Itself that is the “subject” and “event” of Adi Da Samraj’s art. It is nothing short of remarkable and refreshing that through art there may still exist in the world an alternative to such a search.
1 Adi Da Samraj, Transcendental Realism: The Image-Art of Egoless Coincidence with Reality Itself, 2nd ed. (California, Dawn Horse Press: 2010), p 53. The artist defines his art as «the new avant-garde» in the sense that he explores and challenges technically in his work the validity of bodily perception in structuring the process of making images. He writes: « I am now working on finally resolving all issues relative to the image-making process which have to do with transcending the structuring-force of the conventional and ego-based uses of the body as a perceptual mechanism.” p 52 This transcendence of point of view awareness as the basis of perception is the essence of Transcendental Realism.
2 Inaugurated in 1915 with the debut of the Black Square by Kazimir Malevich, its chief theorist and proponent, Suprematism was one of the leading movements in Russian avant-garde painting of the 1910s. Eschewing realistic, representational form, Suprematism introduced non-objectivity or abstraction in painting through the use of a new artistic language of geometric form. His “Black Square” signaled the beginning of a new culture, as Malevich said, and of a new era in art. The work of Malevich has left its mark on practically all avant-garde movements of the 20th century and his influence can still be felt today.
3 Kazimir Malevich, “From Cubism to Suprematism: The New Painterly Realism 1915,” in Russian Art of the Avant-Garde: Theory and Criticism, John Bowlt, ed. and trans. (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988), pp 116-135.
4 Adi Da Samraj, op. cit., pp 51, 75.
5 Malevich, op. cit., p 133.
6 Adi Da Samraj, The Aletheon (California: The Dawn Horse Press, 2008), vol. 7, pp 1680-1690. The artist discusses the Midnight Sun at length.
7 Adi Da Samraj, Transcendental Realism, p 163.
8 Donald Kuspit, “Color, Aesthetic Shock, and Non-Dualism: The ‘Spectra Suites’ of Adi Da Samraj,” in Adi Da Samraj, The Spectra Suites (New York: Welcome Books, 2007), pp 6-11.
9 Gary J. Coates, The Rebirth of Sacred Art: Reflections on the Aperspectival Geometric Art of Adi Da Samraj (California: Dawn Horse Press, 2013).
10 Achille Bonito Oliva, “Transcendental Realism,” in Transcendental Realism: The Art of Adi Da Samraj (California: Da Plastique and The Dawn Horse Press, 2007), pp 6-11.
11 Peter Frank, “The Real as Transcendental” in Transcendental Realism: The Art of Adi Da Samraj (California: Da Plastique and The Dawn Horse Press, 2007), pp 12-17.
12 Martin Puchner, “Manifesto=Theatre,” in Theatre Journal, vol. 54, no. 3, October 2002, pp. 449-465
13 Harold Rosenberg, “1914,” Discovering the Present: Three Decades in Art, Culture, and Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973), pp. 89-90.
14 Rosenberg, ibid., 91.
15 Kazimir Malevich, The Non-Objective World: The Manifesto of Suprematism (New York: Dover Publications, 2003) 74. Malevich wrote that «if one insists on judging an art work on the basis of the virtuosity of the objective representation and the verisimilitude of the illusion, and thinks he sees in the objective representation itself a symbol of the inducing emotion, he will never partake of the gladdening content of a work of art.» The gladdening that he refers to is the power exerted by the inner force of the work itself that would remain even if a work were stripped of its objective representational objective appearance. It is clear that Malevich also means the resulting aesthetic pleasure or the emotional resonance in the viewer that he calls a «gladdening».
16 ibid., p 74
17 Oshchushcheniye, the Russian word used in Malevich’s original, is difficult to nuance in English and the distinction between Malevich’s use of the word and Adi Da’s is not captured by the simple English equivalent «feeling». Although he never clarified exactly what he meant by the word oshchushcheniye, from context it seems that a closer rendering in English might be the word combination «feeling-sensation». Both artists want to signify feeling that is free of the dictates of mind. However, the additional sense of Adi Da Samraj’s use of «feeling» excludes feeling as merely bodily experience that one can then focus on and possess in some way. In Malevich’s art, focus on sensation is what transports one beyond the objective realm, whereas in Adi Da’s art focus on bodily sensation and feeling is merely a distraction.
18 ibid., p 67.
19 Malevich, “From Cubism to Suprematism”, pp 124, 125.
20 Kuspit, op. cit., p 7.
21 N.V. Smolyanskaya, “Malevich: Radikal’nyi Romantizm,” in Sinniy Divan, vol. 5, issue 10, p 389. In her insightful article, Smolyanskaya traces the radical philosophical spirit of the early Russian avant-garde artists to its roots in both traditional Russian romanticism and, subsequently, Russian symbolism. This article can also be found on the site of the Russian State Humanities University at http://kogni.narod.ru/
22 In his seminal work, Art of the Modern Age: Philosophy of Art from Kant to Heidegger (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), translated by Steven Rendall, Jean-Marie Shaeffer makes a thorough study of the nature and consequences of the speculative thought underlying the radical romanticism of symbolism that resulted in the sacralization of art into “Art”.
23 Malevich, ibid., p 68.
24 Smolyanskaya, op. cit., p 393.
25 Malevich, ibid., pp 67, 74.
26 Malevich, ibid., p 68.
27 Malevich, ibid., p 68.
28 Vasily Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art and Painting in Particular (Munich: R. Piper and Co., 1912) pp 207-208. Kandinsky uses the phrase “inner necessity” (in German innere Notwendigkeit) primarily to define and locate the essential spiritual power of art that is necessarily purposed to serve the development and refinement of the human soul. It is also used to mean the artistic compulsion to spiritual expression as well as the expression itself.
29 Smolyanskaya, op. cit., p 398.
30 Adi Da Samraj, op. cit., p 75.
31 Kazimir Malevich, Sobranie sochinenii v pyati tomax (Moskva: «Gileya»: 2003) v.4, p 62.
32 ibid., t. 1, p 112.
33 Malevich’s nihilism should not be seen as the dark side of nothingness. It is, rather, a nothingness that is indescribable and unspeakable, yet palpable as the sensations of pulsating, vital cosmic energy similar to that emanating from the darkness of black holes studied in astrophysics. He wrote: “Earlier the world and its appearance did not exist in consciousness because there was no consciousness. Only the abstract existed. From this world another world was made subjectively, as in a mirror, i.e. from “nothing”. And whoever would reveal that primal world intact must visit this “nothing”, for in the “something” we have subjectively created as a world, that world does not exist.” (Malevich, Sobranie sochinenii, v.4, pp 69-70) Enthralled with the possibilities that the invention of flight introduced into human history, Malevich jettisons everything to defy or transcend the gravitational pull of tradition and convention to fly into this realm of sensation, of nothingness as the quintessence of art. His Suprematism is a journey, a foray into that experience through art without human baggage. He meticulously charted his trajectory in theoretical writing and it pained him not to understand where he was going. He grounded himself in representational art once again in the 20s and 30s.
34 Adi Da Samraj, op. cit., p 194.
35 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 147.
36 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 148.
37 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., pp 150-151.
38 Dmitri Sarabyanov, Russian Art from Neoclassicism to the Avant-Garde: 1800-1917 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1990) 279. While Sarabyanov does indeed allude here to a certain arrogance for which Malevich was reputed in his behavior, he is also and more importantly emphasizing that one of the deepest impulses that led the artist to take his experiments in painting so far was his ideal of overcoming gravity and conquering space.
39 Adi Da Samraj, Transcendental Realism, p 66.
40 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 74.
41 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 65.
42 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 207.
43 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 66.
44 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 78.
45 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 101.
46 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 148.
47 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 23.
48 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 65.
49 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 188.
50 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 126.
51 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 148.
52 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 128.
53 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 106.
54 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 216.
55 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 1684.
56 Sarabyanov, op. cit., p 279.
57 Adi Da Samraj, Aletheon, p 1680.
58 Adi Da Samraj, ibid., p 1681.
59 Kuspit, op. cit., p 7.
60 Adi Da Samraj, Transcendental Realism, p 150.
61 The original manifesto of the Russian futurists (1912) was entitled “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste” signed by David Burliuk, Alexander Kruchenykh, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Velimir Khlebnikov. The group of artists and writers advocated throwing “Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc., etc. (sic), overboard from the Ship of Modernity.”