“Visionary art seeks to return us, in our visions, to the primordial world that preceded history: like hieroglyphs etched on the walls of a long-lost civilization, leading us to a paradise of lost imagery or forgotten dream-symbols.”
Laurence Caruana, A Manifesto of Visionary Art
Maura Holden, born in Pennsylvania in 1967, is emerging as one of the most powerful and interesting visionary or sacred artists of the present time. Combining both excellent draftsmanship with a lucid sense of colour, Maura depicts the secret vistas of the collective psyche, the sunken, honeycombed ruins of mysterious ancient civilisations (see Travellers Moon), the paradisiacal and primordial bliss of our ancestors living within a shamanic dreamtime (see work in development), and, in one of her paintings, Thanatos Wave, (below) what looks like the sudden, mass-onset of transpersonal awareness or surfacing of deep unconscious material (represented by deep sea fish and ocean) overthrowing old and stagnant orders of being.
As I have familiarized myself with Maura Holden’s oeuvre, my sense of awe and wonder has deepened. What I observed on-screen could not prepare me for the impact of seeing her work full-size. Like a fractal, entire new levels of detail and intricacy are evident, invisible online. Each painting is a holographic gestalt, representing with minute detail the macro-microcosm of various archetypal realms and aspects of Consciousness.
The overall compositional and color harmonics, combined with this obsessive and miraculous level of detail, directed by a sincere, experiential, phenomenological spirituality, has convinced me that Maura Holden’s work can be considered equal to the finest sacred art of any world age.
– Daniel Mirante
Thanatos Wave by Maura Holden
1999-2000 / 38″X38″ / oil on panel / collection of the artist
Maura, since encountering your work I am revived and refreshed in my enthusiasm for the art of painting. I want to express my gratitude for the images you are evoking through this discipline. Your work carries a profundity that comes from direct experience, and resonates with the shamanic, mystical spirit in humanity.
Thank you, Daniel. I am very happy to hear that your enthusiasm for painting is refreshed. (Too often this art – along with “god” — has been wrongly pronounced dead!) I find painting to be an ideal devotional art, as endlessly versatile as the mind, and as good a bridge between matter and spirit as I can conceive.
These paintings appear like representations of first-hand journeys into spiritual realms. Does your artistic practice integrate with some kind of shamanic practice ?
Yes, the paintings are often representations of journeys, and I have various methods of unlocking gates, and of drawing aside worldly veils. Most of the practice is just concentration and meditation while painting, but I have used prolonged retreat in the forest, as well as plants which shamans use to take journeys. In conjunction with good planning, and a day of meditation and preparation beforehand, I have found the plants extremely helpful in translating multidimensional spiritual experiences into fixed visions.
It is very exciting that there is a new wave of artists who seem to be creating from a different frequency band. It makes me recall what the psychologist Charles Tart called state-specific knowledge, that fully coherent forms of vision, knowledge and wisdom can originate from multiple assemblage points of consciousness, not just the quotidian or everyday state of being.
This state-specific knowledge you refer to is one of my pet preoccupations. I am particularly fascinated by the aspect of knowledge called “being at one with the whole” in which, in a transcendent state of meditation, I am vividly aware of the interconnectedness of all creation – something most humans dont consider while cooking an egg or tying a shoe. Reconciling the fact that “I am at one with the whole” with the more generally accepted fact, “I am an individual”, is a little bit like reconciling the square and the circle. It is tricky, and there is a secret to it — but geometrically, mathematically, the circle and the square can be reconciled, and so can the individual and the whole. One of the many things I love about imaginative art is that it reconciles another dichotomy: the rift between reality and dreams. In imaginative art the two worlds are harmoniously married in one form, and this is very exciting for those of us who love both worlds and experience them together. I am extremely encouraged by the new wave of talented artists who understand this.
How did your amazing painting technique come about and are your paintings recieved in a complete gestalt or built up through spontaneity and exploration ?
That is a good question. My painting technique is always changing. I started out drawing visions in pencil, but a desire for color, transparency and luminosity led me to try oils. At first I used oil paint with turpentine only. After I had done a few paintings that way, I tried other mixtures: alkyd medium, stand-oil based medium, egg tempera, egg and oil mixtures and so on.
Since I was my own teacher, I experimented freely, by intuition, but I also read books about pigments and media, and began to formulate my own theories and methods. I wanted to make paintings that were lightfast and durable, and I also wanted otherworldly effects. Striking a balance between effects and eternity remains my fixed goal, but all other variables in my technique are subject to change. Generally, I let a painting grow like a plant, training it and pruning it as needed. I begin with a multiplex chaotic vision — the proverbial mustard seed.
Next I devise a structural framework, such as a geometric form, intended to serve as a support, or trellis, for the vision to grow around. The rest is just training the figurative elements of the vision around the structure. Key points in the structural skeleton correspond to important junctures in the pictorial composition. In the past, my compositional structures were more loose and intuitive. In recent years, though, numbers, proportions and geometry have become increasingly important to me.
Your attention to detail, luminosity and way with colour is beautiful, and it is all the more wondrous that it is mainly self-taught. The Vienna school of Fantastic Realism seems to be emerging as quite a strong technical and philosophical catalyst upon contemporary visionary painters. What artists do you consider important today ? And do you believe the traditional gallery context provides an adequate vessel for visionary paintings ?
The Vienna School of Fantastic Realism, and specifically Ernst Fuchs, was one of my personal icons of artistic excellence. When I was first learning, I spent countless hours studying a book of Fuchs? paintings and drawings. My other main icon, Oliver Benson, is an extraordinarily gifted artist of my own age, who at present keeps a low profile by choice. When you compare the very famous Fuchs with the more obscure Benson, it is obvious who most people today will consider important. Yet, Benson has the greater influence on my own art and train of thought, because, not only is he as talented as Fuchs, but we are friends and we paint together. These private connections are as important to the intricate web of art as the public ones…
Enlightenment of the Dominators by Maura Holden
Oil on panel / collection of the artist
Today there are more talented fantastic and visionary artists than I ever thought I would see. It is a truly fabulous time to be here. For one thing, the movement is global, largely thanks to the internet. Artists with e-mail can communicate and send pictures around the world easily and instantly. Now, regardless of country and connections, we are all on a more level playing ground, and art lovers have a better chance of seeing the work of great artists who are unrecognized and/or of modest means. Of course, some of us are very enthusiastic about using the web tool, and some of us would rather just paint. Just painting was always my preference? Only in the past six months have I learned to use a computer and cobble together a simple website — and from most accounts people believe I have suddenly fallen from the sky! Out of the blue, my work is accessible to many more people; instantly I am able to communicate with other artists, art lovers and people in the industry; the results have exceeded my every expectation.
I am excited about the future of an art world free of dictations from on high, where no authority need intercede between artists and art lover. That said, however, I still see a place for traditional galleries and museums. While I understand and feel the limitations of galleries and museums, there really is no better way to experience the mind-blowing presence of some of this artwork without planting your feet solidly in front of it, and gazing at its physical substance – millions of times more powerful than what we glean from a digital image on a screen. And the professional expertise involved in respectfully preserving and displaying artworks to their best advantage is a gift to the artist from the better galleries and museums. I think the key to showing art today is diversity. Galleries are good; museums are good; showing art in your truck is good; festivals; open studios; coffee shops; artist-run collectives; the internet; books, magazines, cards, prints and posters; and whatever else people think up next.
My personal dream is quite “outsider” : to own my own home, and to craft it into a fantastic-sculptural-environment/little-museum-of-visionary-art – a place that is out-of-this-world, but makes people feel relaxed enough to spend lots of time looking, and enjoying themselves.