Kevin McCaffrey: Kandinsky, around the nineteen-teens, addressed the question of how to represent the invisible by means of the visible, and the transcendent by means of the physical. Do you feel the need to address these questions as well?
Eric Valosin: Well, in part I think these are unavoidable questions. They parallel the mystic struggle to make known the unknowable. Fittingly then, I can answer paradoxically in that I feel just as compelled to represent the visible by means of the invisible as I do the physical by means of the transcendent. Kandinsky’s answer was abstraction, but his primary goal was to escape materiality. I think a different answer is called for in today’s world, mainly because we have different questions. Cyberspace has caused even materiality to already be abstracted, and so I think we’re retreating from and towards something entirely different.
KM: You use a lot of projection in your work. What are your thoughts on light and its use in your work? Does light itself have a symbolic value for you?
EV: You know it seems so cliché to think Light equals Spiritual, but there’s some kind of depth underneath that cliche that we connect to on a very primal level. In a scientific sense there’s something hauntingly curious about light’s ability to be both particle and wave, both material and immaterial, to need no medium but time/space itself, not to mention its participation in special relativity. But in a practical sense, it’s perhaps the most commonly experienced interaction with the immaterial we have. Usually we take it for granted. But being prompted to actually notice and interact with this immateriality is something sublime. That’s where projection comes in for me. Here’s a bit of trivial information for you: Did you know, the very first projectors were actually named “Hyalotypes” by the two French daguerreotypists who invented them, after the Greek work hyalo for glass? However, a bit more digging reveals that hyalo would actually refer more specifically to glass mosaics, or stained glass. That means that the first projections could actually be likened to the light passing through the religious imagery of stained glass, projecting colors onto the viewer and the floor around him, warming him in a sort of Imago Dei - “image of God” - transferral. Finding that out changed the way I looked at projection.
KM: My brother is an artist also and claims that his work is mystical in origin. Do you think this is possible? If so, do you have the same desire to create a mystical art?
EV: That’s a big debate, but I do think it’s possible. The whole “ineffability” thing makes accounts of mystical experiences dubious at best, but really it’s God that’s ineffable, not our experience of God. Whether or not your artwork can cause a viewer to have a mystical experience unfortunately is entirely up to God. That ball’s perpetually in His court. But it can help prepare the viewer for if that were to happen, or give the viewer a glimpse of something you experienced. I’m absolutely interested in creating this kind of art. To be “mystical in origin” really just means to come from a personal encounter with divinity. If you believe you can have that kind of encounter, then you can certainly do things with it afterwards.
KM: What made you choose representational art for the expression of your spiritual themes?
EV: I think that’s something that I go back and forth on, and right now I’m actually leaning more away from representation. But both representation and non-representation have mystical power. The trick is to become an alchemist, transforming the mundane into the transcendent through representation and recontextualization. I think this is one of my goals, but it has to be done right. For the most part I don’t think I do it right yet! But, lately I’ve been more preoccupied with how to make non-representation work. My natural tendency is to get tugged back towards representation, but not in the right way. I’m learning how to get off that crutch and let go of representation. I think non-representation helps unlimit the viewing experience. It goes beyond the analytical and symbolic to the visceral and experiential. We shall see. There’s a place for both.
KM: This past summer, we were asked to explore disciplines that could be related to and flow into the "world" of our art practice. What are one or two of the most important to you and why?
EV: To be completely honest, to really be successful at what I’m trying to do, I think I need to allocate more “studio time” to prayer and meditation. Can’t talk about an experience you’ve never had right? Or at least not terribly convincingly.
KM: Do you think of the art you do as "Christian Art"? If so, do you think it might fall into a category of identity art, eg, "African-American Art" or "Feminist Art"? If so, what would you think of that?
EV: I think of the art I do as art. But I think of myself as a Christian. So... yes? One of the things I’m always wary of is how treacherous the word “Christian” has become. It doesn’t mean what it thinks it means anymore (or maybe it does and that’s part of the problem). Sometimes I want to just scrap it and start calling myself “Christ-ish” or something... But anyway, the beauty of the mystical is that it has no regard for labels or categories, it has to do with direct, real, unifying, and utterly confusing spiritual experience. Because of that it has the power to bridge the gap between a lot of religions and transcend institutional boundaries. Identity art isn’t the worst thing to be a part of, but I think to label it that is missing a big chunk of the picture.
KM: What theologians or philosophers are important to your work, and why?
EV: My world flipped upside down when I stumbled across John D. Caputo’s On Religion. If you’re at all interested in the way mystical theology might enter into dialogue with cyber culture and postmodern philosophy, this is the place to start. It’s brilliant but not too intimidating. In it he talks about true religion being about coming unhinged, how the postmodern is actually post-secular, and how religion has evolved into partnership with cyberspace. When I was reading it I remember jumping up every three minutes to run and share a quote with my wife, who very politely humored my shamefully nerdy giddiness. Next in line would have to be Meister Eckhart for his insight into apophatic mysticism. Also Heidegger has played a pretty huge role in realigning my thinking and getting me unstuck from the Platonic, Pre-Copernican worldview we don’t even realize we still hold. Beyond that, a lot of post-structuralists have good tidbits - Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault to some extent. Marion too, but don’t read Marion. Read a commentary. Trust me. Of course, lately my more apophatic side has been trying to un-know most of these things.
This interview conducted by my MFA classmate Kevin McCaffrey is concerned with the emerging thought in my evolving body of work following a very formative summer of research and experimentation. The interview susses out some of my thoughts and strategies for the embarking on an artistic exploration of postmodern mysticism.