Spiritual “Image” in the Translation of Emotion
—— On Bryan McFarlane’s Work
By Wang Baoju
Bryan McFarlane was born in Jamaica, teaches in the United States, and travels worldwide. His expansive traveling experiences have not only evoked his admiration to the brilliant human civilization, but also his deep concern for the continuation and worries about the destruction of civilization by pompous world powers.
His art career was totally changed by a journey to West Africa where he saw stacks of cannon balls like pyramids. After such a long time, the cannon balls still can explode at any time, which is full of murderous intentions and reminds us of the lingering nightmare-like memory of colonialism, and the world around terror and war beneath it. He was deeply shocked in the core of his soul as an artist in viewing these sights.
Then, a decision was made.
All his early works became exploration of those lingering shadows which hangs over his soul. In African culture, things always have two aspects: spiritual and material. There were magical light and ‘water spirits’ on his early canvas, where he tried to find the truth in the deep eternal furnace.
After his return from the West Africa, huge black balls replaced the light and water on his canvas. The balls are big in size and full of energy. The heavy black balls have a power to oppress the viewers. From these balls, Bryan McFarlane evolved a series of paintings based on the cosmology of egg.
There are eggs in his works like Untitled with Easter Egg ,1999-2003, Unexploded, 2002, Unexploded Ordinance with Egg, 2002, Pyramids and Egg Axis, 2007, Cool Egg, 2007, Egg Head, 2004, Egg Heart, 2006, Metaphysics, 2004, The Metaphysics of Ritual Objects ,2000-2005, Egg Fountain, 2005, Nesting, 2006, Egg Red with Half Moon-Romantic Journey, 2008, and Untitled, 2008, a concept accumulated in with single; “nesting” or “floating”. The artist uses the symbol of egg, with the synonymy and relevance between egg and cannon balls, metaphoric, appropriation and birth, destroying while transforming, of fragility or strength, of the certainty or uncertainty of life and civilization. Cannon balls and eggs are only the cause, but also the result, suggesting humans are swallowing the numerous illusive and evil evolutions. The heavy black mood evident in these paintings reminds us of incurable diseases – or cancers. It diffuses and spreads on the works, and in the viewers mind.
More than often, the cannon or balls and eggs are accumulated like pyramids. The tall and majestic pyramids are symbol of ancient heritage of Africa or of any other regions in the world. Every nation has its special civilization of its own society and environment which should be admired and protected. And I even think the artist has evolved the meaning of pyramid into the peak of power achieved by sacrifice and violence, and the expansion of power that perpetuates endless occupation and enslavement of mankind.
Concerning the works with the merit of egg, ie: “Egg with Lions Leg and Teddy Bear Torso” has to be mentioned. The artist introduces Teddy, a toy for child to his work. His perspective is not only concerned about the adult world of killing and cruelty, but also concerned about the danger and murderous intention hidden below the innocent children’s world. His deep concern and anxiety are well expressed.
Bryan McFarlane came to China in 2007, and began visiting life in China since then. In his view, China and Jamaica, although far apart, they have similar experiences, though not the same, on culture and dislocation. China closed its door to the world and later returned to the world stage. This process is quite similar with Jamaica gaining international recognition on its art and culture after it’s painful colonial history. Mc Farlane was shocked by the 9,000,000 bikes in Beijing. Then bike became one of the primary themes in his works. The bike is not only a symbol of China as a developing nation, it is more like a development of his previous theme of circle, which is perfectly shown in his works of Bicycles Blues, Night Rider, Beijing Bicycle Burden, Diptych, Red on Red Journey, Caught, Happy Bicycle, and Moon Rider. The wheels run forward. In the process of society and cultural advancement. The wheels of history were constantly rolling and trampling, or stampeding the development of history, and civilization always seems to take the same disastrous road. The artist expresses a very contradictory attitude by this theme. On one hand, he is optimistic and cheerful, while on the other hand, he thinks the development is “full of pressure” and “broken”. This complicated feelings are inferences by the colors expressed in his works: sometimes it’s bright blue or pink, but sometimes it’s black as always with a persistent presence.
In his recent works, he continues with the motif of balls, and even with further development. The cannon balls are still in his works like “Cannons Already There”. Pyramids are still in the works like Big Pyramid with Ladder, Green Pyramid, and Warm Pyramid, bike is still employed in the ‘Death of Bicycles’. At the same time, he introduces a new merit “heart” to his Inside the Heart of Apple, Miscarriage and Rebirth. In works of this period, an important change in his work is that: he take’s images and utilize internal organs and human beings as metaphors. Most of the time, they are female. For Bryan McFarlane, the female image expresses the earth, fertility, generation, and breeding, as well as a consequence of what happens throughout the development of history. Woman beneath all this complex history, is the source of real continuity. The artist is trying to questions and analyze history; expressing his endless worries of the future. But the style of expression is more about freedom, unrestrained wealth of languages, diversity and poetry.
In traditional Chinese literary theories, ‘imagery’ is the artist’s sustenance, subjective emotion depicted by external objects, which means the relationship of “emotion” and “scenery”, “spirits” and “material”, “God” and “physical world”. The intimate relationship between spirit and physical world is evident profoundly in Liu Xie’s “God and the Physical World”, Xie Zhen’s “Landscape is Poetry’s Media”, Wang Fu-Chih’s “Touched by Scenery and Inspired by Scenery” or Wang Guowei’s “All the language of scenery is language of spirit.” can easily reach the heart of the “meaning” and external “as” the relationship between the shadowing.
In Western literary theories, comments on “image” are similar with the theories in China. Aristotle believes that without the association of soul pictures (image) there would be no thought. Sartre pointed out: Image activities targets scene or object does not exist or at presence, in this process, a physical or psychological connotation similar to the image is used. While T. S. Eliot, the master of modern British and American poetry, in appreciating Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, said: “The only way to express the feeling, is to find ‘ the image’ of the feelings ‘ which can be a group of images, a context, or a series of events, expressing the feelings of a particular way. In this case, the presence of the external objects resorted to sensory experience reminds us about the particular feelings immediately.
From a series of developed and changed “circle” of cannon balls, eggs, bikes, and then hearts, the track of Bryan McFarlane’s creation and consideration is evident. He expresses his specific feelings through abstract images and associates the works with spirit. He has translated the cannon balls in-depth- rooted in his memory and full of his mixed feelings embedded into various meanings of egg concepts, wheels, and hearts. These symbolic spiritual icons continuously erupt and explore the theme of his creation – the consideration of the independent post colonial (national) civilizations and their rebuilding, and even of more importance, his concern is about the ultimate care of humans, contrary to the slaughter and wars, aggression and occupation; rebuilding peace, and eradicating grief, trauma and the tragic repetition of history. It is a sought-after artistic dream, ultimate concern for the fate of mankind, or a sense of responsibility and mission, and the ultimate goal of art as an artist.
Wang is an Independent Curator and (Former Acting Director/Editor in Chief )
Today Art Museum and Arts Magazine.