Artist Statement – John Arden Hiigli
Throughout the history of art, geometry has been equated with perfection of natural order, and light has been perceived as the vehicle for spiritual transport. My work continues this tradition, using polyhedrons as a metaphor for nature (as 'spatial panorama'), and color as a mode of transcendence. By transport I mean movement of the eye through the picture plane; by transcendence I mean going beyond the limitations of opaque oil paint through the use of transparent pigments. Thus the viewer is provided a 'window of transport' through space, into the nucleus, and thus into infinity. The process involves both simple structures and complex constructions. In the complex constructions, increasing numbers of polyhedrons having a common nucleus are embedded in a vector matrix. Within the largest structure is embedded a smaller structure, which encloses an even smaller third structure, and so on. This decreasing volumetric relationship ('change of scale') between the structures produces the illusion of deep space as well as a sense of time. Such structures each have a front and a rear layer of facets. Thus there are potentially many separate layers of paint. In order to avoid color distortion, I developed a strategy of 'color deferral' applied to the rear layers of faces, and omission of selective faces of frontal layers. In the first case, paint is applied to the rear faces of the structure until it makes contact with the rear faces of the structure that it encloses, at which point it ceases and 'defers' to the local colors of the next layer, and so on. In the case of frontal faces, a process of 'selective omission' is employed. Frontal facets are omitted which obstruct the view of the nucleus. Thus there is a clear unobstructed view of the core structure, to the very heart of the vector matrix. The omitted facets are painted sheer gossamer white for clarity, to unify the picture plane, and to maximize transparency. 'Transparency' is the key to the visual effect. The process of layering transparent paint plays with the formal constraints of painting. Geometric forms are perceived as flat, like the picture plane and are also perceived as volumetric, allowing the eye to enter to the focal center or nucleus of the complex polyhedral construction. 'Passage' or the linkage of planes, which occurs with the layering, allows the viewer to perceive geometries as both self-contained and constantly shifting. The comprehension of the form is linear and concrete, yet translucent and tenuous. These oppositions reveal the structure as process; and process, in turn, is inseparable from time. Time makes the concept of physical and spiritual transport complete!
Pragmatism suggests the determination of truth or meaning of concepts by the testing of practical results, and contingency suggests a certain dependence on chance. The 'color' of any particular point on the picture plane is determined not by its local or applied color, as in any opaque oil painting, but rather by its interaction with all previous and all future 'screens' of color, therefore according to its position within the 'hierarchy of screens'.
Painters walk in the footpaths of giants, creating reality out of myths spun around work, striving for meaning by relating it to history. Transparent painting is not without historical precedent. It refers back to Cezanne's watercolors, where he used thinly applied screens ('ecrans') of colors over colors. Before Cezanne, Venetian Renaissance Masters experimented with techniques such as under-painting and glazing. Still earlier Orthodox Icon Painters made art in which light technically came from the background, from the gesso. As in my paintings, there was no source of light, which would illuminate objects from one side, or from another. In the Transfiguration, three disciples (high on a mountain) saw the face of Christ shine—as the sun. His clothes were white—as the light. This divine light led me from home, on this long journey. It inspires me to paint; it is the very breath of my existence!