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Rosa Celestia, Elemental

Color Expression, 1996

This image has two titles, Rosa Celestia or Mandala in Silver and Gold. It belongs to two bodies of work: my work before it and my work after it. It changed me. Surprises often become the start of something new. I find they contain the seeds for a new series or a new subset of an existing series. A latent theme is suddenly made visible. Rosa Celestia is one of those images for me. It’s the seed syllable that arose spontaneously and generated my series Mandala. Like a stone dropped in water, it changed nothing and everything. It left ripples in me. Its vibrations continue to expand.

This image announced the blossoming of an interest in abstraction within me. The Mandala series is my most abstract photographically based work to date. This work led to other works. I might not have begun the later musical series (Sonatas, Nocturnes, Etudes, etc.) had I not first made this image. Both share an intense interest in color (hue, saturation, brightness, and proportion). Both share a similar meditative quality.

I was entranced by the play of light in water when I made the initial exposures. Time did not seem to move as it ordinarily did. The world grew quiet. I was absorbed by beauty. I had no idea what I was going to do with the images. I simply made exposures as a sign of recognition, recognition of beauty.

Later, as the image confronted me, I found it contained even greater beauty. Symmetry revealed a hidden dimension within it. It tuned the frequency of the vibration. I’ve found a similar pattern in many of the symmetries I’ve created with nature. This leads me to think that it is somehow indicative of a deeper order to be found within nature.

I wanted the image to be as spacious and literal as it was geometric and abstract. After many experiments, I chose the proportions very carefully. Changing proportion provided relief, amplifying the contrast between the upper and lower halves. It transformed a repetition into an echo. I weighed dozens of variations side by side, registering the effects of each individually before choosing one. I discovered I could, and may, make many separate images from the same material.

The image revolves around many polarities: Literal and abstract, spacious and flat, ephemeral and permanent, far away and near, visible and invisible, light and dark, cool and warm, saturated and subdued. The image has another title for me personally — particle/wave. Two more poles. Paradoxically, light is both. Color is light.

The secondary colors are important. The yellow light on the surface of the lower portion suggests a unity, a shared existence, a relationship. It helps unite the total space. The purple undercoloring strikes a complex chord within me. Ordinarily, I would not have paired orange and purple. I would have paired gold and purple or gold and orange. Gold seems to be the unifying  note. 

I have no idea how I arrived at the final color combination. The original image was sand-colored. Perhaps I took my cue from the subject matter. Cool liquid was filled with warm fire. Perhaps I took my cue from its undercolorings and overcolorings. Every color has another color under or over it. If color is a vibration, like sound, it too contains undertones and overtones. Perhaps the choice was completely subjective. Like sound, color combination is a matter of harmonic resonance. To arrive at this combination, I let the vibrations color produced within me be my guides. I let my instincts guide me.

Color is what I can explain least and continues to fascinate me most about this image. To this day, I still have no idea why I chose these colors. I have no idea what they mean. I only know that they move me — in specific ways.

While I don’t know what these colors mean specifically, they do elicit many strong associations within me. I suspect that if a group of people were to offer a number of adjectives in response to specific colors, many correspondences would be found. I believe there are three levels at work simultaneously when we respond to color — universal, cultural, and personal. A particular individual’s response to color is a unique combination of all three levels. Yet, we share similar responses on at least one, sometimes two, and more rarely three levels.

I’ve come to know more and more about this image the longer I have lived with it. Yet it still remains a mystery. The fact that I can’t explain it, yet it still moves me, tells me the work is alive. I continue to look and be fascinated by it. I see more every time I return to it. It has become a well to draw from.