The mandala is an ancient art form…a circle in which images are painted utilizing an awesome variety of artistic media. Many cultures use the mandala form as a structure for the expression of spiritual exploration. The term mandala is from the Sanskrit meaning circle or center.
A beautiful example of a mandala in architecture is the rose window – a stained glass window in circular form as found in some cathedrals. A famous example is the Southern Rose Window of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Years ago I saw a movie in which some Native Americans were constructing a sand painting. It was being done as a huge circle. Another time I saw a documentary that included a Tibetan mandala, also painted in sand.
I like the mandala as an art structure. Most paintings are done in either a rectangular or square format although there are some pretty impressive exceptions in Middle Ages art. For example the painting by Sandro Boticelli, “Madonna of the Magnificat,” was done on a circular support, 46’x46″. I remember learning of this work for the first time when studying art history in college. Even then I was entranced by the fact that a work could be encircled rather than enclosed.
Taken as an intellectual exercise, I like the idea of confining an artwork within a circle. Somehow the circle seems much more challenging than a rectangle. I have a series of drawings that have as their subject, the tree. Some of them are just one tree, some have several trees. All are stylized or abstracted – I consider myself to be an abstract colorist – and the challenge is to confine these trees within the circle. Imagine thick trunks with rippling roots fighting their way around the circle looking for depth. Imagine the broad leaf heads vying with the sun or moon within the circle for space and prominence. This produces an interesting artistic challenge.
In 2009 I took the year off from painting and exhibiting, a sabbatical of sorts. Like many artists, I felt as though there was a direction I was meant to follow but had not yet discovered. I’ve been a colorist for years – nothing mild for me, my work is as bright as the paint will get [which is one of the attributes of acrylics that I like so much-they are very bright]. I also consider myself to be an abstract artist and an experimental artist. I chose long ago to go on a differing path than my artist grandfather – he was primarily a realist. He did explore impressionism but preferred realism. Me? I’d rather explore the idea and the feel of an idea; I’d rather manipulate color to express an idea or feeling.
So in my year of artistic contemplation I considered three things: one) the basic structure or support for a work; two) a new abstract study and three) painting materials. What evolved was a circular structure, a study of trees in abstract and tiny ceramic tiles as the painting medium. I used a sketchbook and explored the idea of the tree, including a cactus tree and groves of trees. I began to think about the idea of anchoring the roots of the tree within a circle – how would you do that? How would it look?
In my sketchbook I used crayons as an easy color medium to play with color manipulation. Once I had over 50 sketches fully colored I began to explore painting media. I did two designs in colored pencil. I did one design in acrylics. I toyed with the thought of doing one design in watercolor…however none of these choices were expressing what was in my mind.
Then one day I thought: what if I painted these designs using tiny ceramic tiles? I imagined these tree images done not in paint – oils, watercolors or acrylics – but in mosaic tiles. I have found a supplier of wooden plates to use as a support, and a supplier of very tiny tiles to use to produce this series of tree mandalas. All my years of art study and experience is coming together in this one art expression.
Although many cultures use the mandala to express spiritual ideas, I use the mandala to explore ideas and feelings through abstraction and color. I am amazed at how awesome it is to paint with these tiles. Their small size allows for such movement and they come in a satisfactory array of colors. The mandala designs I’m executing with these tiles are tiles alone…by this I mean that I have chosen not to grout them. Typically mosaics are grouted – filling in the spaces between tiles. However I didn’t want anything to compete visually with the tiles or their colors.
Text and image © Linda C. Smith
I look forward to your thoughts and comments!
Be sure to Subscribe to this blog either by RSS or Email via the forms on the top right column of the page.