Monday, December 29, 2008

Kabbalistic Colors

Back in the late 80s I did a lot of esoteric (not really the same as "occult") studies. I learned about Kabbalah both from the traditional Jewish perspective and from the Western Esoteric tradition that adapted the Jewish philosophy in the Renaissance and centuries afterward. One of the schools of Kabbalistic esotericism (which in no way resembles the cult-ish stuff professed by various celebrities) involved a lot of colorful mental visualization. Since I like spirituality with bright colors and good designs, this attracted me. It was not at all Jewish; it was actually 19th and early 20th century English, and most of the proponents and writers were English. One of the books I worked with was a Kabbalistic inner visualization manual called "The Book of Celestial Images," by a gent called A.C. Highfield. This book is out of print but it's available used at various online vendors. It was a treasury of images that I could put into artwork. 

In those archaic days before Photoshop, I assembled graphic designs from cut paper that I glued onto an airbrushed background. The colors were provided by "Color-Aid," which some older designers remember. It is still available, as the site shows, but it is expensive. Color-Aid paper was thick and the color was added to the paper by silk-screening rather than actually coloring the paper. That made a nice flat non-reflective surface. You could use it plain or draw or paint over it. The trouble was that the surface was fragile and if you bent it, the color would flake off. Many of these compositions I did with Color-Aid have deteriorated, especially if they were stacked against each other. 

This one is well-preserved and in my own collection, dated January 1987, 7" x 10". The colors were determined by visionaries who synesthetically saw the Hebrew letters not only as colors, but as parts of the human body, both male and female. Therefore the colors in this figure correspond to the letters in the name of the angel it represents, which is the "Chai Ha Kodesh" (Holy Living Creature) of Kether, the top station on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. The symbol-system got quite complicated as color was stacked on top of color and Hebrew letters became emblems and elaborate scenes were built from names, symbols, and characters. After a while for me it got too much like work, so I moved away from it. I still have the books so I could return to the symbol-world if I got the inspiration.

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