Kirk Varnadoe

October 21, 2021- Ankara Lecture American Embassy

As the late Kirk Varnadoe implied at the last Mellon lecture he delivered at the National Gallery of Art, “ it is through an act of faith in the importance of our own experiences and perceptions that we create art.” – Spring/2003

I would like to spend some time speaking to you about Oleg Grabar, a scholar of Islamic Art who wrote an important book called The Mediation of Ornament, based on the lecture series he also gave at the National Gallery of Art , and had a profound influence on the development of my own work. I felt I had found a scholar whose work I found very compelling. 

From the Mediation of Ornament Grabar writes “ when Chinese writers talk about writing, their imagery does not dwell on proportions or purity of line, but on life forces, on the storage of energy. It is as though the making and the viewing serve to release the living and active forces of nature.”

If you look closely at the image on the left, Hazine, a 15th century Iranian Manuscript and the image on the right, Broadway  Boogie Woogy,  by the Dutch artist, Mondrian. Grabar states that he juxtaposes these two images as a way to support his belief that there are universal approaches to visual behavior based on universal values.

A quote from the Southern literary writer, William Faulkner states, “ the aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again, since it is life”. 

So here you have a manuscript over 500 years old and a modern painting from over 70 years ago, and they both have this uncanny relationship to the act of seeing, the encounter with works of art. What I find particularly interesting about these two works of art is how the image extends to the edges that evokes a feeling of the infinite, of consciousness expanding, while also feeling contained. Viewing these paintings can go beyond time and cultural context, and beyond politics and ideology. For me, that’s the power of these works.