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Jaya Mansberger

The link between art and spirituality has oft been both mysterious yet palpable. The Praxis project is an effort to make the historically ethereal connection between these themes more tangible by inviting artists to describe how the two interrelate within their work. We reached out to artists and proposed to them a question: How would you define the role of spirituality within your art practice and how do you feel this affects your artwork?

Here you will find their answers.

“. . . spirituality is about truth and transcendence, magic and mystery, compassion and kindness.”

To answer this question it’s probably best to start with how I personally define “spirituality”, as it’s a loaded term which means different things to different people. I view the concept and pursuit of spirituality as being a search for understanding of, and wish to express and make peace with, one’s inner self. For me spirituality is about truth and transcendence, magic and mystery, compassion and kindness. Broadly speaking I think that spiritual practices (i.e artistic/religious /paranormal) are attempts to find a deeper meaning within and beyond human existence.

My most recent solo exhibition was called “Pareidolia”. Pareidolia describes the tendency to see a specific, often meaningful image in random marks and visual patterns. (Think the Rorschach Ink Blot Test, the Turin Shroud or divining the future from patterns made by tea-leaves in the bottom of a tea-cup). It’s to do with trying to find meaning when meaning is, or initially appears, absent. Which in essence is what a lot of my work is about.

My paintings are purposefully done on a modest scale with a sensitive, intuitive feel for colour and mark-making so that they are not definitive or bombastic, but maintain a sense of open-endedness and mystery. The brushstrokes teeter between signaling some sort of spirit or celestial landscape and dissolving into abstraction. The painted mark is given autonomy so that it seems to take on a dramatic significance. Meaning and possible interpretations are hinted at, but not made explicit. This ambiguous quality, as well as a rarefied atmosphere, is something I aim to create in my paintings.

Emanation © Jaya Manberger

“. . .brushstrokes teeter between signalling some sort of spirit or celestial landscape and dissolving into abstraction.”

I’ve had an interest in the different takes on spirituality throughout art history for many years, which has had a direct influence on my work. Old Master paintings which depict scenes of divine intervention as well as mystical artists and theorists such as Hilma af Klint and Wassily Kandinsky are major sources of inspiration for my art practice.

It’s easy though to just talk about concepts, theory and art-history when explaining ones’ art work because that’s the default position you learn through art-school education to adopt. However, the reasons for why spirituality is so central to my artistic practice are much more personal. As a child I lived in Nepal and two different Hawaiian islands, both cultures where spiritual practices and scenes of breath-taking natural beauty are part of everyday life. Some of my earliest memories are of visiting Buddhist temples, Himalayan monasteries and ancient Hawaiian sacred sites.

These formative experiences (and having practiced Ashtanga yoga for 20 years) continue to inform my work and world view; but it was the sudden death of my brother when I was at art school that caused my life (and art) to have a spiritual dimension that wasn’t, in any intense way, there before. Trauma rips a hole in your psyche and understanding of the universe. Grief can leave you scrambling around on the outer edges of reason, trying to make sense of the meaningless. I think loss causes a lot of people to explore spiritual beliefs.

Sigh of the Sky © Jaya Mansberger

“. . .trying to find meaning when meaning is, or initially appears, absent.”

In the years following my brother’s death I began to question the point of art generally, in particular its inability to truly express a traumatic reality. This type of questioning gradually led me to stop painting figuratively and turn towards a more abstract painterly language and meditative approach to my practice, where the focus was on enjoying the process and the present. I mainly just wanted to make work that was soothing, sensual and poetic. I think that my paintings are about freedom and hope; which for me is also central to how I interpret “spirituality”.

Ghost Dance © Jaya Mansberger