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The Logic of Ecstasy: Canadian Mystical Painting, 1920-1940
by Ann Davis
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Our understanding of twentieth-century art is largely based on an aesthetic tradition initiated by the Impressionists, Cezanne, and the Cubists. However, painting that is mystically rather than aesthetically realized can not be examined within this tradition. What is needed is a new context, one which allows us to probe the mystical experience and teachings that motivate visionary painters. This book examines the ways in which Bertram Brooker, Emily Carr, Lawren Harris, Jock Macdonald, and Fred Varley, five of the most dynamic and innovative Canadian painters of the period 1920-1940, used mystical form rather than aesthetically initiated form in their painting. None of these painters was motivated solely by mystical concerns; each of them also painted works which were of a secular or non-spiritual nature. None the less, they were all deeply interested in and concerned about matters mystical. Through a careful examination of the primary documentation Ann Davis looks at the sources of their beliefs in Christianity, transcendentalism, and theosophy and theories of the fourth dimension, and attempts to put some of their major works into new contexts so that familiar paintings can be seen in a new and revealing mystical way. Each artist in his or her own way wanted to capture the logic of ecstasy. Their mystical works were conjured up more through contemplation and self-surrender than from direct personal experience. These paintings provided not so much a feast for the eye or an arena for the emotions as a launching pad for the spirit, and an outward manifestation of the hidden spiritual dimension of reality which pervades both nature and oneself.
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