Wednesday, April 10, 2013
"Peaceful Warrior" (1980-83) a painting by Michael Kessler Back in 1980 when I was living in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania an idea came to me. That idea was to generate a large series of paintings with each individual work being the same format. So each single piece of art would be a small panel Measuring 16" x 20" placed inside a sturdy redwood frame which was to be four inches wide. I began by producing about 30 of these panels with wide redwood frames and then hung them salon-style on a large studio wall. For the next four years I would generate these works and elements would migrate from one painting to the other. The parameters were set wide such that the images could range from extremely complex to simple or very representational to completely abstract. In other words my intention was to allow images to manifest with little regard for stylistic consistency. I was reading Jung and became fascinated with the idea of the subconscious leading to the collective unconscious and wanted to use these paintings as a way to drill down into that layer of awareness. Whether it is literally possible for an individual to tap the collective unconscious will remain a question, but from an Art perspective it was entirely possible. This exercise was extremely productive and proved to be filled with discovery and excitement. "Peaceful Warrior" was a unique and singular painting within this context as it was the only one to contain a human figure. What's more, that figure was a portrait of myself, so it was the only self-portrait in a group of paintings which numbered to about hundred. Oddly enough, in 1980 there was a book published with the title "'Way of the Peaceful Warrior" by Dan Millman which had modest sales until it was later published by Hal Kramer and then became a bestseller. The Cover of the book has a figure with arms outstretched and back to the viewer. I had never heard of the book nor had I seen the cover when I produced my painting called "Peaceful Warrior" with MY figure featured, arms outstretched, back to the viewer. In 2006 "Peaceful Warrior" the film was released and of course millions viewed it and the DVD again contains an image of a figure with arms outstretched, back to the viewer. Was this just a strange coincidence? I suspect so however as I stated above my initial intention was to drill down to the collective unconscious so is that what happened? Was I somehow able to do a mind-meld with the author Dan Millman? Back in this period of time when I was making these paintings I did not have any preconceptions and did no planning. Each painting was improvised. I would start the morning by grabbing a random work off the wall. I would take it up to my studio room and place it on the wall, turning it around and around. Then I would layer up the paint and scrape away until I found an image. That's exactly how I found my own figure within this abstracted landscape which manifest exactly how I felt at that time about being alive and surrounded by an incomprehensibly awesome universe. The painting is about being mystified and perplexed by the vast unknown. Why the title "Peaceful Warrior"? I felt like a peaceful warrior in those days. I was about 25 years old when I painted the picture and at that time I made my living as a school bus driver, which paid about $5,000 per year. I was living in Fleetwood in a lousy apartment with air that stank to high heaven from the tannery next-door. They used strong chemicals in the tannery like lacquer. Every day I wrestled with demons and tried to produce paintings. What were the demons that I wrestled with? There were many such as depression, anxiety, fear, greed, and doubt. For eight years I lived and worked there in Fleetwood producing many of these small works with heavy frames. In 1984 I was invited by Jack Tilton to exhibit them in Betty Parson's old gallery on 57th St. In the Big Apple. The first piece that sold was to the curator of the Newark Museum of Art.