“Tacit Glimpses”: A Review of Adi Da Samraj’s “Transcendental Realism” and “Aesthetic Ecstasy”

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Expressions of intentionality have become increasingly common in the art world, but they are rarely made by those as thoughtful as Adi Da. His broad argument for transcendental realism over against the limitations of art history is strong stuff. While visual art does not always express the artist’s intention, good art should always do so, and it should do it forcefully. This divide separates the high-minded vogue for the artist’s statement from works that actually realize the artist’s vision.

In a literary sense, some may find the challenge of “Transcendental Realism” a large, rather rhetorically weighty argument for his work to sustain. It would certainly be interesting for other artists to engage with him in a dialogue, one that explores the essential vitality that is the peculiar domain of the true artist. Seeing Adi Da’s works themselves (catalog reproductions fail to do them justice) allows you an experience of the artist’s intention to create an experiential and transcendent image-art.


Image: Alberti’s Window I (detail), 2006–2007 (from Geome One)

Adi Da’s image Spectra One I/1 (pictured in Transcendental Realism) brings up many themes—light, no “point of view”, centrality, and geometry; each are elements of his call for a new kind of art, and central to the aims of his own work. The suite Geome One: Alberti’s Window, illustrated in Transcendental Realism, contrasts Adi Da’s image-art with Renaissance illusionism. Viewing the piece, one becomes engaged with a geometric, discontinuous space that becomes a full contradiction of the fixed frame of reference—Alberti’s window—that forms the basis for much of Western art history. While this series is the most non-objective of his works, the Spectra Suites nonetheless employ elements of the visible world to create a realm of paradox. Visual art, like music, forms a harmonic structure through multiple shifting, ambiguous states of mind and layers of psychological and spatial perspectives. Adi Da often uses prismatic repetition—perhaps absorbed from his interest in modernism—creating a fluctuating perspective of multidimensional space. His intense use of color is brought to life through digital processes that allow for large-scale production of invented geometrics and ambiguous spaces:

My process of creating images brings together two principal elements, in a complex approach. One is the comprehensive element of form, and the other is the element of fundamental content (or essential meaning). On the one hand, I constantly exercise the formal element, and, thus and so (and by means of an always spontaneously free process of improvisation), I strictly control and order the structure of the images I invent. On the other hand, I am, likewise constantly, intent upon maintaining and profoundly enlarging the characteristic of meaning. Indeed, the meaning-content is always primary.

Many artists have been stymied by the intellectual and economic machinery of the art world. It is an environment that negates the lyrical, the voice of the mystic, the sensuality that expresses the fragility of existence. In arguing for authenticity in art, Adi Da argues for those artists that cannot give voice to these feelings, either because they are hamstrung by the economics of the gallery system, or because they are stymied when faced with the smoke-screen rationales of the social and commercial sub-industries that feed off the artist. In this “fearful new world”, only the calculating and the lucky survive.

Most artists feel their work is something alive and irreducible, and they naturally want to protect it from classification. Images embody the spiritual expression of an artist’s work because their qualities cannot be reduced to formal analysis. Exploring this notion, Adi Da writes,

I am calling for a right and true use of the image-art I make and do—a use to which even all art should be put—in which the viewer is simply face to face with the art, without anything or anyone in-between, and with no extra-artistic uses whatsoever. Any true moment of participation in a work of art is—in the most positive sense of the word—‘use-less’. . . there is only the moment in which the viewer fully participates.

Such intentions can never be fully explained by historical influences or deconstructive tropes. They are the marks of an authenticity that, more than ever, the world is longing for.

Adi Da extends and expands an alternative understanding of art that has run like an underground stream through history: appearing intermittently in the meditations of the scholar-artists of China’s T’ang dynasty; in the writings of Leonardo and Michelangelo in the Renaissance; and in the aesthetic theories of Kandinsky and Mondrian in the modern era. Taken together, the writings of these artists reveal a long-neglected tradition of insight, one that has been rejected in our culture’s dismissal of anything that cannot be positively proven. These artists’ insights—however marginalized they have become in the history of knowledge—require a language capable of expressing the intrinsic qualities of art.

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