School of Art

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School of Art
Aberystwyth University
Buarth Mawr
SY23 1NG

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John O’Rourke PhD Exhibition

30 March – 8 May 2009

East-West-Occult is the culmination of an investigation into Theosophy and other related schools of esoteric philosophy and practice. Sculptures, paintings, drawings and photographic works focus on a diversity of subjects and these are related to one another through an underpinning framework of Seven Human Principles identified in Theosophy.

John O'Rourke, Katie King Sleeps with the Fishes

John O'Rourke, Katie King Sleeps with the Fishes

John O'Rourke, Chambers of the Self

John O'Rourke, Chambers of the Self

Two of the oak sculptures in the exhibition adhere to a structural approach which has been evolving in my work since the early nineties. The pieces concerned are ‘Chambers of the Self’ and ‘Luminary’. Human heads, about twice life size, grow out of micro architectural forms below them. The word ‘occult’ means ‘hidden’. Through the construction of labyrinthine ‘occult spaces’ within these sculptures, I explore their symbolic correspondence to a Path, culminating in mystical union with the Self. From a formal or stylistic point of view, ancient Egyptian, Hindu, Buddhist, Aztec and Mayan art and architecture have influenced this way of working. Since the sculptures are labour intensive, slow to make and part of a life long commitment (making one every two years or so), it has been important for me to diversify into other activities, complimenting those efforts.

Work for this practice led research began in 2004 and during that year, after a break of some twenty four years concentrating solely on sculpture, I began painting again. Unlike the oak sculptures, which I continue to make as a long-term project, the paintings have a thematic relationship with other mixed media structures and photographic works I create. Often an idea, or subject, will be revisited in differing media. A painting entitled ‘Katie King Sleeps with the Fishes’, for example, explores the artifices of a Victorian medium named Florence Cook who allegedly materialised Katie King, long deceased daughter of a 17th century pirate, during her séances which were photographed by the psychic investigator and renowned scientist Sir William Crookes. A sculptural form, Cook’s Cabinet, consisting of a dead fish wearing the dress I made for it, appears as a ghostly levitating being in a photographic work, ‘Katie King; Linga Sarira’, as well as serving as a model for both the oil painting and a portrait study in pencil entitled Katie.

Sculpture by John O'Rourke.

Sculpture by John O'Rourke.

Theosophy is an occult philosophy incorporating both eastern and western spiritual concepts, recognizing their essential commonality, and embracing an emanationist cosmology. For purposes of clarification the principles mentioned in the opening paragraph are usually presented as a higher triune and a lower finite quaternary with each principle being appropriate within its context. The seventh, sixth and higher aspects of the fifth are eternal, while the lower part of the fifth principle has potential either to achieve union with those overarching spiritual faculties or to degenerate, becoming slave rather than master of its subordinate nature. They descend from highest to lowest as follows:

Higher Triune

Atma: pure Spirit, God, the higher Self, unknowable Mystery

Buddhi: the Spiritual Soul, vehicle of Atma

Manas: the thinker or mind, subdivided into Higher Manas, or Buddhi Manas, and Lower Manas, also known as Kama Manas

Lower Quaternary

Kama Rupa or Desire Body: instincts, sex, hunger etc

Prana: life principle appropriated into diverse beings

Linga Sarira or Etheric Double: subtle counterpart of the physical body

Sthula Sarira: dense physical body

Terms like ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ are not intended as a means of promoting ascetic or puritanical views and the aforementioned validity of each respective human principle is an important issue to be stressed. Dualism on the other hand, where the world is perceived as an eternal struggle between powers of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is incompatible with esoteric philosophy. With a wholistic vision of the essential unity of all life, the above hierarchy may be intuitively considered and each work in this exhibition corresponds symbolically with some or all of the principles identified.