Excerpts from Essays by Donald Kuspit
Jamali: Works & Jamali: Dreams and Works
Perhaps the single most striking feature of Jamali’s paintings is their vivid texture. It is evocative of primordial process, more so than any surface in modern painting. “Works”, p. 17.
If dreaming is a creative activity – an indication of the creativity in all human beings – and the dream is an artistic phenomenon, then Jamali’s dreams are in effect his first artistic creations… [One of the most important themes in Jamali’s dream imagery is] the appearance of a spiritual guide and protector…The guide’s spiritual message is to be artistically creative. The form of the message [“whole poems”] is itself a work of art. Jamali buys “art materials” and makes his “first painting in the woods”. “Dreams and Works”, p. 30.
In other words, the message of the poems is to make paintings, for Jamali was destined to be a painter. As he says in his account of Dream 5, the sage tells him that the “message in (the) poems…was to be my life’s mission.” One line, Jamali writes “struck me as the essence of the message,” as suggested by the fact that it “kept recurring throughout the poems”: ‘I combine again and again in the matrix and my result is the white dove.’ That is, he will make many different paintings in the womb of his creativity, but they will all have the same sacred spirit, and all be about the same sacred self, symbolized by the white dove, a symbol of purity and inspiration. “Dreams and Works”, page 31.
For Jamali, dreaming is clearly a sacred experience of self-searching leading to self-knowledge and self-transformation. Dreaming is a numinous experience – an intimation of the sacred, as the presence of the mystic guides – women as well as men, and animals as well as human beings – indicates. Jamali’s dreams keep alive the sense of the sacred, not only as a personal experience, but as socially relevant: society’s choice is either oceanic experience or nuclear disaster – selfdestruction, in whatever form – as Dream 14 suggests. Mystical experience makes one aware that there are creative forces that stand opposed to the human tendency to self-destruction. “Dreams and Works”, p. 36.
It is by successfully keeping alive the sense of the sacred – perhaps Jamali’s most important accomplishment – in what Erich Fromm calls “the forgotten language” of dream and myth that Jamali shows that ours is not entirely an “age of inner emptiness” or “existential vacuum,” as Viktor Frankl calls it. Or rather it can be saved from its emptiness by returning to the mystical tradition, in which the inner sacredness of every being is self-evident, and becomes especially evident in the self that has become creative with the help of that tradition. “Dreams and Works”, page 37.
Jamali’s texture is both matter and sprite – materialized energy and energized material – making it all harder to describe and analyze, for analysis divides to describe, but what is indivisible is not easily conquered by description. Jamali’s texture must be experienced and felt rather than analytically stripped to its material bare bones, thus discarding its energy, which is what engages – fixates – us, drawing us into the matrix of its materiality. “Works”, p. 17.
The four heads of Time I, II, III and IV are an unparalleled tour de force of self-states – dream images of the trust self as it moves through phases of self-awareness by plunging into the unconscious which it had hitherto not been aware of…The Time series is powerfully painted, conveying vigorous, inexhaustible life-energy – the kind of life-energy that seems rarer and rarer in contemporary art, and that is even more assertive, intense, and deeply evocative than the life-energy evident in Impressionistic and Expressionistic brushwork. While Jamali’s gesturalism has a family resemblance to the gesturalism of German Neo-Expressionism, his gestures have greater momentum and determination. “Works”, p. 18.
For if abstract art is mystical in import, as Robert Motherwell argues, then Jamali’s art reconciles traditional religious mysticism with modern secular mysticism. Abstract art is in fact mystical at its very fundament, for it involves the artist’s mystical identification with his material medium, which becomes the object of religious veneration. Jamali shares this modern veneration and identification – immerses himself, with Dionysian intensity, in his material – even as he uses the figurative imagery of the religious tradition in which he was raised. His sacred figures fuse with the ground of his raw medium even as they float in its abstract space, emblematic of the infinite beyond in which the gods are founds. Traditional religious art and modern abstract art don’t look alike (however abstract traditional religious figures may be), but in showing their common mystical root Jamali has achieved what amounts to a “post-modern” solution to their alienation. His art thus becomes forward-looking by looking backward, all the more so because both religious imagery and abstract art now seem equally traditional. That is, the elater is part of what Harold Rosenberg called the tradition of the new while the former is part of an age-old tradition of art. “Dreams and Works”, pp. 29-30.
Where modernists have devalued tradition, and traditionalists have devalued modernism, Jamali has found the mystical value in both. He has brought together, indeed seamlessly merged, an art of “collective ideation” and “mystical participation” …and a hyper-individualistic art that apparently eschews all collective purpose and meaning… In short, Jamali combines a communal figurative art with an art whose abstractness reflects, however obliquely, the anomic character of the modern society in which it developed. Thus, abstract art has a subliminal psychosocial purpose – to rescue individuals who feel at odds with their society by wedding them to the universe at large in a mystical rite of art. It is a new art of transcendental enchantment, which Jamali combines with the old one to new mystical effect. “Dreams and Works”, page 30.
1Donald Kuspit is one of America's most distinguished art historians and critics. In 1983 he was honored with the prestigious Frank Jewett Mather Award for
Distinction in Art Criticism, from the College Art Association. In 1997 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Contribution to Visual Arts from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. He is a Contributing Editor at Artforum, Sculpture, Tema Celeste, and New Art Examiner magazines Editor of Art Criticism, and is on the advisory board of Centennial Review. With Lawrence Alloway he co-founded the magazine Art Criticism. He is also the editor of a series on American Art Criticism for Cambridge University Press. Kuspit has received fellowships from the Ford Foundation, Fulbright Commission, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, Guggenheim Foundation, Asian Cultural Council, among others. He is the author of hundreds of essays, exhibition reviews, and over twenty books. He has also lectured at many universities and art schools, and curated numerous exhibitions. Kuspit is the editorial advisor for European Art 1900-50 and Art Criticism for the Encyclopedia Britannica (16th edition), and author of the entry on Art Criticism. Some of his most recently published books include: The Cult of the Avant-Garde Artist (Cambridge U. Press, 1994); The Rebirth of Painting in the Late 20th Century (Cambridge U. Press, 2000); Psycho-strategies of Avant-Garde Art (Cambridge U. Press, 2000); and The End of Art (Cambridge U. Press, 2004). He has contributed reviews and essays on some of the most influential contemporary artists around the world, including Jamali, Hans Hartung, Karel Appel, Louise Bourgeois, Dale Chihuly, among others. He is the subject of Dialectical Conversions: Donald Kuspit’s Art Criticism, edited by David Craven and Brian Winkenweder (Liverpool University Press, 2011). Kuspit holds doctorates in Philosophy (University of Frankfurt) and Art History (University of Michigan), as well as degrees from Columbia University (B.A.), Yale University (M.A., Philosophy), and Pennsylvania State University (M.A., Art History), and has completed the course of study at the Psychoanalytic Institute of the New York University Medical Center. He also holds honorary degrees from Davidson College, San Francisco Institute of Arts, University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, and has served as the A. D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University (1991-97). Kuspit has taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Pennsylvania State University, the School of Visual Arts in New York, and is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art History and Philosophy at Stony Brook University (formerly State University of New York at Stony Brook). He is currently Senior Critic with the New York Academy of Art.