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The New Religious Art of Post Conceptual UnGraven Image Theory


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Art began as an inspirational, possibly theological expression, even way of informing and teaching. From the caves of Lascaux to Mark Rothko, great artists from all religious traditions have strove to bring "the fire down from the mountain" to us.

Usually art has been classified as religious due to subject matter. For instance, DaVinci's Last Supper is religious, while the Mona Lisa is not. While artists such as Rothko and van Gogh have insisted that their work was religious, there was no imagery or theology to support this, so despite the obvious public appreciation of their spiritual communication, their works are usually classified by art historians as secular.

Founded by Judy Rey Wasserman, the UnGraven Image art theory and emerging movement, is a radical change in religious art. For the first time in history how an artwork was created becomes the prime definer of religious art, not what is depicted.

That means the work may be simultaneously viewed as secular(and scientific) based on its strokes. The strokes used are all symbols. They are Torah font Hebrew letters from original Bible texts and sources.

Psalm 113 (Vincent van Gogh), 2008
Essence Series
12 x 9 inches, pen & ink on paper
Strokes: Psalm 113

Focusing on the how (symbol-strokes) references the teachings of all great religious and philosophical teachers throughout the ages. How we treat each other, how we love and serve our individual creator(Higher Power, God -- chose a term) is far more important that what theology or philosophy we profess. How we live, how we treat each other always reveals what we truly hold dearest.

Landscapes, portraits, animals, etc., were all previously considered to be secular images, unless emplyed to illustrate a theological tale. UnGraven Image Art theory asserts that the method of making an artwork transforms a secular image into a spiritual or religious one since the meaning of the image is inherent in the strokes, which are binary, Torah font letters from Biblical texts. Thus UnGraven Image Art is Post Conceptual Art, especially related to Word Art, where the meaning of a work is also inherent in the letters. The medium of communication (symbol-strokes) becomes the primary message, while the narrative image is secondary.

Return Ye Children of Men, 2008
Essence Series
24 ¼ x 36 ¼ inches, acrylic on Masonite
Strokes: Genesis 1-2:7, Deut. 6:4, Psalm 90 frame

What is actually depicted on an UnGraven Image painting is Hebrew letters, painted in glazes, overlapped, interwoven and unreadable, painted or drawn for every stroke in a painting. The Abrahamic religions all claim that the world and all that is in it is made of the words of God. UnGraven Image art all flows from that understanding.

Physicists now tell us the smallest elements that make up the universe are subatomic wave motions. In Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions when God speaks in Genesis I the world is created though the Lord's words, which are comprised of Hebrew letters. Drawing from her strong fine art background and love of the Impressionists and Post Impressionists, Judy Rey experimented with the idea of not striving to paint the light but what lies beneath our experience of reality, the smallest, essential units (that physicists theorize to be wave motions). The artist uses the Hebrew letters to symbolize and represent these essential units.

UnGraven Image art has its roots in movements such as Impressionism, Pointillism, Abstract Expressionism and Cubism, all of which strove to show another side of reality, which was not necessarily religious. The theories of Word art, Abstract expressionism and Minimalism further influenced and helped Judy Rey conceive of the UnGraven Image theory and movement.

As the theory continued to be developed and research was conducted on Hebrew, especially Torah font Hebrew it the understanding emerged that the font is binary. Every single letter can be constructed using the Hebrew letters of yud and/or vav. This means that Torah font (the Hebrew ususally printed in Bibles and sefers, Jewish holy books) is binary. Painting with this font further reveraled that every leter is written easily by hand usiing only one or two strokes.

The fact that Torah font is binary expands the references and symbology lent for artists who use this font for strokes. Scienticially, binary references and use now abound in every branch, from biology to physics. Computers are based on binary programming.

Theologically, Taoism is a binary religion. Important binary concepts exist for Buddhists and Hindus -- thin yin-yang. Of course, binary concepts are important to the Abrahamic religions from the first chapter of Genesis (references in the Koran, too) because seperating the darkness from the light and the day from the night is binary. So is good and evil.

To quickly envison how written Torah font is binary, let's use English language letters, since anyone reading this obviously is familiar with them. We are only going to use capital letters, since Hebrew Torah font has no upper and lower case. Usually, I write an A using three strokes. One up, one down and one intersecting. I can also simply write it with two though, by making an inverted V and then the intersecting stroke. That would be binary. Using two strokes I can make B, DE, F, G, J, K, P, Q, R, T and X. Some of those letters it is possible to make using one stroke, also. The Letters C, O, L, M, N, R, S, U, V, W and Z I make using one stroke each. So using capitals in English might be possible as a binary font except for one problematical letter, H. Capital H is a three stroke letter rendering English impossible to use a a binary font. Since capital H would inevitably show up at the beginning of a sentence of name even using lower case letters, English letters do not fit the requirements of a binary symbol set.

Whether Torah font is written or painted with a brush it is easy to create every single letter with one or two strokes. For some letters, it depends on the iindividual scribe as to whether the letter is made with one stroke, or two,; just as one can create an English R from one continuous stroke or from two strokes.

It turns out that Torah font is the only symbol or font set in the world that is alpha-nymeric, phonic and binary. Other Hebrew fonts cannot claim this distinction nor can any other alphabet.

What is depicted generally defines a piece as falling into the category of Religious Art. For instance, when Da Vinci paints a Madonna it is considered religious art but the Mona Lisa is secular, a portrait. Likewise, Rembrandt, El Greco or Chagall painted interpretations of the Crucifixion, but when they painted portraits or other scenes contemporary to them, those paintings are not considered religious art.

The same classification can hold for the art of other traditions, from the most primitive times with ancient fetishes and idols to modern depictions of Buddha, Krishna, Moses, etc. Ironically, the Abrahmic traditions are well known for beautiful manuscripts and artwork that glorifies Hebrew or Aramaic words from religious sources, yet the idea of painting using those letters and words as the very strokes, in a painterly, non-mosaic manner is a 21st century concept, that is Post Conceptual.

There have been movements and disciplines in art that stressed the how and often these have been tied to a religious or philosophical tradition. In strict Muslim tradition and orthodox Jewish tradition it is forbidden to make an image of anything that could possibly be an idol or interpreted as such. In an attempt to keep representation from appearing too real, the early Jewish people developed the art of mosaics, named after Moses, who brought the commandment: “thou shalt make no graven image…”

Abstract Expressionism strove to break away from the what of depiction and evoke feelings, internal realities and/or color or special relationships. Micrography, in which the Biblical texts in Hebrew are written in chain fashion to create a picture (being totally readable) is another way artists have attempted to create an image, but still the image itself is usually of something pertaining to religion. Their image is meant to be read.

Minimalists have tried to reduce reality to its simplest forms and sometimes show their relationships but the ways they sought to do this varied widely. For instance, contrast Dan Flavin’s light sculptures with the solid works of Donald Judd. The imagery in UnGraven Image art serves to reference the strokes, the texts and their meaning. This fully turns around the general artistic idea that the strokes serve to create the image.

The symbol strokes are the prime factors of the work but imagery can appear from their combinations of interweaving and glazes. Scientifically this echoes the theory that the membranes (strings, wave like motions) are the pre-particle energies that combine to create particles, i.e. matter that is the basis of our physical world. It also and simultaneously echoes the theology that the words of the Creator are the essntial building blocks of the universe.

The texts of the Bible, prayers and hymns become the strokes, the foundation, for the reality of Judy Rey’s paintings. Texts are always relevant and convey an underlying story or message, which is hidden by the glazes and interweaving and covering of one letter over another. Still, the "message" is there, though not obviously decipherable. As in life, the how is not as easily seen as the what.

The paintings have been described as having a kinetic quality. They seem to vibrate, even shimmer with energy. The works in acrylic are all "framed" with a psalm, again illegible, and usually gold or silver. Using metallic is an idea that comes from medieval iconic imagery, but in this art work, the precious metal is in the form of a prayer (psalm) an idea more in keeping with biblical symbology.

Throughout the Bible, in both testaments, how we relate to each other and God is far more important than the what, the theological practices that all lead to an understanding of the how. For instance, in the Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s relationships with God, angels, their wives and each other is detailed while their actual theology, other than their belief in the One God (who the had personally related with) is not stressed. Jesus says, "I do nothing but what The Father does through me," delivers the "Sermon on the Mount" and gives the commandments to love God with all you heart, soul and might, and love your neighbor as yourself, it is the how of relationship that is stressed.

If we see our world as less solid, more as energies filled with possibilities and -- for the believer, as the very words of God -- then perhaps we can envision better possibilities and relationships for ourselves. If we realize that we are walking and existing in the very words of God, right now, always and absolutely everywhere, then hopefully how we treat each other, what we create when we speak or act will make the world a better place. That is the how of religious experience not the what of any theological stories being depicted.

Thanks to the Torah font it is an inclusive vison we can all share.

See the video "Painting with the Big Bang of Genesis", "Painting with the Big Bang of Genesis" PaintingwithBigBangGenesis Video

Copyright © 2005 -2009 by Judy Rey Wasserman. All rights reserved.