Friday, December 1, 2017

Solo Exhibition at Theosophical Society in America

A solo exhibition of my artwork is on view in the Olcott Gallery at the Theosophical Society in America in Wheaton, Illinois. The show runs October through December 2017.

The Theosophical Society in America is a member-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the teaching of Theosophy and affiliated with the international Theosophical Society based in Adyar, Chennai, India. 

The national headquarters is situated on 40 beautifully landscaped acres. A large library, art gallery, auditorium, lecture hall, classrooms, meditation room, and non-violent cafeteria (vegetarian since 1926) are housed in this historic 1926 building. Click here to view an informative video tour of Theosophical Society in America.

Their mission is to encourage open-minded inquiry into world religions, philosophy, science, and the arts in order to understand the wisdom of the ages, respect the unity of all life, and help people explore spiritual self-transformation.

An impressive mural surrounds the lobby. The painting portrays the evolutionary progression of life on earth.

The Olcott Gallery is a curated space with exhibitions changing every three months. 

Ten of my "portraits" of ancient Hindu and Buddhist sculptures are in this show.  Seven are large acrylic scroll paintings done on hand blocked Kalamkari fabric from India. Three pieces are framed drawings done in conte crayon on paper made in Nepal.

The gallery is located just off of the auditorium where meditation retreats are often held.

A few months ago I was fortunate to attend a lecture and retreat at the Theosophical Society taught by Ajahn Brahm who is Abbot of Bodhinyana Monestery in Australia and the author of many excellent books on Buddhism and meditation. My husband and I spent 8 days in February 2014 with the happiest man I've ever met, Ajahn Brahm, touring Buddhist monasteries and nunneries in Bhutan. Despite taking over 15,000 photos during our trip, I had no photographic proof of meeting him. This deficiency was rectified at his lecture!

My favorite place to spend time during retreats here is the meditation room in which a wonderful permanent collection of artifacts are displayed. 

A portrait of Madam Blavatsky hangs in this room. She was a co-founder of the Theosophical Society in 1875 and published Isis Unveiled, a book outlining the Theosophical world view. She moved to India in 1880 and later that year in Ceylon became the first Westerner to officially convert to Buddhism. 

This well known image of Blavatsky was painted by Gutzon Borgium an American artist and sculptor who is most associated with his creation of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

A well kept secret is the strong influence Madam Blavatsky and Theosophy had in the development of abstract art. Early abstract artists Wassily Kandinsky, Johannes Itten, and Piet Mondrian based their art theories on theosophist concepts.  In Kandinsky's influential book in the history of modern art Concerning the Spiritual In Art (click to see pdf),refers to Blavatsky's theosophist ideas.

Because of this rich history and connection of the Theosophical Society to the development of modern art, I feel very honored to show my work here at the national headquarters of Theosophical Society in America.

If you have the opportunity, a visit here to see the mural, art collection, library, gallery, and bookstore are worth the trip. Walk the labyrinth on the park-like grounds while you visit.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Ganga Yamuna

Standing on the banks of the River Ganges, the holiest river of Hinduism, was a spiritual highlight of my 2016 trip to India. 

Bathing and drinking the water of the Ganges is regarded to remove sin.

Another highlight was a research trip to the Indian Museum in Kolkata which houses thousands of incredible artifacts. 

The sacred river Ganges and its main tributary are worshipped as the Hindu Goddesses Ganga and Yamuna. Iconographic depictions of the river goddesses are often seen on temple doorways like this one.

Ganga Yamuna are shown as beautiful maiden standing on the banks of the river. In this relief sculpture, the figures stand on swirling forms representing waves in the river water.

I was inspired to paint this sculpture to commemorate my crossing of the Ganges.

A friend in Kolkata had given me a printed tablecloth printed in greens and browns. The colors are appropriate so I decided to use it for this image. Because the new fabric was too crisp and white, I decide to stain it in hot, strong tea.

After washing the fabric, it was stretched on two frames. 

I find these blank canvases a bit intimidating. Metallic gold and copper medallions are stenciled randomly around the surface to get things started.

This playful part of the process is so much fun.

I added some illusion of shadow to make the light cream colored medallions stand out. Oxidation of the copper paint when I added a dark wash was a happy accident. 

I really liked how this looked and thought about keeping the painting this way.

Going ahead with the original plan, I started to draw the figures.

It takes many layers of paint to develop the forms.

The illusion of dimensionality makes the goddess figures project forward in front of the flat patterned background.

For many months I believed this diptych was complete at this stage.

Then I thought I'd like to hang the paintings like scrolls so that more of the fabric's border would show. The paintings were taken off of the stretchers. The raw edges were hemmed and additional strips of fabric were sewn on to make rod pockets.

The wide fabric borders were now too pristine. I also felt the color palette was too warm and harmonious. Some contrast was required. 

After spending so much time working on these paintings, the thought of pouring blue paint over them was scary, but blue would refer to water and balance the color. Because cool colors recede, it helped push the background farther into the distance.

Clear iridescent zigzags symbolic of waves were the finishing touch.

These pieces are shown for the first time in the biennial faculty exhibition at the university where I've been teaching drawing and painting courses for the past 20 years.
In proper gallery lighting the many different metallic, iridescent, gloss and matte finishes utilized are more evident than they were in my studio. 

River Goddesses Ganga Yamuna
acrylic on fabric
61" x 96"

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


For RedLine Milwaukee's annual Artist in Residence Exhibition "TimeLine 2017", my RedLine mentor Nirmal Raja and I worked on a temporary installation of delicate and ephemeral drawings on glass.

Chalk marker on glass
Cynthia Hayes and Nirmal Raja

These drawings have been sourced from a portfolio of prints housed in the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee's special collections library. The portfolio titled Jeypore Portfolio of Architectural Details was prepared under the supervision of Colonel S.S. Jacob under the patronage of Maharaja Sawai Madhu Singh of Jeypore between 1841-1917. Hayes and Raja have been responding to these exquisite renderings of architectural details from northwestern India over the last few months as part of the Look Here initiative by the UWM libraries. Hayes and Raja are interested in exploring the decorative, historical and cultural nature of these architectural details by juxtaposing them with RedLine's industrial and urban architecture. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

A Series of Arbitrary Moments - Part I: Howrah at Night

Last year I traveled to Kolkata for a solo exhibition of my paintings. The home where I was staying was in a suburb about an hour long drive from the gallery, so I found myself commuting through Kolkata's sister city, Howrah, every evening.

The city shops came alive with a bustle of activity at night. 

I took many photos on these drives whenever my car would slow or stop in traffic. 

Crossing the Howrah Bridge over the Ganges River to the west bank nightly, I quickly became fascinated with the night life in Howrah.

The Bhimsain Hotel, Howrah Station Area  became an obsession of mine.

Traces of ornate lattice on the balconies show evidence of what a grand hotel this now crumbling landmark must have been.

One evening in Kolkata I had dinner with a a lovely, talented Norwegian guitarist, Oddrun, who was working on an album to be titled A Series of Arbitrary Moments. These photos are exactly that, so this photo essay is named in honor of that memorable evening with a new friend. 

I hope these images go deeper than the average tourist snapshot, and that you will find them of interest.

More arbitrary moments in West Bengal will be shared in another post.