Cultural Contradictions and Intuitive Truths
Gilah Yelin Hirsch, May 22, 2022
I like to think of Suzi Gablik as an explorer in the grand old tradition of sailing into the unknown. I see her in a 3 masted caravel, perhaps in the 1450’s, destined to find spices in someplace called the Indies. Instead, and largely by accident, this seeker discovers that the planet is not flat but round — much vaster than imagined, and consequently finds new worlds.
Suzi was a revolutionary, an activist on the deepest levels of mind and psyche, a zealot almost to the point of being exiled from the ring of concepts she formulated and championed.
As a brilliant intellectual she made her resounding mark in the male-dominated, idea-restricted art world, already writing about surrealism in her 20s in NYC and pop art in her 30s with John Russell in London.
I first met Suzi in the late1980’s when she came to visit my home/studio in Venice, CA, as she was contemplating her forthcoming book, The Re-enchantment of Art. I was astonished that someone so sophisticated, urbane and rooted in the citified nature of the art world, would be interested in my work and life. Suzi was particularly entranced with the fact that I was spending long spates of solitary time in isolated high-altitude mountain regions such as Tonto National Forest in Arizona, the Rocky Mountains of Banff, Canada, and a remote pond in Temecula, Southern California. These years of sequestered sojourns and frequent trespassing from nature to culture and culture to nature, provided intimate knowledge of micro to macro aspects of the natural world, and had become the focus of my life and work. Metaphoric, anthropomorphic imagery was catalyzed for my paintings, while mind-expanding theories were developing on the origin of alphabet, the power of form in art and healing, and the oscillating mirroring relationship between forms of neurons, neural processes, and that which is perceived. Suzi was also taken with the fact that I had spent a year of solo travel in 15 Asian countries and that I had been invited into the inner circle of the Dalai Lama.
Suzi’s in-depth probing of surrealism, particularly her year-long study of Magritte while living in his house in Belgium, had jostled her earlier whole-hearted acceptance of scientific truths. Simultaneously, the author’s growing understanding of the transformative combination of deep nature and profound spirituality had penetrated the mind of my new friend, eventually pushing aside almost all Cartesian rationality.
Furthermore, culturally, during this period quantum physics was beginning to be recognized in tandem with Eastern philosophy — the non-ordinary was becoming more acknowledged as possibility, while magic and the miraculous were beginning to be understood as science.
Although these were not ubiquitously discussed ideas, I was fortunate to have been included in related discussions, experiments and conferences beginning in the early 1980s. Suzi was also hooked into what had been called psychic phenomena. The more irregular the experience, the stronger her belief became. She was led from one event to another, certain that she was on to the truth whatever it may be and wherever she would eventually find it.
Suzi immersed herself ever more deeply into what she called “the magical life”. Over the years she would call me frequently to chat about her latest experience of synchronicity which seemed to happen continuously. She only followed her intuition rather than her reason, and soon all she encountered on every level was deemed a synchronous sign of something or someone she was fated to meet. She entirely discounted free will. Whether the occasion was objectively positive or negative, she took it to provide direction toward her wished for but essentially illusory goal. She lost trust in everyday intelligence and common sense and would not acknowledge that there could be another, more salutary path. On one occasion after she had moved to Blacksburg, and I was visiting New York City, she asked me to view the great bejeweled golden Buddha she had purchased that was still there in the antique shop. Suzi wanted me to vet the Buddha, to determine whether the statue was psychically pure. To my mind and eye, it was, and I said yes, and the next time I saw the great statue it was marvelously ensconced in her Blacksburg home.
Her seminal trilogy of books Has Modernism Failed?, 1984, The Re-enchantment of Art, 1991, and Conversations Before the End of Time,1995, castigated the art world to eschew the goal of art as money-valued commodity. Turning the art world upside down, she declaimed to the point of proselytizing that attention should be paid to the interconnectedness between nature, ecology, activism, spirituality, and beauty. As she wrote in a later work:
“A closer look has convinced me that life is more like an ecosystem than a linear equation. All the parts are interconnected. This feeling for the relationship between things — seeing the world as a cat’s cradle of interconnections rather than as a set of isolated fragments — is something I learned from being a collage artist: everything is related to everything else. Nothing is isolated. Nothing exists separately from the rest. And synchronicities are the nodal points, magic moments where seemingly unrelated events are woven together to form a single, undivided world fabric.” Living the Magical Life, Suzi Gablik, Phanes Press, 2002
In these books Suzi provided alternative references and liaisons to art and artists that captured readers around the world. However, as her writing became more esoteric and focused on the belief in the unordinary, she was disavowed by some of her former champions and publishers.
An artist, art critic, and teacher, Suzi was always educating vision and thought. During my last visits to Blacksburg, she continued to host a regular salon to discuss the gamut from politics to the occult. She thrived on ideas, on discussion, on bon mots, and on beauty. Becoming blind later in life was a dreadful burden to bear for someone whose life was centered on what she saw and how she perceived — and, ultimately, she saw this as the ironic yet synchronous next step that forced her quest for truth only inward.
I will always admire Suzi’s steadfast vision and her clear adherence to her truths. Yet, I often worried that her firm beliefs would hurt her, and they sometimes did. Despite its logical inconsistencies, the example of Suzi’s continual search for finer details of overlapping and interweaving of what she called the cosmic cat’s cradle, will remain an unparalleled story of thoughtful exploration, goodness, and generosity of spirit.