Portraits & Passages

Chapter 15

Baba Muktananda

 

Those of the way need to accept where they find themselves; and that may be where water goes - to the lowest places.             -  Tao

Robert Kushner - "Siddha Yoga and Baba Muktananda"
 

In 1977 Catherine Kirkwood introduced me into her early morning meditation group held at Robert Kushner's loft in TriBeCa. I made the seventh member, which  also included Bob's sidekick, Brad Davis. They were at that moment at the top of their game, stars of "Pattern Painting" at Holy Solomon's gallery. For those who  can't remember, that was the hot gallery until Mary Boone came along.

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Although Bob was very warmhearted, both he and Brad were very cautious about letting the art world enter our conversation when we took our communal breakfast  after chanting and meditation for almost two hours. They also suggested there might be a Syda Yoga group closer to the East Village where I lived. Although they knew  I had a passion for Catherine, it was not for that, nor for my convenience that that was suggested. They were climbing their own mountain, tied together, and didn't  want any more weight. They saw me as either a threat or a nuisance and kept their day's business carefully between them in whispers like: "I'll see you at Holly's."

It's not that they were ungracious, though Brad, who was dating Sherrie Levine could be a little icy. It's just that they had no intention of letting me in. So there was  never an occasion where they would say: "Hey, there's an opening tonight, why don't you join us." Their club was closed. It had reached its quote.

Catherine, who had been the girlfriend of a member of that club, was also very close to Brad. It's curious they did not see how involved I already was with patterning. In her portrait done in grattage, except for the immediate area around  her face, the patterned layers of red and umber on the top surface of paint was left intact-an abstract, pattern of material playing in opposition to the face.  -----     

 

 Budha, 1976 --

Baba Muktananda, 1977

Although I can't remember if they saw that painting, I know for sure that Bob and his wife Ellen Saltinstahl did see my iconic portrait of Baba Muktananda when  they visited me on East Seventh Street. Baba, our guru, was back in India at that time. So I made this tapestry-like devotional portrait to go on the wall above my meditation rug.

I had carved away a compromised image from the year before. It had been a Buddha that had started as a portrait of someone not worthy of such respect. So  the photos of Baba gave me the authentic inspiration to completely transform the work in grattage. I just started removing "dead" matter to get to something closer  to the truth. The preparatory application of paint layers had left untouched a band of yellow mixed with titanium white, the foundation color, crossing the middle of the  painting and going around the edges forming two Rothko like rectangles on top and bottom. The photos I took of the early stages of "The White Sisters," a painting  prepared simultaneously with the original canvas of Muktananda's, is a better illustration recording the initial pattern of paint. Through erasure the metamorphosis  of the images would leave a kind of palimpsest suggesting a sort of illusionary transparency - just as when a movie projector malfunctions and starts skipping.

White Sisters, Second Version                     Final Version    

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