A hidden light
Abstracted forms and a carefully considered colour palette combine in Lyn Woodger Grant’s contemplation of esoteric subjects in Ascension VII (2015). This vertically hung work is resplendent with symbolist evocations, which in the artist’s words express ‘the concept of the transmutation of the soul.’ Lyn succinctly surveys the historical pursuit of spiritual and intellectual transcendence in her book Alchemical Gold (1985), from which central themes of ‘spiritual transmutation’, ‘the unification of mind, body and soul’, and ‘the integration of material and immaterial worlds’ recur throughout her painterly corpus, including in the six works preceding the present one in her Ascension series, which dates back to 1968.
With esoteric subjects in mind, the large yellow orb is an appropriate focal point for its connotations of wholeness and undividedness, as well as for being ‘a universal symbol of integration, harmony and transformation’ (Woodger Grant, 1985). The artist employs the golden ratio to give the orb its own space in the composition. Its structural antecedent then becomes the darker concentration of purples and blues, which frames the canvas at its base.
There is perhaps much meaning that can be discerned from this simple composition. The movement from the closely overlapped, suggestively earthy colours at the canvas’s base, towards the more expansive use of greens, yellows and blues at the painting’s centre, draws the viewer’s eye upwards towards the yellow-green orb. Indeed, there is much movement in the curvilinear shapes that demarcate this almost geometric colour composition. One might be forgiven for recalling Roy de Maistre’s Rhythmic Composition in Yellow Green Minor (1919) for its similar colours and featured circular focal points, although Lyn’s work is perhaps structurally more linear in its clear upwards direction towards the quintessential orb (as opposed to the backwards and forwards rocking movement implicit in de Maistre’s dynamic work). Ascension’s compositional fulfilment is in the glorious space surrounding the golden circle, where the heady tonal vibrancy of purples, greens and blues dissipates in a translucent palette of softly highlighted pinks and greens.
There is perhaps symbolic meaning in the artist’s use of colours, particularly in the fiery yellow-orange streak which winds suggestively upwards through the painting’s centre, falling just short of penetrating the similarly luminous circle. By carefully controlling the diffusion of colours towards the upper frame of the canvas, Lyn evokes great movement; a movement that is pointedly directed towards the lustrous orb as it floats towards the upper frame of the canvas.
This is a work that fundamentally has to do with movement; an upwards lift out of a metaphoric darkness towards increasing clarity, light and spaciousness. This alchemical association preoccupied Australian symbolist poet, Christopher Brennan, who in his Poems (1913) mused:
But these deep fibres hold
the season’s mortal gold,
by silent alchemy
of soul set free.
For Brennan, spiritual and intellectual enlightenment emerges out of the deep fibres of one’s own subconsciousness, the suggestion being that enlightenment emerges from within us, and is perhaps not extrinsic to us but rather intrinsic. The Ascension of Lyn’s orb out of the murky recesses of earthy baseness thus becomes a poetic, as well as a rhythmically dynamic, evocation of this alchemical ideal.
Written by Dr Bradley Kunda, 2016
This article was first published in Bradley Kunda, Rochelle Whatman (eds.), International House Magazine, vol. 2, 2016, 8-9. Read the magazine here.
Lyn Woodger Grant, Ascension VII, 2015
acrylic on canvas 61x90cm