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Soothing Agitation: James Verbicky’s Factor of Existence

by : Karen Moe

What is the relationship between the linear and the circular, apparent opposites, as the former streams forth in a continuum of evolution that has been hijacked by the West’s obsession with progress (at all costs)? And then the circle: a moving forward, back and then forward again, no matter which direction taken infinitely arriving back at the beginning. Is it a trap or an embrace? And what is it when the line and the circle are put together within the same aesthetic and existential world, blatantly, edges sharp and yet softened by a sense of spirituality, as a woven infliction?

James Verbicky at his solo exhibition Factor of Existence at GE Galería Monterrey. October 2018.

The art of James Verbicky is built upon the conflation of this opposition. Best known for his media paintings, he explains how he has always been interested in “the all encompassing ability of media to control people.” The artist is voracious in his acquisitions of magazines and books, the raw materials he uses to subvert the suzerainty of the media upon our lives. In the Citta Samtana series, the artist’s attention to our inundation with media saturation is the most overt. Lexical signifiers like ‘Self Obsession, not Self Expression’; ‘That was then, this is now’; ‘You can have it too!’ pull us along from left to right in contained Cartesian lines and we are drawn in (as usual) by the seduction of a Buy-Me! palette. And yet, not all of Verbicky’s media finds narrate the toxicity of egotism and greed. Like an undercover agent, the artist infiltrates possibilities of otherwise with ‘We are All,’ ‘Reform’ and simply, profoundly: ‘Here.’

In his 2015 article, “Streams of Consciousness,” Donald Kuspit referred to Verbicky’s circles as “modern-day mandalas.” With the ultimate contradiction of a mandala made of money in “Citta Samtana Monetarie,” these symbols of spiritual consciousness are composed of their opposite. However, such a mandalic imposition of a spiritual space upon bands of consumer tunnel vision forces a breath of stillness onto the insistent blasting forth of popular culture. In Citta Samtana, the circle is a sacred blot on unrelenting progress and, like a serpent starting to turn back and bite its own tail, forces the linear to begin to re-think itself.

James Verbicky at his studio in California, USA.

Citta Samtana is a concept used in Buddhist philosophy that is connected to ‘ordinary consciousness’ and ‘the act of mental apprehension’ which, of course, is readily manipulated by our daily media bombardments. However, in Verbicky’s series Bhavaṅga, which translates into ‘the ground of becoming,’ the artist begins to bring us back down to earth by painting the bands with ancient images that underlay our era of surfaces. He explains how, “Every piece in a Bhavanga is hand painted, giving the viewer a closeness to me. I want them to stand in front of the work and feel like I’m standing in front of them.” The soft blacks, greys, and flesh tones calm as the human enters and all of the linguistic utterances suspend and soothe with universal Buddhism.

James Verbicky, Citta Samtana Bhavanga Diptych 1, 2018. Mixed media, enamel and crystallina on canvas

But, what happens when Verbicky conjoins his Citta Samtana with his Bhavaṅga? Is it another act of imposing the mundane upon the transcendent and messing with our minds? Or is it a fusion that begins to evoke that transcendence? The series Citta Samtana Bhavaṅga retains the meditative monochrome of Bhavanga, adds the mandala of Citta Samtana, and combines the ‘You can Have it All!’ of the consumer sacred with the Buddhist awareness of infinite nothing. And yet, in “Citta Samtana Bhavanga Diptych 3,” the words are receding, becoming a part of the textures of ritual; it is the circle that dominates and, like the tugging vortex of a full-to-brimming moon, one can’t help but wonder if the art of James Verbicky is moving towards a happy never-ending.

James Verbicky “Factor of Existence” GE Galería, Monterrey Mexico, October 18th -December 5th, 2018.

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