Walking the Labyrinth: An Introduction by Mary Kathryn Jablonski
When you think of a mandala, what do you envision? Looking through a kaleidoscope or stained glass rose window of a church? Have you found your way through a maze or labyrinth? Watched Zen Buddhist monks make a sand painting, wiped clear at the end of day? All these images fit the loose definition of the word mandala as a “geometric configuration of symbols.” In various traditions, mandalas are often used as spiritual tools to focus attention, and in so doing, aid meditation or establish a sacred space.
These three artists (Lynne Browne, Francelise Dawkins, and Willie Marlowe) have all created mandalas or tondos in distinctive ways, achieving unique effects. Each exemplifies Tupelo Quarterly’s international theme for Issue 28 in a specific way as well. I encourage you to investigate more of their work, some of which has been inspired directly by the pieces you’ll see here, and to consider the effect the mandala may have on you, the circle itself being quite powerful.
These six tondos are from an ongoing body of my work, “Triangles/Tondos/Triptychs.” The series goes back to elemental geometric shapes and to Kandinsky’s influence on my early interest in abstraction. Some of the work from this series is intimately scaled on paper, some are large canvases or panels, and some are triptychs. This is the context for mandalas as tondos, a renaissance term for a circular work of art, which has been a part of my work for a long time, with an awareness of the myriad meanings of a circular shape as a focus of energy.
The three archival pigment prints come from Jeff Saward’s book, “Labyrinths & Mazes: A Complete Guide to Magical Paths of the World.” He traveled the globe discovering and photographing medieval and contemporary labyrinths and mazes. He then made black and white diagrams for his book. I wrote to ask permission to photocopy some of these to use as collage elements in paintings. He offered to send them to me on a disk. As soon as I opened the disk in photoshop to have a look, I began adding color. Shooting color into his drawings as I moved around the labyrinths visually was a meditative experience, much akin, I imagine, to walking a labyrinth.
I was looking at kaleidoscopes long before I knew what meditation was. I was drawn to the brilliantly colored glass pieces and was mesmerized by the way the glass pieces could magically lock into place to create those intricate patterns. I even loved the sound of the glass pieces falling as I turned the kaleidoscope. I was equally attracted to the brilliantly colored glass in rose windows, and to the way light played an essential role. The rose windows in Paris at Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame made a lasting impression on me. Chartres Cathedral has a rose window and a labyrinth from the Middle Ages set in stone in the nave.
Mandalas are usually geometric but can also be free form. The three paintings shown here, eight inches in diameter, have an asymmetrical composition. After the flat surface of the prints, I wanted a more tactile presence in the paintings, and I used impasto paint as well as painted collage elements. The paintings that followed the mandala images in later work suggested representations of a black hole in space or an ocean vortex in their circular shapes.