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The Sacrificial Universe – An artist draws stunning, poetic maps and diagrams of his Kabbalistic visions
The Sacrificial Universe
by David Chaim Smith
2012, 117 pages, 9.375 x 13.5 x 1 inches
$98 Buy a copy on Amazon
I first discovered the art of David Chaim Smith years ago via one of those “OMG, look at THIS!” posts that constantly float through social media. I did a web search for more of his work, “oohhh’d” and “ahhhhhh’d” a bunch more, and then got excited when I heard that Fulgur Press, the U.K. publisher of fine esoteric art books, was going to be publishing David’s first art book, The Sacrificial Universe.
The book I anxiously waited for did not disappoint. This outsized volume is a pleasure to hold and a total mind-melt to deeply contemplate. Those who are familiar with visionary artists like Paul Lafolley or Alex Grey will have some frame of reference for David’s art. But where Lafolley’s work seems more about using esoteric imagery and ideas as artistic building material (Lafolley is trained as an architect), and Grey remains steeped in the tropes of 60s psychedelia, Smith’s art is clearly the outward expression of an intense contemplative spiritual practice. This is ecstatic mysticism as artistic expression.
In Judaism, a shiviti is a devotional image used for contemplation (something like a mandala in Hinduism). The related practice of illanot is the diagramming and mapping of various aspects of the creation/creative process through Kabbalistic principles. David Smith’s art is a perfect blending of these two practices. Using his knowledge of Kabbalah, from years of serious study, his art combines imagery and ideas from the Kabbalah/Tree of Life along with other concepts and symbols from alchemy, Western esotericism, and gnostic thought.
The Sacrificial Universe contains 45 stunning drawings of mesmerizing complexity and strangeness. Most of them are full-size, with a number as dramatic fold-out diptychs, triptychs, and even a quadriptych. The production is high-quality, art-book level. The text in Sacrificial Universe (but really, everything in the book) attempts what Smith calls “associative intoxication.” There are three textual modes: a scholarship/intellectual mode, which offers more traditional expositions on David’s art and its underpinning ideas and symbols; a hyper-allegorical mode, the realm of poetic resonance, pattern recognition, and discovered association; and the third is the realm of the mystical, the ecstatic, and the visionary (i.e. when contemplating these ideas, images make serious lights go off in your head). Additional text, mainly in the service to these last two modes, promiscuously invades the drawings. These little ribbons of strange, often seemingly incomprehensible text help pull you deeper into the absurdly dense drawings. Spend some time in one of these images and you’ll get as entangled in it as the textual ribbons, tree roots, light-rays, intestine-like constructs, and other fingery tendrils that expand out from most of these images.
I’ve always had a great attraction to artists and philosophers who seem to have developed the ability to spelunk the recesses of their own psyches and bring back news of what they’ve found in there. Looking at David Chaim Smith’s work feels like I’m journeying deep inside his mind and marveling at all of the cave paintings he’s left there as clues to his more profound discoveries. It’s either that or they’re the rebus writings left on the walls of his institutional cell. Either way, I feel enriched by the experience and feel like I’ve perhaps glimpsed a bit of my own ontological inner workings in the process. – Gareth Branwyn
July 23, 2014