Human consciousness began as a ripple that decided to leave the ocean of awareness: timeless, space-less, infinite and eternal. Awakening to itself, it forgot that it was not part of this infinite ocean, and suddenly felt isolated and separate. (Hindu myth)
In a complex and innate journey toward wholeness, Stephen Livick transcends time and space with his dynamic photographic murals. Rather than simply capturing still images on film, his visionary works reveal the immanence of the natural world that is felt but not seen. It is a restoration of lost innocence and a return to the undifferentiated bliss of creation, a recollection of the unfathomable unity that we once knew so completely. And it is a fundamental harmony that satisfies our deepest human yearnings.
Both finite and infinite, the murals reveal the transcendent reality beyond the world of experience that is grasped by intuition alone. Livick photographs the ordinary elements that surround all of us: trees, bushes, and rocks. The images that emerge, and the intricacy of their resulting pattern, reveal themselves to him in a ceaseless process that is never wholly complete. It is a highly intuitive continuum in which he opens himself up to the unseen dimensions, allowing a shape and order to emerge rather than trying to control it. Working initially with smaller scale maquettes, reflecting on them, and reprinting some on a larger scale, they are then varnished for longevity. But rather than simply a means of preserving the photographs, the feat of varnishing is almost a ritual act of sealing in the revealed essence of the land. Through the process, nature's depths are sustained in all their magnificent intensity. Unaltered, or manipulated in any way, the separate photographs are collaged to create a whole, often printed in the reverse to form mirror images that echo and recapitulate the inherent life force of the elements. The spontaneous method that Livick engages in frees him to fully explore the palpable and shrouded forces of nature that inspire him so powerfully.
Exploring the transcendental energy running through the whole of the cosmos is a Canadian tradition that was celebrated along a continuum of artists like Emily Carr and Lawren Harris. And like so much of the creative endeavour, it is an attempt to "resonate more consciously with the harmony in the universe, the perception of the divine order running through all of existence." Like his predecessors, Livick attempts to penetrate beneath the surface of visible materiality, seeing with his inner eye that is not bound by time or space. In their intricate detail, the murals reveal a microcosm and yet simultaneously suggest the resonance of something much more vast. Potent and expansive, the often ethereal and sinewy tree branches or masses of vines open themselves up to reveal their yawning interiors, dark voids from which primordial forms emerge. Moving backwards and forwards, in and out, the murals are not static, instead vibrate with the energy and intensity of their fissured reality. The trees and vines, fragmented through a myriad of angles, are climactically expanded, their interiors blown wide open and their secrets revealed.
Historically, mystics, both scientific and spiritual, have asserted the oneness of the universe, and a dynamic interconnectedness of all things in which one can't tell where one thing ends and another begins. The holographic paradigm is interesting to consider in relation to this idea. A single laser of light is split into two separate beams producing a three dimensional image which is both here and not here, can be seen and yet not touched. Like the universe, a portion of the hologram contains the image of the whole, and each portion is enfolded in the totality. Similarly across time and culture, from the Vedic to the Christian mystics, there has been a belief in the ultimate indivisibility of reality, where the fundamental answers to existence are not to be found in intellectual concepts but rather in a level of direct, non-conceptual and powerful experience of reality. Less concerned with doing and believing than being and becoming, mystics are transported not through their physical eyes, rather through the practice of "perfect seeing and contemplation" Among many other things, called God, Brahma, Nirvana, The True, Suchness, this radiant bliss for which the mystics long represents an all-embracing state of perfect union with the divine. Not directly accessible, it is instead possible only through a revelation in which the veil between this world and the next is drawn back, momentarily, and the mystic is filled with an ecstasy so profound and complete that it can only ever be intuited deep within the soul but never fully grasped.
Livick's murals manifest this immense creative life force. But it is a fundamental paradox that our ability to transcend the ordinary limits of our collective consciousness is possible only through the immanent nature of divinity. We recognize that the tangible reality that we know is really just an illusion under which is a much deeper and more profound order of existence, and it's only by abandoning ourselves to the ceaseless torrent that we are able to break through the pale surface to the indescribable vividness and clarity beyond. Our dualistic reality--void and non-void, explicate and implicate-in its totality, represents the undivided wholeness of all things in which separation is simply arbitrary. Like the Hindu myth of creation quoted earlier, our collective consciousness has forgotten its original blissful wholeness. It is a plenitude in which the forces of nature are as evident in the whole tree as in the tiniest branch; the macrocosm in the microcosm, the infinite in the finite.
Like momentary fissures in the fabric of life, Livick's murals allow us a brief glimpse of the immensity of the underlying order of nature. And if the restoration to wholeness is a spiritual journey, then Livick is on an intense and all-consuming pilgrimage. The dense images resonate with a vital energy; the delicate tree branches are like veins carrying the essential sap of life. Riotous masses of vines, repeated and juxtaposed, foreground the pandemonium of the natural world. And yet with the murals, like the study of chaotic phenomenon, what is seemingly disordered contains an astonishing underlying order and lucidity. Often exhibiting a dark central core, it is as though Livick fractures the veil of reality to reveal "that which was always already there". Engaged in a highly innate process of selection and placement of the photographs, he opens himself up to the plenum of reality, a threshold at which the moment expands to reveal the ever-changing flow and metaphysical equilibrium. It is an enlargement and refinement of perception, a direct and intuitive experience of an extended reality that is not possible through rational consciousness.
Struggling to make sense of what often defies description, Livick has intellectually explored many ideas in his effort to break through the surface of reality. One of the most compelling to consider is that of fractal geometry and art. Although he doesn't use it himself, it is an engaging means of framing his experience. Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of the discipline has said that "fractal geometry is not just a chapter of mathematics, but one that helps Everyman to see the same world differently". And along with the holographic paradigm, it is interesting to reflect on in relation to Livick's work. Naturally occurring geometric shapes like coastlines, fractals are infinitely detailed and complicated. With a structural template that is self-similar, the part is the whole and the whole the part, with a small section of the fractal being just as detailed as the entire thing. Like the mystics contemplating the divine with their inner eye, fractals open the door to another universe, one that is freed from the boundaries of time and space. In their incalculable multiplicity, they allow the viewer to be transported to a contemplative and expansive state.
Similarly, with Livick's murals, although we may recognize the image as a tree or bush, it is radically transformed; they're both of this world and the next, finite and infinite, part and whole, inside and outside. And it's in this embrace of the inherent duality of existence, that he engages the boundless and dynamic flux that is the ultimate participation in transcendence. It is a fundamental re-membering of the undifferentiated ocean of consciousness, which is both a recollection of, and a restoration to, the intense bliss and fullness of existence.