Luminous Strings...The Art of Henry Mandell
Updated: Mar 5, 2022
When I view Henry Mandell’s work, I’m struck by how organic it seems despite (or is it because?) of the nature of its creation. Mandell creates using a computer. Since he places a computer between himself and surface on which his creation will ultimately be presented, it's tempting to perceive a distance between creator and his creation, a distance measured in subatomic particles, a distance at once minute and infinite. But to focus attention on his methodology is to miss the beauty and wonder of Mandell’s extraordinary work.
By subsuming the limitations of the traditional physical apparatus of artmaking—brush, stone, knife, chisel, canvas, paint—Mandell has actually bridged the gap between pure imagination and the manifestation of his imaginings in the physical world. His computer becomes a natural extension of his imagination; his printer's application of the paint to his chosen surface becomes a natural extension of his hands and eyes. Mandell has created a supraorganic process, a process at once beyond the limits of the physical act of painting and the purest expression of that act.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five provides an apt analogy for what I’m getting at. His Tralfamadorians do not experience time as a linear sequence of moments. Rather they see past/present/future all at once. Here he describes one effect of this phenomenon.
…[T]he Universe does not look like a lot of bright little dots to the creatures of Tralfamadore. The creatures can see where each star has been and where each is going, so that the heavens are filled with rarefied, luminous spaghetti.
Rarefied luminous spaghetti – it sounds humorous, even reductive, but I find it a fitting descriptor of Mandell’s creations when you consider that spaghetti comes from the Italian spago, meaning string. Mandell’s rarefied, luminous cosmic strings are filaments of energy. Give yourself over to his images and you can feel, even hear the forces at work within these filaments, individually and collectively.
Furthermore, there is a supersymmetry to the strings’ mathematical relationships that echoes physicists’ claims for the strings of their unifying theory of the universe. The forces and symmetry of Mandell’s strings break down the barriers between our ability to imagine and our need to represent what we have imagined. Put succinctly, Mandell’s paintings are ideas rendered as pure energy. What do I mean?
Maybe contrasting Mandell’s work to other artistic movements will help clarify what I’m struggling to express. The artists of the Light and Space movement, for example, are said to focus on perceptual phenomena, especially light. Mandell, in contrast, works directly with the elements of light: uncreated light, to borrow from J.S. Bach’s familiar Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. Mandell’s uncreated light is the light of the imagination. As such, it is a profound counterpoint to another light-obsessed artistic movement, the Imagists, and their principle, as articulated by W.C. Williams, of “no ideas but in things—…. split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained—secret—into the body of the light.” Whereas Imagism isolates a thing by focusing on what Ezra Pound called “luminous details,” Mandell focuses on the luminosity and allows it to speak for itself.
And speak it does, but not in the language of things, rather expressing the limitless possibilities of thingness, an experience akin to the interdimensional, irrational, unconstrained movements we experience in dreams. When we explain a dream using shared imagery or archetypes and the language of earthly experience, we might be able to capture the weirdness of the dream, even the emotion it aroused, but we can never replicate the experience of dreaming. Take away the constraint of relying on a shared imagery and replace it with the waves and pulses, the particles and energy of the dream itself, and you begin to appreciate what Mandell’s art is doing for our experience of the artist’s imagination. The possibilities for one’s experience of his work are limited only by the ability of one’s own imagination to give itelf over to Mandell's dream.