Skip to content Skip to navigation Skip to collection information

OpenStax_CNX

You are here: Home » Content » Flowering Light: Kabbalistic Mysticism and the Art of Elliot R. Wolfson » The Painted Heartbeat: On Purple Wings

Navigation

Lenses

What is a lens?

Definition of a lens

Lenses

A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

What is in a lens?

Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

Who can create a lens?

Any individual member, a community, or a respected organization.

What are tags? tag icon

Tags are descriptors added by lens makers to help label content, attaching a vocabulary that is meaningful in the context of the lens.

This content is ...

Affiliated with (What does "Affiliated with" mean?)

This content is either by members of the organizations listed or about topics related to the organizations listed. Click each link to see a list of all content affiliated with the organization.
  • Rice Digital Scholarship display tagshide tags

    This collection is included in aLens by: Digital Scholarship at Rice University

    Click the "Rice Digital Scholarship" link to see all content affiliated with them.

    Click the tag icon tag icon to display tags associated with this content.

  • Ricepress display tagshide tags

    This collection is included inLens: Rice University Press Titles
    By: Rice University Press

    Click the "Ricepress" link to see all content affiliated with them.

    Click the tag icon tag icon to display tags associated with this content.

  • Featured Content display tagshide tags

    This collection is included inLens: Connexions Featured Content
    By: Connexions

    Comments:

    "The artistic works of Jewish mysticism scholar Elliot Wolfson are examined in Flowering Light. Written by Professor Marcia Brennan, this full-length book captures Wolfson's poetry and painting in […]"

    Click the "Featured Content" link to see all content affiliated with them.

    Click the tag icon tag icon to display tags associated with this content.

Recently Viewed

This feature requires Javascript to be enabled.

Tags

(What is a tag?)

These tags come from the endorsement, affiliation, and other lenses that include this content.
 

The Painted Heartbeat: On Purple Wings

Module by: Marcia Brennan. E-mail the authorEdited By: Frederick Moody, Ben Allen

Summary: Chapter Three of Marcia Brennan's Flowering Light: Kabbalistic Mysticism and the Art of Elliot R. Wolfson

Figure 1: Elliot R. Wolfson, On Purple Wings, 2006. © Elliot R. Wolfson.
Figure 1 (graphics1.jpg)

Flowering Light -- buy from Rice University Press.

“self-reliance”
the void
of itself
fully void
beckons
space curve
looping round
time fold
for us perhaps
nothing left
to grasp
if only
we had hands
bound by
open faith
to believe the fiction
that fiction is no fiction
but only a tale flesh tells
in the burning of its flame,
frozen beneath the grave
of love’s resurrection

Like the looping arcs of “self-reliance,”1 the fluttering, kinetic surface of On Purple Wings (2006) guides viewers through a series of chiasmic curves that are replete with voids and visions, flesh and flames, faith and fiction. Doubling back on one another, the poem and the painting lead viewers up a staircase of acute awareness. The steps follow a long, curving path that winds first to the left, then to the right. For every level that is reached, several stairs must be climbed before attaining the next landing and arriving at a seemingly stable plateau. In the vertical arrangement of “self-reliance,” the words on the page resemble a ladder, just as the internal morphology of the poem pivots on an inverted trajectory in which climbing up entails descending down. As the spectator’s eyes scan the lines of the poem or enter the diaphanous surface of the canvas, they undertake an aesthetic journey through simultaneously rising and falling planes of associations.

In the coincidentia oppositora of these mutually ascending and descending pathways, the internal rhythms of “self-reliance” and On Purple Wings are at once circular and linear, displaying a “space curve / looping round / time fold” that forms the mutually enfolded rings of a chiasma. The intersecting points of the chiasmic curves represent centers of fusion and exchange. Like so many of Wolfson’s images, On Purple Wings appears to be formally apophatic, as the abstraction unsays any literal meanings within a diaphanous space that is abundantly alight with absence, a “void / of itself / fully void” that contains the creative potential of overflowing presence. Like Purple Angel and Texture #2, On Purple Wings evokes an evanescent angelic presence that is visualized through subtle rings of colored light. Loose fields of cobalt blue, violet, and purple merge with patches of white to fuse into passages that loosely suggest the luminescent forms of floating clouds, radiating haloes, and spiraling wings.

While the significance of the colors in Wolfson’s palette cannot be decisively codified based on the color symbolism associated with kabbalistic mysticism, it is nonetheless suggestive to note some thematic parallels. Kabbalistic thought identifies ten sefirot, or emanations of divine light, which are configured in an anthropomorphic arrangement that is visualized as a schematic human form, or as the symbolic embodiment of the Tree of Life (fig. 7). The emanations are said to issue from Ein Sof, the aspect of divine presence known as The Infinite. As Scholem has noted, from Ein Sof “emanate the ten sefirot, which constitute not only basic attributes of God in His relation to the Creation but active forces and more; emanations of divine light. They represent the creative potencies in God, that part of Him that effects and determines the Creation or, in other words, the living God, which emerges from His concealment and reveals Himself.” Furthermore, Scholem has observed, “The sefirot are structured into three triads and one all-encompassing potency. Together they form the Primordial Man, in whose image mankind was created, the tree of the world with its dark soil, roots, stem, and branches, the primordial week of Creation, or the ten words from which the world was created.”2

Even more specifically, as Scholem has noted, within the chromatic schema of the ten sefirot, the sixth emanation, tif’eret, is associated with the colors “sapphire-blue and magenta, in which three colors (white, red, and [yellowish] green) are to be united.”3 Positioned at the very center of the Tree of Life—and thus connecting the realms of above and below—tif’eret corresponds to the location of the heart, just as this emanation is associated with the attributes of beauty, glory, harmony, and compassion.

Figure 2: Tree of Life
Figure 2 (graphics2.jpg)

With these kabbalistic themes in mind, the abstract imagery of On Purple Wings becomes especially evocative. As one gazes at the painting, the upper-right corner of the canvas seems to vacillate between magenta and warm red-violet tones, while the left-hand portion of the painting features cooler shades of bluish purple. Compositionally, the “heart” of the painting appears as a centrifugal force, a central point for processing alternating currents of radiant energy. As such, On Purple Wings can be imaginatively viewed as a symbolic vision of tif’eret, as the beating heart of an intersecting midpoint that is connected by fluttering wings whose conjunction marks a pulsing site of fusion and exchange. In the physiological chambers of the heart, red and blue blood flow in a constant cycle of circulation and purification, perpetuating a cleansing and exchange that enables the continuation of life. If the red and the blue streams were to cross and merge, their joining would produce the color purple. Thus, even as the individual parts of the system are structurally differentiated, they ultimately form a single entity, a fountain circulating living energy in the chiasmic crossing of the heart.4

Given the resonance of these themes, it is not surprising that one of the best-known volumes in Wolfson’s scholarly corpus is entitled Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination. The acronym for Language, Eros, Being is LEB, the Hebrew word that signifies the heart, lev. While wholly abstract, On Purple Wings can nonetheless be viewed metaphorically as a complementary visual translation of tif’eret, the light of the heart. With its diaphanous vision of curving voids and enfolded crossings, this painting appears as a heart crowned by beating wings.

Footnotes

  1. “self-reliance” is published in Footdreams and Treetales, p. 12.
  2. Gershom Scholem, “Colors and Their Symbolism in Jewish Tradition and Mysticism,” trans. Klaus Ottmann, in Klaus Ottmann, ed., Color Symbolism: The Eranos Lectures (1977; Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, 2005), p. 21.
  3. Scholem, “Colors and Their Symbolism,” p. 30. Regarding the specific shade of green in the tonal triad, Wolfson has noted, “Scholem is right that the last term, yaroq in Hebrew, does signify the color green, but I have suspected that it can also denote yellow, and I think in this context, a yellowish green is intended.” Elliot R. Wolfson in correspondence with the author, March 4, 2007.
  4. For a discussion of related imagery, see Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, trans. Robert Powell (New York: Penguin Putnam, 1985), letter 14. I am grateful to Jody Ziegler for bringing this unique book to my attention.

Collection Navigation

Content actions

Download:

Collection as:

PDF | EPUB (?)

What is an EPUB file?

EPUB is an electronic book format that can be read on a variety of mobile devices.

Downloading to a reading device

For detailed instructions on how to download this content's EPUB to your specific device, click the "(?)" link.

| More downloads ...

Module as:

PDF | EPUB (?)

What is an EPUB file?

EPUB is an electronic book format that can be read on a variety of mobile devices.

Downloading to a reading device

For detailed instructions on how to download this content's EPUB to your specific device, click the "(?)" link.

| More downloads ...

Add:

Collection to:

My Favorites (?)

'My Favorites' is a special kind of lens which you can use to bookmark modules and collections. 'My Favorites' can only be seen by you, and collections saved in 'My Favorites' can remember the last module you were on. You need an account to use 'My Favorites'.

| A lens I own (?)

Definition of a lens

Lenses

A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

What is in a lens?

Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

Who can create a lens?

Any individual member, a community, or a respected organization.

What are tags? tag icon

Tags are descriptors added by lens makers to help label content, attaching a vocabulary that is meaningful in the context of the lens.

| External bookmarks

Module to:

My Favorites (?)

'My Favorites' is a special kind of lens which you can use to bookmark modules and collections. 'My Favorites' can only be seen by you, and collections saved in 'My Favorites' can remember the last module you were on. You need an account to use 'My Favorites'.

| A lens I own (?)

Definition of a lens

Lenses

A lens is a custom view of the content in the repository. You can think of it as a fancy kind of list that will let you see content through the eyes of organizations and people you trust.

What is in a lens?

Lens makers point to materials (modules and collections), creating a guide that includes their own comments and descriptive tags about the content.

Who can create a lens?

Any individual member, a community, or a respected organization.

What are tags? tag icon

Tags are descriptors added by lens makers to help label content, attaching a vocabulary that is meaningful in the context of the lens.

| External bookmarks