“Connections between art, spirituality and poetry began in the ancient world in Egypt and in Mesopotamia. Pathways of communication were written on stone tables and papyrus scrolls, in sacred words and pictures addressed to the deities of the day and the night. From Egypt, came the Book of the Dead. From Mesopotamia, came the songs for Inanna, goddess of love and war. On the walls of temples and palaces, the stories of seeing beyond the world of matter to the world of spirit continued in the islands of the Aegean. The Palace at Knossos, the tombs of Mycenae, the underworld of the Etruscans were places where mediation between mind and spirit was the work of the shamanic priests, who led the people to the gods. Greece’s Delphic Sybill prophesied in dark riddles illustrated by the painters of pots carried to every corner of the ancient world. Then came Rome for whom Etruscan priests foretold its rise and fall chronicled on the walls of houses later occupied by the Early Christians, for whom the poetry of Hebrew Scripture merged with the prayers of the Gospels. Words, pictures, poetry, prose, hymns and secrets of worlds unseen by day but made visible in nights that brought enlightenment for those seeking knowledge beyond what the day reveals. Books, as we know them, began in the First Century, made for convenience and for the easy transport of knowledge, secular and spiritual. It is from this history that Arturo Rodríguez’s collaborative book “The School of Night” springs as a significant contribution to the developing art of bookmaking, of artist books and of books that represent a record of crossings between the everyday and the supernatural.
“The School of Night” gathers together the work of several poets and a suite of mixed media drawings by Arturo Rodríguez. The drawings came first, then the idea for creating a book as the vehicle for their display, then came the words of the poets, whose response to the drawings is simultaneously and accompaniment to their imagery and a counterpoint to their content. From William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost – “Black is the badge of hell/The hue of dungeouns and the school of night” and from Ingmar Bergman’s Vargtimmen (The Hour of the Wolf), Rodríguez wove a tapestry of images that record his life in the “School of Night,” the time of day in which he prefers to paint.
At home, at night, when the world sleeps and dreams, Rodríguez enters his personal Vargtimmen, sometimes alone and sometimes accompanied by his wife, Demi. The drawings that are “The School of Night” record what happens as Rodríguez moves in the transformed spaces of his home, lit by sporadic lamplight that contrast with the deep shadows of the unlit corners of his home. The lines of his movements are traced in the lines that crisscross his drawings, forming pathways of movement that link his steps to the structure of his compositions. In one drawing, the masks that hang on the walls of his home look out seemingly animated. In another drawing, Demi becomes a shamanic muse leading the artist to an internal meditations on music, on art, on literature, on religion and on the island called Cuba that was once his home. Catholicism and Santería, its synchretic companion, speak to the audiences who enter Rodríguez’s world as found in “The School of Night.”
Rodríguez moves around his home recording his contact with the presence of Night as William Blake had drawn his Ancient of Days, another name for God. There is much in “The School of Night” from Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and of Experience,” from Edward Munch’s “Dance of Life” and from Pablo Picasso’s “Minotaur” drawings. Touches of Dada and Surrealism emerge in “The School of Night” taking us to the world of Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire and to André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto. In Rodríguez’s hands, Europe meets Latin America and there is much in “The School of Night” that is nexus of two worlds brought to a third – the Cuban-American world of Miami’s population in exile from an island that emerges in the Cuban music that permeates the night as the sound to which Rodríguez paints. From Cuba, to Mexico, to the United States, to Spain, to Europe, the tapes and records that line the home within which “The School of Night” came to be play to bring the music of the world to the rooms between which Rodríguez walks. Sometimes he walks alone, sometimes he sits with Demi, or she sleeps as he works or they work together. In rhythm with the creative process that comes from the depths of mind and spirit to make art, Rodríguez draws, paints, reads, plays music, thinks, dreams and meditates – alone or accompanied – and these moments of existence are all recorded in “The School of Night.”
For Rodríguez, “The School of Night” is the summation and outpouring of the conscious and subconscious acts of creation and communication that animates the spiritual life of the drawings that trace the path of night in the artist’s home. Shamanic in essence and deliberatively expressive of connections between spirituality and art, Rodríguez’s “School of Night” evokes Carl Gustav Jung’s “The Red Book” or The Liber Novus” (1915-1930). In “The School of Night” as in Jung’s Red Book, there emerges the world of the mind of the author/artist and the knowledge gained in the shamanic process called artistic creation. Figures from the world of spirit, invented and imagined, emerge on the page. Experiences translated into their shapes in dreams and thoughts are given form transformed by light, shade and line. The deities of our lives interact with those declared to be by the religions of the world. Visionary, mystical, fantastical and imagined beings move shape shifting in both works, which draw from the subconscious universal streams of spirituality and art from which each emerged.
“The School of Night” is the record of artistic creativity and of the sources from which it springs. It is also the life of Arturo Rodríguez given visual form. More than the record of the mind of one artist, “The School of Night” is a visionary venture from which a new generation of poets sings the songs of life.
Lynette M.F. Bosch.
Ph.D., SUNY Distinguished Professor and Chair, Department of Art History SUNY, Geneseo.