Inspiration is a funny thing. It is often born from the most unlikely sources and flashes into consciousness at the worst possible moments. Yet these capricious insights are an integral part of the creative process. To be inspired is to be “in Spirit” and that was exactly how the seeds of this image began to sprout.
Over the course of 3 weeks, I had been listening to several talks by various thinkers and intuitives on the topic enlightenment and the expansion of consciousness. The more I absorbed their perspectives and meditated upon the topic the more insights poured into my mind and spirit. Over those weeks, I felt a growing need to not only synthesize these insights but to share them with others.
As human beings, we often think of ascension as an upward, and often hierarchical movement, but in reality, ascension is circular and holistic. Ascension is about expansion! The expansion and integration of one’s consciousness throughout all levels of self. Thus, one becomes fully self-actualized and self-aware physically, mentally, spiritually, and energetically. From this perspective, one can only ascend outward and upward to the level or depth one has also gone downward and inward.
This can be evidenced not only in Jesus’ life and ministry but in the writings and biographies of all the spiritual masters. We see what can best be described as a kind of implosion. Each master first begins by going within in an effort to know the self’s inner world and locate that quiet, silent place of inner spaciousness. But in each instance, the master begins to discover that the journey within is simultaneously connecting her/him more deeply to all that is without and beyond. Paradoxically, each one discovered that the universal resides within the particular. Yet each reached a point upon the inward journey where there was no further they could go. The journey inward was then replaced by an opening, a flowering, or a rapid outward expansion which completely altered their way of being. This transformation occurs as a result of the inward exploration and is directly linked to the act that we refer to as ascension.
I chose Jesus because he is the most easily recognizable figure within my particular context. Since Jesus’ ascension is directly linked to his death and resurrection, I felt it was extremely important to make reference to these events within the work so that one can see the continuity between them. I began researching Jesus and the ascension using various theological texts and the biblical narratives. The main features of the biblical narratives are Jesus ascending up into the heavens, the presence of heavenly beings, the elements, and the disciples who stand in witness.
The image is painted using acrylic paints on a large solid wood board. I actually found the piece of board lying outside near a trash pick-up site. I was walking down the street and noticed this large piece of wood supported by a couple of trash bins. The wood’s surface was distressed by scrapes, peeling layers, and various rippling textures. Normally I wouldn’t even have paid attention to something like this but the surface was so intriguing that I decided to take it to my studio. It literally sat in my studio for a month and some days I would just sit in the studio and stare at it. I felt a connection to it in some way but I had no idea what to do with it? It wasn’t until I was halfway through my sketches for Ascension that I understood why I had been drawn to this block of wood.
The panel is 1.5 inches thick and weighs about 80lbs. Its surface is rough, pitted, and unfinished. This large piece of wood is reminiscent of the Jesus’ death on the cross. Its surface and texture are not only symbolic of a cross but it is earthy and grounding just as Jesus’ death truly was. It reminds me that life, death, and ascension are not heavenly conceptualizations to be spiritualized, but real-world, natural, embodied experiences that are played out within the earthly realm.
The two angels found on the upper right and left portions of the composition are representative of heavenly witnesses and guides. The angel on the left holds an ankh which symbolizes rebirth and new life. The angel on the right wields a spear which makes reference to Jesus’ death by human hands and the piercing of his side by the Roman centurion’s spear during his crucifixion.
The elements of cloud and sky have always held a prominent place in spiritual symbolism. The clouds symbolize both the divine presence and the biblical narratives’ description of Jesus ascending up into the clouds as he entered the heavenly realms. In the biblical tradition, the divine presence is often symbolized by clouds so I felt they were appropriate for this image. The golden-yellow sky is symbolic of light and spiritual illumination. The divine light pours forth bringing both physical and spiritual illumination to Jesus and the disciples who see and comprehend the events with supra-natural clarity. The symbol floating in the sky above Jesus’ head is the West African Adinkra symbol for transformation.
The silhouetted figures found in the bottom portion of the composition represent the disciples who not only witness the ascension but later receive a portion of Jesus anointing and divine power with the arrival of the Holy Spirit as it is described within the biblical book of Acts. These figures are in various positions of prayer and supplication as they worship their ascending master. Each figure is not only connected to the next, but each is connected to Jesus through the orange mandorla which surrounds Jesus who is ascending up above them. The deep blue depicts the figure’s silhouettes since they are surrounded by the dark clouds of divine presence. They are also encircled by red and orange halos (respectively). The former represents Jesus’ shed blood which covers the figures and provides both protection and connection with the divine presence. The orange halo is symbolic of the disciples sharing in the same spiritual power that Jesus himself possesses.
Jesus is depicted within the very center of the composition floating upon a cloud as he ascends into the heavenly realms. The viewer’s eye is directed to this focal point by the use of an orange mandorla surrounding Jesus. The same orange also surrounds his actual figure as an aura. Orange is an expansive color that is often used to symbolize energy and power. Since ascension is expansion I thought the orange was an appropriate means of symbolizing this reality. In addition, the biblical narrative clearly connects Jesus’ ascension with the notion of power, both spiritually and physically (“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me…”). This power pours forth from the figures’ eyes and body (if the eyes scare you stop watching so many horror films). The symbol that accompanies this new state of ascended transformation is the reiki symbol for enlightenment emblazoned upon his forehead in red. The red robe is reminiscent of Jesus’ death and the blood he shed upon the cross. His sacrifice will be the catalyst through which those who follow him will gain access to the heavenly realms. His hands are outspread in a gesture of welcome as his forefingers grasp his thumbs to form a mudra.
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Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian