Visionary art is not easily defined. As a recognised genre it is recent, a half-century old at most – its first generation masters are still practicing, its horizons are still expanding. Visionary art is contemporary. To search for a defining boundary therefore is fruitless; definitions, being restrictive, are more readily established in retrospect. But if we cannot define, then we can unearth. For there exists in any art genre a lineage, a bloodline, and in Visionary art we find a genealogy that can be traced through the Surrealist and Fantastic Realist movements of last century, past the Renaissance, across continents and centuries, back to the first dawn.
The position of drawing as a specialised discipline within this genealogy is an even more subtle ancestry to unthread. In Visionary art we find a bewildering breadth of subject matter; we find particular attention given to dreams, to death and memory, unexplored terrains of the psyche, madness, mythic creatures, gods and demons, the organic and mechanical, anatomy, animal consciousness and organic emergence, geometry and mandalas, and the symbolism of alchemy, astrology and assorted wisdom traditions. Yet none of this is essential, none of this in itself is sufficient to make a piece of art ‘Visionary’, for the genre rests upon a unified and identifiable foundation of technique, a technical style and temperament that those artists specialising in ink and pencil share with their painter siblings.
Ernst Fuchs has named this “ein verschollener Stil”- a “hidden prime of styles.” This unity of style is the genetic code writ through the Visionary artist’s bloodline; it is the grammar upon which their language is constructed.
Visionary art rests upon a unified and identifiable foundation of technique, a technical style and temperament that those artists specialising in ink and pencil share with their painter siblings – a “hidden prime of styles.” This unity of style is the genetic code writ through the Visionary artist’s bloodline; it is the grammar upon which their language is constructed.
To begin at the beginning.
The underground caverns of Lascaux in Dordogne, the guide switches off his flashlight. “The senses suddenly are wiped out,” one visitor recounts, “the millennia drop away… you were never in deeper darkness in your life. It was – I don’t know, just a complete knock out. You don’t know whether you are looking north, south, east, or west. All orientation is gone, and you are in a darkness that never saw the sun.”
This primordial darkness is a space of pre-conceptual potential. This is a creative space.
The guide switches his torch back on and turns it to the roof and walls. Emerging from the depths of the rock are painted animals, images of bizarre creatures, half-human and half-animal hybrids. “A strange beast with a gravid belly and long pointed horns walks behind a line of wild cattle, horses, deer and bulls that seem simultaneously in motion and at rest.”
What motivates this art?