ART REVIEW: The Red Depths – Eye-opening Pacifica exhibit explores the secret art of Carl Jung

To paraphrase those Dos Equis ads, the Pacifica Institute doesn’t usually hold art exhibits open to the public, but when it does, it has to be by Carl Jung. After all, without psychologist Jung, this double-campus Institute would probably not exist (all due respect to Joseph Campbell, et al., but you catch my drift.) The irony here is that up until only the last decade, nobody really knew that Dr. Jung was much of an artist.

His infamous Red Book was a secret to nearly everybody, and even those who knew of it did not really know its contents. Perhaps they were some of the psychologist’s dream writings, perhaps they were theories that were too scandalous for their time in a place that was already suffering a backlash against liberal thought. He started it in 1913, finished the majority of it in 1930, and added to it up until his death in 1961. It was only when the Jung family agreed to let curators in to see it, photograph it, and reproduce it, did the world get a look at it. And Pacifica Institute is only the third venue (after a psychology conference in Denmark and an exhibit at the Vienna Biennale) to allow these high-quality large formats of the illustrations to be shown. (The reproduced book, very large and heavy, can be bought in Pacifica’s bookstore along with artist prints of the works, and very pricey they are, too.)

'Philosophical Tree' 'The Incantations 55' The Man of Mater' 'Mandala 107' 'Liber Novus 1'
‘Philosophical Tree’
‘The Incantations 55’
The Man of Mater’
‘Mandala 107’
‘Liber Novus 1’

This is not the place to go into exactly what Dr. Jung was getting at in his Red Book, but the illustrations show a self-trained artist who used painting to get across the mythological and symbolic work he wrote in the book’s pages, some of which look like Medieval manuscripts. As one journeys down Pacifica’s halls (it has no gallery space to speak of), the breadth of Dr. Jung’s skills with a brush is impressive, especially since there is little evidence outside of the work in the book that he did a lot of painting. There’s very few roughs to be found, except a few practice mandalas.

From print to print (and Pacifica presents 23 of the 77 total made) Dr. Jung’s style is only in the absence of style. His mandalas borrow techniques from several religious painting movements. One work “The Caster of Holy Water” uses gold leaf (or paint) and the flattened perspective of Persian art of the Middle Ages. Yet the immense “Quadrated Circle in the Sky” combines Celtic art with a landscape out of Brueghel and bit of Chagall.

In a series of “Incantations” (some on display, others only in the exhibit book), the style echoes Native American art of the Northwest.

Of course, that is fitting for a psychologist who spent his career trying to dig deep down into the subconscious to find the underlying truths that connected us all. But it’s also amazing that he found a need to create work that borrowed from art history and religion and do it just for himself. Reading Dr. Jung, one can imagine the man spending countless hours writing and rewriting. But it takes a bit more imagination to see him sitting down with a painting kit and working hours on these impressively detailed works, filling some of them up with his idiosyncratic calligraphy. And one can read into that all sorts of enlightenment, visions and brilliance riding the line of madness.

These prints stand by themselves as art, divorced from their source ideas. They are colorful, bold, and not derivative of anything that was happening in Europe at the time. There’s hints of surrealism and cubism, but that feels like coincidence, or synchronicity.

The exhibit is not up for much longer and then it goes who knows where. This is a chance to see a very peculiar set of works that affects on many levels, just like Dr. Jung would have wanted, if he’d dare show you.

ART REVIEW
Carl Jung, ‘Red Book’
When: through May 4
Where: Pacifica Graduate Institute, 801 Ladera Lane
Cost: Free
Information: 879-7305, pacifica.edu

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