My goal as an artist is to have the viewer enriched not only by the aesthetic quality of my work but also the emotion it creates, senses it may excite or theme it may contain.

Most of my works are very symbolic of time, events, stories and emotions. All of the symbols and sketches are then layered into the different wax, Plexiglas or tracing paper surfaces causing the images or symbols to become "a part of" the whole picture not just a "piece of it".

I use wax, oil bars, vine charcoal, newsprint, Plexiglas, tracing paper, leaves and found objects in my art. I prefer wax, Plexiglas and tracing paper because of their translucent qualities. I layer the work with wax, plexi, tracing paper and oil paint over and over until layer upon layer create the desired depth, surface texture and color. The colors I choose help convey the same feeling or emotion I hope the piece emits. The strokes are loose and gestural but at the same time deliberate.

I create my works on hard surfaces such as plexi, board and masonite so that the image may be scratched, erased, cut, torn, sanded and layered.


by Jerry Cullum, Senior Editor of Art Papers Magazine,
and freelance art critic for Art in America and Art News.

Dusty Griffith’s newest works lead us irresistibly to fantasies and reveries about nature. The palette features the blues of shallow, crystalline water, a range of yellows and tans that could reasonably be called “earth colors,” and the pale greens of early spring, the colors seen when the leaves have first unfolded from winter’s sheathing buds.

But the sense of depths buried within their built-up layers suggest that René Daumal was right to incorporate the maxim in Mount Analogue, “Beware of the surface of things.” These are not paintings of pure sensory pleasure; they’re beginning road maps to potentially infinite realizations. As the title of one of the new pieces has it, “Look to Your Light in the Depth.”
“There is, in fact, something more than appearance.” That intuition has fed philosophy and mysticism from the days of the pre-Socratics in Greece onward. It was necessary for the thinkers of the nineteenth century to insist on the counter-proposition, that physical reality is all there is. The brief flourish of Hermetic philosophy in the Renaissance paralleled the Buddhist assertion that spirit and matter are not two, but that where there is a false duality, neither of the terms reflects the actual condition.
More recently (though still a long time ago in the time span of our accelerated culture), a mystically inclined Christian thinker wrote, “There is another world, but it is in this one.”

And at the midpoint of the century just ended, American abstract painters began to assert that the truths they believed were encoded in ancient spiritualities and revealed analytically in-depth psychology could be expressed on canvas. Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt were atmospheric in opposite ways, skeptical in a fashion appropriate to a cynical era, but each made claims for the visual power of their artwork that went beyond simple aesthetic appreciation.

Dusty Griffith reposes more comfortably in the language of faith. The artwork in “Prayers” bears titles that derive from centuries of Christian experience that retain immense potency in today’s America. But his paintings, nevertheless, stand in a tradition that harks back to midcentury modernism. (A small inset in one piece even appears to quote Barnett Newman’s famous narrow vertical line, or “zip.”) They also incorporate the visual language of such modernist inheritors as Brice Marden.

We might return to the associations with nature suggested by Griffith’s color ranges. If there is nature in the work that is meant to lead beyond nature, is there also history that might lead us beyond history?

Well, yes. The Cy-Twombly-like markings in tiny portions of these works suggest yet another late twentieth-century aesthetic parallel. As with the other visual elements beyond the pleasures of color, the embedded objects and reused scraps of wood have a private, personal significance. But by the time they reach our eyes, they’ve become aspects of a more than personal visual drama, and they present the viewer with mystery rather than history.

Much artwork that incorporates objects into abstract compositions does so in order to bring to bear the force of specific recollection. In such works, historic images bring up old nostalgias. We see bits of images we recognize, and we respond emotionally.

There is no such nostalgia in Griffith’s paintings. There is, rather, a sense that the world in all its variety conceals something more meaningful, even if it is elusive to those who have no eyes to see. Griffith teaches us to see, not more acutely, but more contemplatively. We see that which we do not recognize, but we know we have always known it.

The gentle range of color encourages a meditative state in the viewer. As with many of Mark Rothko’s canvases, it is possible to fall imaginatively into the tonalities and remain there, lost in thought and wonder, for a long time. Whether the spiritually specific titles will lead the viewer in the direction Griffith might wish: that all depends on the viewer. The casually inattentive will notice nothing, because Griffith’s art requires an alteration in viewing habits. However, the intrinsic structure of the work is meant to seize the viewer’s attention and make transformation possible. The visual pleasure it offers is a bait to lead the viewer into a process of sensory and spiritual education that the early Church Fathers knew well and wrote about in manuals for meditational practice.

Griffith’s vision is fully and finally Christian, but it involves what one spiritual authority calls “the accumulation of the force of inner attention.” If he prays “Make Us Whole,” as one painting’s title has it, he also offers the traditional symbols of the methods by which an intermediate Christianity provided methods for reaching wholeness. We are broken; but the broken circles of his paintings contain the vision of completion. What is to be achieved does not yet exist, or is perhaps merely invisible. And it is the role of the Invisible World to accomplish and finish that work of wholeness.

Griffith is pretty much committed to traditional symbols; the red of blood, the blues of water that cleans or baptizes into the new life, the golds or yellows of heaven. (So it is particularly ironic, or else singularly appropriate, that they should suggest “earth colors.” The Fathers who withdrew into the desert set out to make the desert into a spriitual paradise: “On Earth As It Is In Heaven.”)

And, of course, Griffith also cites the completed circles long used to symbolize the mystery of the trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit a unity in diversity, not just forces but Persons in which an invisible and unknowable energy is known paradoxically. But the paintings don’t tell us that. The theology of the church councils is not the aesthetics at work in Griffith’s vision.
The paintings do tell us that there is something more that eludes our ordinary condition, in which we are as oblivious as sleepwalkers. If “There Are Signs That You Are Near,” as the title of two new paintings put it, we don’t notice them. The Gospels tell us we should be able to interpret the signs of the spiritual moment as adroitly as we read the signs of coming weather fronts. Not to do so is to fail to fulfill our ultimate destiny.

Griffith’s signs are dazzling; the incomplete circle isn’t just a circle, it’s a Zen-like stroke that indicates in its sheer energy how wholeness might become conceivable. This is not the total depravity of certain theological positions; the physical beauty of Griffith’s symbolism suggests that a good if fallen world still holds within it the fragments of light of lost divinity. Humankind can be restored because there is still a soul there to restore. The task of redemption is also a task of awakening. The ingrained loveliness that the nineteenth century Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins saw indwelling in matter (the “dearest freshness deep down things” in the poem “God’s Grandeur”) is reflected in the look of Griffith’s paintings. For him as for Hopkins, nature reflects divinity, and the world is overshadowed by spirit.

Griffith uses luminescent materials to symbolize the inner light. His vision is grounded in the Gospel’s “Let your light shine before men,” but it’s further grounded in the realization expanded on by the earliest writers of Christian theology, that the light must be discovered before it can illuminate the path.

Hence the process symbolized by the water of baptism that washes away the obstacles of inborn human limits. Baptism, the early Fathers taught, begins a process of lifelong purification in which the indwelling of the Spirit would lead to progressive divinization through a return to a lost unity: “God entered into full union with humankind so that humankind might enter into total union with God,” in the Eastern Church’s formulation. But all of Christianity asserts the possibility of return through an indwelling of spiritual energies. This allows Griffith to pray, in the titles of these new artworks: “Breathe Your Life Into My Soul,” “Flood Us With More of You,” “Your Kingdom Come,” “On Earth As It Is In Heaven.”

We wouldn’t necessarily think this, simply looking at the paintings. Geometric forms in modernist painting often represented hard, tough rationality; soft surfaces and pastel colors represented an opposing force, an enveloping celebration of the sensual and the sensory in general. Griffith manages to combine both tendencies while turning both of them upside down and rescuing them for spiritual purposes. What in others is pure formalism has in his work a deeply intended mission.
If we are to “Seek Your Living Water,” as the title of another painting has it, we must first realize that there is a living water to be sought, and a “you” to whom we might appeal for it. It isn’t Griffith’s task to instill faith, much less to instruct in the process of awareness that follows in the long journey out of the self. He wants, rather, to instill in us the intuitions that might lead to the perception that such a journey might be possible.

And as an artist, he does so with consummate skill. The minimal scraps of red found in more than one of the paintings (but spectacularly in “There Are Signs That You Are Near II”) suggest the blood of redemption, but it’s also brilliantly placed flecks of bright color in the midst of a subdued composition. The rhythms and proportions of his assembled rectangles operate by rules that date back to the Greeks and were refined by modernism to psychologically charged perfection.

The history of religions would lead us to expect no other. Sacred art has always operated by the same principles as secular (or “profane”) painting. Indeed, Christianity asserts that God took on a human body precisely because the spiritual must have a material channel.

One need not accept any such theological thesis in order to argue that Griffith’s work is religiously informed painting that can also be read in purely formal, art historical ways. In fact, it’s more instructive to begin with the demonstrable proposition that the paintings change our way of seeing, that they have a job of transformation to do and they do it well.

What we make of that perceived transformation is ultimately up to us. But Griffith’s ability to find visible material analogues for invisible spiritual processes has offered a point of entry into realms of religious experience that elude ordinary verbal definition.

That last observation is worth a moment’s reflection. Christianity is thought of as a religion of the word, but the Word in the opening verses of John’s Gospel is not an utterance but a light that shines in darkness, and a light that enlightens humankind. Griffith, likewise, is not uttering logical propositions, but propounding the existence of a profound light, and of a water that slakes a thirst of which we are mostly unconscious. Griffith’s paintings imply that if we do not long for the indwelling breath that descends in the Book of Acts like the rushing of a mighty wind, it’s because we aren’t awake enough to realize we’re dying for lack of enough air.

So Griffith is out to wake us up, but to wake us up pleasurably. We are to be, as in the book title of a currently popular thinker, surprised by joy. But then we are to perceive the depths into which we can dive, if we so choose, and the world unknown which we may then begin to know and love.

However, we have freedom of action, at least insofar as any sleepwalker has freedom of action. Even awakened to the possibilities, we can choose to luxuriate in the details of Griffith’s artistry, and live and lie on the surface of things. To know that there are depths does not mean that the pleasures of the surface cease to exist; it means that the vehicle exists to take us further. Both art historically and spiritually, Griffith’s paintings work.


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