VISIONARY REVUE

MIDNIGHT MYSTERY
MIDNIGHT MYSTERY (1971)

             Despite the occasional canvas like Pistis Sophia (1959), it was not until the 1970’s that Johfra’s artistic output took a marked turn toward Gnosticism and Hermeticism. This began with two allegorical landscapes called Midnight Mystery (1971) and The Guardian of the Pearl (1971).
      In the former, the composition presents our eye with two possible paths to follow. The left-hand path is overrun with colorful demons who lead, drag, or carry naked figures down to ‘the world’, which appears in the distant background as a barren wasteland. All of this occurs in contrast to the naked figures on the right who willingly ascend a series of steps to behold a sphinx.
      The ruins on the left are in shadow while those on the right are in the light. From the darkened ruins, a robed demon in green surveys his kingdom while, behind him, an obese naked figure is carried in on a divan. This is the kingdom of matter, flesh, passion and desire which, according to the Gnostics, is ruled over by numerous demons.

      Meanwhile, the naked souls on the right are gazing upon an old sage who is sheltered between the wings of an Egyptian deity. Green, ram-headed, with the atef crown, this mummified figure has an ankh and scarab on its chest and holds two serpents in its hands. Clearly, it is an Egyptian figure, an esoteric form of Osiris, the God of initiation into the mysteries of death and resurrection.

      Above him is a ladder entwined with white and red serpents. Naked figures, one with a staff of caduceus and another being a centaur, ascend the steps to the sphinx. In contrast to the dark kingdom on the left, here transcendence is offered through contemplation, ascension, and the union of opposites. The caduceus unifies sexual opposites,


 
 
 


PARIS - SPRING 2003

THE GUARDIAN OF THE PEARL
THE GUARDIAN OF THE PEARL (1971)

the centaur unifies man and beast, Osiris unifies life and death, and the sphinx reminds us that all of these are eternal mysteries, unfathomable and not easily attained.
      Gnostic themes return in The Guardian of the Pearl. Once more, the theatrum orbi is portrayed, the garden of earthly delights. A plethora of naked human figures parade their vanity before a host of demons and beasts. Only the ‘guardian of the pearl’ at the centre of the composition isolates himself from this spectacle.
      For the Gnostics, the body with its accompanying passions, pleasures and pains was created by the archons to entrap ‘the pearl’ - the divine light in each of us (the pneuma). Since numerous demons hold sway over the parts of the body and its passions, we must free ourselves from their distractions by concentrating our thoughts on the pearl within.
      Johfra’s canvas presents us with exactly that challenge. Numerous figures distract our attention and delight our eye; they provide alluring images to provoke our fear, envy, and desire. But if we are able to concentrate our vision on the solitary mystic at the centre, then we too would discover the pearl in us.
      The Early Esoteric works are characterized by an increasing awareness of this challenge. What they lack, above all, is a central focus to still the eye and fix its gaze in extended contemplation. The dynamic composition of Pistis Sophia inspires movement and unrest. While Midnight Mystery has the symmetry of light and darkness, left and right, our sight is torn between the two, and continually drawn in opposite directions. Meanwhile, The Guardian of the Pearl purposefully distracts us with its multitude of minute figures, despite the singular figure in the centre.
      The Hermetic works of the 70’s begin to display greater symmetry and central focus, inviting our eye to rest before them in mindful meditation. This is particularly true of his breakthrough work, Hermes Trismegistos.



 
 
 


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