Monday, August 4, 2008

Daniel Wheeler

A little boy, many years ago - on a whim, as children do - used to let himself sink to the bottom of pools and look up at the sky through the water. I used to do the same as a little girl. The magic world under water somehow fascinating me with its silence and the bright play of light, as well as the liberation that came from liquefying solid reality.

When I think of this boy who loved to look at the world from the bottom of pools to see what would happen to the shapes of trees and clouds, I am reminded of my husband's best childhood friend who drowned in a pool when they both were five years old. Maybe a drowning child's last moments are full of wonder and peace as he or she looks up into the dancing light above, immersed into the peace found under water. Isn't it this peace and letting go of the world that is the idea behind baptism by submersion? A small taste of the freedom from the fetters of the world that the spiritual life holds in store for us. A small taste of death as blissful peace that is available to us in life if we only lift our thoughts or let them go all together.

Well, this other boy grew up and became an artist in Los Angeles. After years of sculpturing, and installations of all kinds that started him on his way to fame, it occurred to him to take photographs from the bottom of pools. His name is Daniel Wheeler, and we bought one of his 40" x 40", "Gulp" prints last year, which is now hanging in our house to greet visitors at the front door.

What Andy Goldsworthy is to stone, earth and wood, Daniel Wheeler is to trees, clouds and water. Just as Andy Goldsworthy arranges leaves and feathers, stones and sand, and wood and ice for his photographs, Daniel Wheeler waits in the silence of the bottom of a pool for the light and water to arrange itself around the solid shapes of trees and clouds above, until it is all just so. The active yang, and receptive yin, of two great artists.

When we are born our first breath is in, and when we die, our last breath is out. In an interview Daniel says: "Exhaling is what allows me to descend. I can't go down if I don't let go of that gulp of air. So the resulting image is a document of that action."

This stillness after a breath let out is a small death and surrender. As such - in addition to the pleasure that comes from the fantastic blues, and greens, and whites, that float and ripple around familiar yet mysterious shapes and glorious, ascending bubbles - Daniel Wheeler's work communicates a spiritual concept of great significance, whether this spiritual experience is fully understood by the viewer at the time or not - it instantly feels familiar and true.

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