Between and Beyond Representation and Abstraction

For Adi Da Samraj, abstraction is fundamental—not only to art, but to perception itself:

Abstraction is, itself, the root-context and the root-language of all perceptually indicated experience. [1]

Adi Da intended all of his art to be appreciated as an abstract perceptual event, even when the content is apparently representational:

It makes no difference whether an image appears to be figurative or abstract—in neither case can you “say what it is” with complete finality. [2]

Adi Da’s entire artistic oeuvre is a decades-long exploration of how to make use of both the figurative (or representational) and the abstract or (non-representational), as means of drawing the viewer into what he called “aesthetic ecstasy.” His intention was to create works of art that allow one to “fall out” of the sense of separate existence and “fall into” the ecstatic mood of non-separate participation in reality.


(click image to enlarge)
In this example of Adi Da’s process of abstraction, elements from photographs taken by Adi Da (eye, bicycle, mouth, bird, water, chair) are transformed into geometric shapes (rectilinear, circular, and triangular), as the visual field is simplified, becoming more abstract, though still representational to a significant degree.

Adi Da intended his works to be neither “mere abstraction,” which he defined as “pattern only,” nor “mere representation,” or “replication of the conventionally ‘real’ (or merely familiar).” He intended his works to convey meaning, but a meaning that paradoxically lies “between and beyond both representation and abstraction.”

Thus, Adi Da strove to create images that were always meaningful but never merely (in the conventional sense) “recognizable”—whether the images are apparently figurative or abstract.

Adi Da defined the intention underlying his work with representation and abstraction in a series of aphoristic principles, including the following:

The image must not be reduced to mere abstraction—or pattern only.


The image must not be reduced to mere representation—or replication of the conventionally “real” (or merely familiar).


The image must exist within the plane of meaning—between and beyond both representation and abstraction.


The meaning of the image is not its degree of reproduction (or representation, or reflection) of the “objective subject.” . . .


The meaning of the image is not the reproduction (or representation, or reflection, or even the expression) of the “self-subject” (or the artistic maker and doer) of the image.


The meaning of the image is the experiential evidence of the degree of coincidence (or mutual participation) of the “objective subject” and the “self-subject” in the same space. . . .


The image must be intrinsically meaningful—but not recognizable (or identifiable merely by reference to a “subject”, or “subject-context”, outside itself). [3]

In these principles, Adi Da states that the fundamental impulse behind his art is neither to represent the “thing seen” (the “objective subject”) nor to represent the subjectivity of the artist (the “self-subject”). Rather, his artistic impulse is to convey the “mutual participation” of artistic maker and artistic subject “in the same space.”


(click image to enlarge)
In this example, the photographic elements are progressively abstracted into a radically different image-form and meaning-impact. However, the two images still share the primary colors (red, yellow, blue, plus black and white), as well as the circular forms of the bicycle wheels and the diagonal thrust of the bicycle frame.

Beginning in August 2000, Adi Da Samraj created all of his art in suites. Thus, each individual image he created was always part of the larger visual world of a suite of images. A given suite may be entirely figurative or entirely abstract—or a fluid progression from figurative to abstract.

Orpheus One and Linead One embrace a full range from figurative to abstract. The works in the exhibition are drawn primarily from the later (abstract) images in both suites. However, the section of plates in this catalog includes many examples of the earlier (figurative) images in the suites.

  1. Transcendental Realism: The Image-Art of egoless Coincidence With Reality Itself, by Adi Da Samraj (Middletown, CA: The Dawn Horse Press, Second edition, 2010), p. 48.
  2. Ibid., p. 122.
  3. Ibid., p. 43.

11 comments (newer on top):

  1. As someone who has served Exhibitions and Events of the Art Of Adi Da over the past 7 years in Italy I am respectful for the depth of knowledge and detail relative to the early modernist movements and it’s principle artists that you speak of. I was first drawn to this post because of Braque’s involvement with Ballet Monte Carlo where Braque made significant contributions, along with Picasso, Matisse, Dali, and many others of those movements. It is also interesting because a Florentine Art Critic addressed a question to Adi Da in 2008 about the relationship of his art to cubism. He made a very lengthy and respectful reply for what he acknowledged as a very important artistic movement and mentioned Braque and Picasso specifically.
    Relative to aperspectivalism (if there is such a word), the artwork displayed by Adi Da in the 2007 Venice Biennale, included much more geometrically based art that I think was a better example of this particular phenomenon. Particularly a 14 meter long piece named “Alberti’s Window” after the Florentine artist and architect Leon Batissta Alberti, for whose perspective pioneering during the Renaissance Adi Da created a counterpoint to. The Florence Dance Company, that performed for the opening of the Current Exhibition at the Bargello, have performed many dances in Italy featuring this work, also known as “Geome One”, over the past 7 years.
    In the Exhibition space in Florence at this time it is very enlivening , liberating, and thought provoking for many people, which they write about.
    Though the art of Adi Da is created through a digital process it has ties to an all over the canvas creation of the past, which Adi Da is specifically doing. I personally appreciate that it is presented as a physical fabrication as the artist designed it. There were pieces in the Venice Biennale in 2007 that were presented on LCD screens and were very powerful and appreciated. Again much more geometrically based.
    To fully understand it may be good to also get a catalog from the 2007 Venice Biennale which are still available.
    The actual physical fabrication is the truest and purest form that you can receive of this work to receive it’s full impact. For an art historian or one who studies art the journey will be well worthwhile.

  2. While it is true that the multiplication of perspectives, and the various languages of “abstraction” have both been around for a long time, in many different manifestation, it seems to me that Adi Da is trying to draw attention to the limitations of having a “point of view”, rather than just the limitations of (visual) perspective, linear or otherwise. On the basis of the quotes, he also seems to be suggesting that he has found a way in his own art to trigger some kind of Zen “satori” in the viewer, that creates an “aperspectival” experience somehow beyond “point of view”. It is not obvious how that is supposed to happen, and I have not seen the exhibition, but it will be interesting to hear how attendees at the Bargello experience the art.

    1. I certainly agree that Adi Da is addressing point of view as well as perspective, given that the two are reciprocally related. What I’ve learned from studying the art and art commentaries of many great artists, is that enormous limitations — artistic, cultural, philosophical, and spiritual — are very much related to “perspective and point of view”, and to our largely uninspected or culturally imposed presuppositional “belief” in separative self-identification, and an egoically rooted view of reality. As a long-time admirer of this artist and his work, I can say he never failed to challenge these limitations throughout the entire oeuvre of his art and art commentaries.

      To shift gears slightly, in regards to the question of the viewer encountering and being changed by art (which could also be described playfully but validly as art encountering the viewer), I recall a phrase used by Adi Da encouraging viewers to use a “performance-assisted subjective process” when contemplating his art. This essentially means that each individual must go through his or her own inward (or subjective) course of response to the performance or artwork presented. This initiates a dynamic that allows the artwork itself to move beyond being an objectified thing to the viewer, becoming instead a means of assisting in a transformation of consciousness in the viewer-participant.

      When one’s awareness merges with a work of art, the quality and meaning of that work becomes apparent to the viewer. The notion that a work of art is a collaborative project between artist and viewer has been emphasized by numerous artists, including Marcel Duchamp, who said, “All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.”

  3. The relationship between representational and abstract art on the one hand, and between perspectival and post-perspectival art on the other, is a complex matter, both historically and theoretically. The psychic and spiritual impact of moving beyond the limitations imposed by representation as well as by Renaissance perspective were well understood by the early modernists, particularly spiritually sensitive “abstractionists” like Kandinsky and Braque. Talking about the influences on cubism’s artistic breakthroughs with regard to perspective and representation, Braque for example said:

    What artists have particular significance for me? It’s difficult to say. You see the whole Renaissance tradition is antipathetic to me. The hard and fast rules of perspective which it imposed on art were a ghastly mistake which it has taken four centuries to redress: Cézanne and, after him, Picasso and myself can take a lot of the credit for this. Scientific perspective is nothing but eye-fooling illusionism; it is simply a trick— a bad trick— which makes it impossible for an artist to convey a full experience of space, since it forces the objects in a picture to disappear away from the beholder instead of bringing them within his reach, as painting should. That’s why I have such a liking for primitive art: for very early Greek art, Etruscan art, African art. None of this has been deformed by Renaissance science. African masks in particular opened up a new horizon to me. You see, I have made a great discovery: I no longer believe in anything. Objects don’t exist for me except in so far as a rapport exists between them, and between them and myself. When one attains this harmony, one reaches a sort of intellectual non-existence— what I can only describe as a state of peace— which makes everything possible and right. Life then becomes a perpetual revelation.

    Whatever Braque meant by a “full experience of space” or a harmonious rapport with objects, leading to life as a “perpetual revelation”, it is important to recognize that many of the issues raised by Adi Da and his art have been around in one form or another for over a century within the artistic community.

    1. George Braque made these comments about Renaissance art in conversations between Braque and British art historian John Richardson, first published in the Observer in London in the late 1950s. However, the aesthetic shift inherent in modernist art began much earlier via various precursory paths, following the 1839 invention of the photographic image and its increasing popularization throughout the century, including the use of multiple exposures. These experiments with photography influenced the “multi-perspectival” Cubist art that Braque and Picasso created, which might now be better described as “post-perspectival” art. One key precursory path to post-perspectival art was the post-impressionist paintings of Paul Cézanne, whom Picasso and Braque referred to as “the father of us all”, and whose pioneering contribution Adi Da acknowledged.

      1. If your point is that artists, particularly Cezanne, were engaged with how to go beyond Renaissance perspective much earlier than Braque and Kandinsky, in part due to the invention of photography – including multiple exposure and Muybridge’s time-lapse animations – I completely agree. What is interesting about Cezanne’s efforts to go beyond still photography (eg. his interest in binocular vision, the “same” object at different moments) is how he dealt with time while rendering space. The camera is like the perfect Renaissance eye; all the diagonals recede flawlessly – but only from one specific perspective, at one moment in time, both of which are fixed.

        But we have two eyes, which see by independent jerky saccadic movement, and the fovea (the center of the retina that provides high resolution focus) only covers about 2 degrees of vision in humans. So linear perspective and camera frozen time is exactly NOT how humans see. Which Cezanne felt intensely, and why he embarked on “the purposeful destruction of the unified image”. Cezanne was a proto-scientist, all about the geometries of vision. He also said “An art which isn’t based on feeling isn’t an art at all… feeling is the principle, the beginning and the end; craft, objective, technique – all these are in the middle.”

        Still it is a long way from acknowledging the contributions of Cezanne and Sengai to understanding the geometric (and feeling) basis of vision, to claiming that one has developed an artistic approach “such that the perceptual mechanism no longer enforces a conventional, or perspectival, or “point-of-view”-referring, or representational, or otherwise egoic mode of image”, as Adi Da does in one of the other essays on this site. Don’t even know what that really means, and the images on this site (I know – web photos are not the art!), while interesting enough, don’t seem THAT radical or groundbreaking. I have sent away for the catalog.

        1. An art collector friend in Italy sent me the link to the press conference video on this site in which Ad Da’s work is described as “no perspective” or “aperspectival”, asking how that is unique. Having looked at the video and other materials on the site, I really can’t say. The images are striking, particularly in their use of primary colors, but despite the artist’s exalted claims it is difficult to see, at least at first glance, how they are importantly different from many other modern and contemporary works of art. According to the press release the works are digitally composed, and the artist is shown working on projected images, but the images themselves are physically fabricated, not displayed on hi-def monitors as one might expect, so it cant be something to do with their digital aspect. And as am sure you know, the concept of “aperspectival” art has been around for decades, at least since Jean Gebser’s description of a massive 1951 wall mural by Leger as an example of an “aperspectival realization” in art, so novelty cant be the basis either.

          Do you have any insight on the “no perspective/aperspectival” description?

          (If you don’t know Gebser’s work, the Leger comments are followed by a really interesting analysis of Cezanne’s visual field as “spherical”, in contrast to the “horizontal-vertical perspectival fixity of three dimensions”. He quotes Novotny’s study as early as 1938 that “within Cezanne’s painting, scientific spatial-perspective – linear and aerial perspective- has decreased significantly in value… The life of perspective has vanished, perspective in the old sense is dead”.)

          Attached image(s):

          1. It’s funny you bring up Leger, since he is not mentioned in the artist’s “Reality” essay lists, and Leger was so obviously THE modernist artist who worked directly on issues of perspective, representation, abstraction, and the use of primary colors. A colleague is sending me the catalog, but don’t know much about the artist beyond what’s on here. Came across the website because I’m going to the Venice Biennale later this year and always check what is going on in Florence and Rome, and only posted because the claims did not seem to adequately acknowledge earlier contributions.

            Artistic perspective by definition is the attempt to convey a three dimensional world on a two dimensional surface. Linear perspective is a specifically Renaissance invention, but even monocular vision has depth perception, and therefore perspective.

            In even a one-eyed view of a flat surface with an image that has no “depth” markers (eg. an all black surface ala Malevich), the human brain still generates “perspective”, so don’t know what “no perspective” would mean (except in some metaphorical sense) or why that would be an artistic goal.

            Would appreciate the source of the Gebser-Cezanne reference if easily available – looked online and found many Gebser articles (he seems interesting for other reasons) but nothing specific on Cezanne and Leger.

          2. Thanks for the interesting comments. I think the most professional scholarly study of Adi Da’s orientation to and use of aperspectivity is described in a small book titled The Rebirth of Sacred Art: Reflections on the Aperspectival Geometric Art of Adi Da Samraj. This is an excellent explication of that topic written by Gary J. Coates, a longtime widely respected professor of architecture. It’s available on Amazon or from the publisher. Jean Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin (originally published in 1949 as Ursprung und Gegenwart) on human consciousness and aperspectivity is detailed and innovative, clearly an important work on aperspectival consciousness, I agree. At the same time, as Professor Coates points out in his book, Gebser’s orientation to aperspectival consciousness is different from that of Adi Da, whose application of aperspectivity in his work is unique in several ways.

        2. In response to your comment that the art as seen on the Internet does not “seem” innovative enough to spark transformational perspective (or aperspective) please imagine if you had never seen the Mona Lisa, but was then extolled of the masterpiece of its virtue while being shown a representation of it on a size not much larger then a postage stamp. You just will not find the enthrallment you are attempt to confirm there, no matter how much you try to conjure the event of observation in its actual presence. This is all the more true with Adi Da’s work as nearly all of it is of monumental size, done purposely so that the mind cannot so easily “size it up” which is precisely what the mind does when seeing a representation of this art on the Internet. As one who has been fortunate enough to have seen this magnificent Art on a couple of occasions I can tell you that esteemed Art Curators and Critics such as Donald Kuspit and Achilli Bonito Oliva that comment on the elements of “epiphany” and “surprise” experienced upon seeing this art full sized and in person are not conjuring these responses to sound good on paper. Something about being in the room with this art while putting your feeling and attention upon it creates an entirely unexpected and remarkable experience. Of course I can only speak for myself. When I saw some of these pieces in the Chelsea district in NY a few years ago, I felt like I was suddenly aware of aspects of myself that I had never been aware of, as though I was suddenly noticing, for the length of time of the viewing, “sixth, seventh, and eight senses of perception”, or whatever I might image that might entail. When I uttered that exclamation to a complete stranger who was standing nearby, he replied that somehow he could identify with what I was talking about. Bottom line, your mind, no matter how well informed, with or without a catalog, is not going to be able to “figure” this out. The only way is to go to Italy, with no expectations either for or against, and experience it for yourself, and then see what you feel about it. Kind regards, MJ Miller

          1. Well said, MJ! I am no art critic or historian, so I cannot comment intelligently on the posts here, but can only speak of my experience when some of these pieces were first publicly shown in New York a few years ago at the Scope Exhibition (I flew half way around the world to see them). This mind was stunned by the sheer Presence of these works. I know, sounds exaggerated, but that is the authentic description…. it is unfathomable and inexplicable. That is all I can say…..

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