Posted by Dr. Robert Magrisso
I used to joke that art was my therapy. Today, I no longer joke about it.
In August of 1995 I had a heart attack, cardiac arrest and near death experience. It serves as an inspiration for many of my works, making it clear that art is therapy. Art is also therapeutic to me because it is so different than the way I spend the vast majority of my time as a general internist physician. In that role, I must step outside of myself and relate to the experiences of others, even though my own inner life continues whether or not I am aware of it.
Each day, I am in touch with death and I notice how often death, grief, healing and joy are themes in my works. I am in awe of the mystery and unknown – and sometimes I've had the privilege to experience these in the lives of patients, friends and family. I feel a deep need to express and create what is inside of me and art allows me to do this. It is more than expression, though: it is deep play and discovery.
The way I work is not pre-planned. Instead, my work uncovers that within me of which I am only partially conscious. My drawings, carvings and collages have been created over a number of years. As I work with various media, I find myself discovering new relationships. Sometimes those relationships are internal, like feelings, understandings. Other times these relationships are with the outer world. And, always, there is a relationship with the medium itself.
To help you better understand my work, let's explore the piece titled "Lightbearers."
The background is a star-filled night sky, because it puts everything else in a different perspective and I often use art to expand my perspective. In a certain sense, the stars in the night sky are, to me, an image of God viewed now in the 21st century. That's because the photographs of the cosmos used here could not have been taken at any other time in history than these past 30 years. (Similarly, a photograph of Earth taken from space may be found in many of my collages. To me that is an image of the Mother Earth, another kind of image of God.)
Lightbearers also features the images of more than 30 people, who I feel are bearers of light to this planet – people who have inspired me. It's like an all-star football or baseball team, except that these players can be seen as moral and intellectual heroes. Abraham Lincoln is the only figure from the 19th century, the rest having lived in the 20th century. They have left a collective wisdom that has positively influenced our world and transcends themselves as individuals. In that sense, I see them as not only human, but also bringers of light to the collective darkness in which we dwell. People always ask, "Why Lincoln?" and all I can say is that Lincoln is one of the all-time greats in my opinion and, living in Illinois, who else could I place there?
In the foreground of Lightbearers is part of a painting by Maynard Dixon titled "The Earth Knower." The Native American figure in front of the eroded, ancient western landscape evokes a timelessness and is another kind of archetype, one also tied to the earth. It balances the star-filled sky that creates our cosmic context.
In addition, I have always loved the photograph of Einstein on the bicycle, as his expression seems to convey a level of play that goes with wisdom as I understand it.
Lightbearers, along with all of my works, seeks to express an ever-changing inner vision, a vision that is psychological and spiritual, personal and universal. My works are highly symbolic, yet often use actual objects and photographs of real objects. I am always trying in my work to get in touch with and express the mystery that is at the heart of reality.