The word ‘occult,’ adjective, is described as ‘of, involving, or relating to supernatural, mystical, or magical powers or phenomena.’ If you’ll forgive me the dictionary definition to start, it’s worth mentioning it because the term ‘occult’ is often thrown around as a sort of catch-all for all things magical, supernatural, weird, or scary. It is often used to describe mediums and Spiritualists who rose to popularity after the 1860s, a cultural phenomenon that lives on through, among other things, photography. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art held an exhibition of occult photography in 2005.
Occultists, generally speaking, examine the spiritual realm, expanding beyond scientific or empirical evidence and pure reason. Occult practices span magic, alchemy, astrology, spiritualism, and extra-sensory perception. One such practitioner, who describes himself as a “modern occult artist,” is Andrew Schmidt, who creates work that aims to get at the very source of creation itself. Schmidt quotes Swedish esoteric thinker Thomas Karlsson in his statement when he writes, “The world is created in every moment. Most people are creations of the past, but through magical initiation we can become creators of the future.”
Schmidt’s work addresses this notion of “creation,” in terms of art, truth, and the world as a whole. As a creator of artworks that double as (or simply are) “cryptic machines” for sacred rituals, these works are created to effectually “harness potential magical energy.” Occultism, rooted firmly in ancient history, is a forward-looking discipline — it comprises the basic structure of some modern philosophies such as paganism, Wicca, or Gnosticism — and the artwork itself functions alternately as shrine, knowledge, and gateway. As art and ritual invariably fuse together in his work, he explains further that “Magic is the transformative power of art and the ritual is the performance of that magic.”
As individual pieces, these works are interesting enough, adorned with symbols and geometry that one might try to decipher. At first glance they appear merely ornamental, their symmetry aesthetically appealing, but each one is imbedded with symbolic, sacred geometry. In Fuse (bottom-most image above), the central orange sphere is extremely compelling; one imagines it swirling around, about to reveal some hidden message, or like a piece of prehistoric amber inside of which ancient creatures are eternally entombed. Recognizable esoteric numerals and symbols appear in the form of runes, pyramids, pentagrams, and more, so that each piece is a mysterious puzzle which Schmidt ultimately uses to try to achieve truth through magical connection.
Displayed together, these works transform from individual curiosities to full-fledged spiritual experiences. Whether you subscribe to a spirituality that sides more with the magical or the artistic realm, Schmidt’s installations are likely, for a moment or two at the very least, to draw you out of whatever frame of mind you were in before. At a distance the pieces are further abstracted, seemingly simple circles, triangles and spheres that only hint at their inner depths when viewed in total. The collage-like installations offer an exciting, immersive experience of the arcane. Through his work, Schmidt has discovered and pursued a language through which to communicate not only in the realm of art, but in magic as well.
Andrew Schmidt graduated with an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art this year. Much, much more work is available to view at andrew-schmidt.com along with information on his practice. And worth a look is also a sketchbook-style blog at andrew-schmidt.tumblr.com.