Luis Geraldes Book
A Personal History
Insider and Outsider
My life took a dramatic turn in 1975; the country I had grown to love and which had become my home was ravaged by civil war. The invasion of the Cuban army, supporting the Communist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, forced a million Portuguese to flee Angola. We became refugees. I was shocked to witness the atrocities of war: brother turning against brother, and friend against friend. The impact of the civil war is described with the accompanying poem that records my memories of war:
In a thirty-day nightmare my family and I travelled approximately 300 km to the capital Luanda to catch a UN sponsored flight to Portugal. We arrived in Portugal on August 1, 1975 with only the clothes we were wearing. I returned with my parents to the village where I was born.
Sometimes warmly received back but strangely and unfairly we faced opposition from the locals. The returnees were not welcomed. Integration was difficult: we had no home in Angola and no place in Portugal. What had been safe and secure previously had been destroyed. My family had to endure hardship with little support by the local government, as we struggled to rebuild our lives in a new and different society. We were displaced – rejected both by my chosen country Angola and by the country of my birth.
Returning to the village of my birth, a place with no real meaning for me, I was shocked to see relations praying in secret. They were Marranos – Jews who had been forced to convert to Catholicism 200 years before, but had clandestinely kept their Jewish identity.
Our parents did not tell us the secret, as we would have been victimised. It was all right to know of our Jewish background once we were older. The disclosure could have undermined the security of my family and home – the religion I practiced and loved was not that of my ancestors. Catholicism was born of fear and intimidation. Being aware of our true identity had led me to look for a search for meaning. I embarked on a discovery, reading about Cabala – the Hebrew word for “tradition” – according to Galbreath (1986: 372):
Cabala is the body of traditional Jewish mysticism, Theosophy, and magic that developed from Hellenistic roots and coalesced in thirteenth-century Spain in the text of Sefer ha-Zohar (The book of Splendor).
Galbreath adds: “Cabala seeks to explain the nature of reality, the levels of being, the origin of evil, and the ways of attaining knowledge of God.” Being aware of the Cabalistic teachings shaped my art around the ancient wisdom of the esoteric magic use of various symbols, such as, the sephirot- tree of life, and the cosmic egg. In this context, my paintings assumed a view and relation to the spiritual Universe.
In 1978, as a Portuguese citizen I was called to compulsory military service for sixteen months. Having experienced the horror of war, I initially objected and used every possible way to avoid going in the army. Nothing worked and against my will I ended doing army service.
In 1981 I become a brother, and later on commander, of the Knights of the Temple, an Order created in 1118/19 – thus 20 years after the conquest of Jerusalem. Balduin II, King of Jerusalem, left the eastern wing of his palace, adjacent to the ruins of the Temple of King Solomon, to the Order as headquarters; that’s why the Order was called “Order of the Temple” and his members ”Templarios” (“Templars”), a brotherhood order founded in 1119 to protect the spiritual and the pilgrimage pathways to Jerusalem.
As a result of such quest I found myself after few years in esoteric and initiation meetings in the Esoteric and Theosophic Society playing with supernatural values and ideas. This opportunity was very helpful in developing and achieving knowledge and wisdom related to ancient symbols and mysteries. Being a Knight contributed to overcome the traumatic experience and heal the horrors of the civil war that I had experienced in my teens and the difficulties I had encountered being displaced. It allowed me to develop a style and subject matter in my art, which was concerned with the Spiritual, complementing the Cabala, the Esoteric and Theosophic studies that become the foundations of my expression in art today.
The continuation of my evolution and wandering spirit lead me to the Pacific in 1985. Together with three small children and a wife, I migrated to Australia. I did not speak English and had to go through the difficult task of learning the language. Once again, I found myself in a different environment encountering all the social, professional and language difficulties. Initially I was based in Melbourne where I did language and other academic studies, in a strange city and new environment. Ten years later I left the city and settled in Regional Victoria. I encountered a new way of being an outsider.
I now live in The Strzeleki Ranges which sit about 700 meters above sea level and at one time were part of the Gondwana land that linked Australia to Patagonia millions of years ago. Between the Morwell National Park and Tara Bulga National Park the ranges are surrounded by rainforests that at one time belonged and were the land of the Kurnai people, a native aboriginal community of this area, that had lived here perhaps for thousands years. Living in such a place in a strange way has personalised my search for the soul of a lost civilization.
Hidden valleys and pockets of rainforests surround the mountains where a number of microclimates camouflage a secret world of unnumbered micro-organisms. The high level of humidity concentrated in the valley during the first part of the day creates a white veil of fog and mist in a rather enigmatic ever-changing landscape and daylight. At night, the intensity and the darkness of the clear night skies, permits a contemplation of the constellations, marching through the sky.
The rural environment impressed on me the perfect balance between sky and earth, water and fire. It provided a physical context in my search for a ground level spiritual energy that links us to the centre of life. The art works that I now produce echo a process of inquiry that draws on my past, yet simultaneously bears testimony to the external world and its parallel existences.
In broad artistic language, my art could be described as being associated with the metaphysical, which is a movement of art associated with theosophical principles. Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Alexander Rochenko and Mark Rothko usually are described as being the principle exponents of metaphysical art. My art is concerned with the metaphysical in the sense that I too associate nature and the human condition with spiritual powers. As a metaphysical artist, I have researched the relationship between the scientific and the spiritual in an endeavour to make sense both of my past and perceived present realities. Drawing on the personal exploration of spiritual elements through living the reality of primitive cultures, surviving the destruction and desperation of civil war, escaping as a refugee and feeling as an outsider in the country of my birth and to the religion of my ancestors, I identified a need for the spiritual and scientific explanations.
I use and identify cultural and religious influences that have become part of world belief and social systems. Such influences have become part of my particular universe, holding various parallel circulatory systems of meanings and mysterious messages that shape and connect my paintings to contemporary life.
The environment and my spiritual beliefs, on one hand, and science and the fear of the unknown, on the other, have become major factors that inform and create the tension within my work. The paintings portray the need to blend us with the surrounding power of the latest knowledge and discovery that scientists have added to the knowledge of human kind in comparison to the ancient wisdom of generations of esoteric astronomers. I am attempting to reflect an understanding of consciousness – capturing the scientific and spiritual and environmental influences that shape our understanding of consciousness.
The theoretical assumptions that underpin my art are examined in the next section.
Luis Geraldes : www.facebook.com/geraldesart