Dang Duong Bang and sublimation moments (section 3)

By James Bulman-May PhD
Associate Professor in Art History and Interculture Communication
University of Copenhagen

Bang’s flowers: the lotus as mandalic script

Chiefly inspired by the developments in European art from approx. 1875 to 1940, Bang’s art moreover embraces the multiple perspectives celebrated by cubism. This is particularly evident in some of the paintings in the “Sound of Silence” series, where he represents the ecological palimpsests of a lotus pond in graphics that create a matrix of simultaneity.

Reflecting the innovative momentum of cubism, where Picasso and Braque experimented to render 360 degrees figurative views in two dimensional canvases, Bang creates variations on the theme of the cubist perception of reality. However, instead of the fractured angular perspectives of cubism, Bang’s explicit narratives position the circular aspects of bloom and decay on a curve. His graphic technique outlines transparent layers of the lifecycle of the lotus, allowing the viewer to reflect on the biological cycles, individuation, and the presence of the past. Bang’s techniques and themes are thus inextricably intertwined, creating a continual reflexive process orchestrated by the buzz of ubiquitous dragonflies.

Drawing on the best of several worlds, Bang’s oeuvre chronicles a steep learning curve, which leads to the development of a personal style. Where Monet developed the motif of the water lilies, Nolde explored the poppy, and van Gogh’s pointillism expanded on the Fibonacci patterns of the sunflower, Bang claims the lotus as his signal icon. Variations on the lotus theme abound in his work, through which he embraces the classical Asian Buddhist tradition of celebrating the holy flower.

In its reference to purity the potent symbol of the lotus predates Buddhism. It is primarily celebrated in the Lotus Sutra of Mahāyāna Buddhism, written between 100 B.C. and 200 A.D. in India. From India it proliferated and became a foundation text in Buddhism at large. The Lotus Sutra gives ultimate expression to the infinite potential and dignity inherent in each human life, and teaches that the inner determination of an individual can transform everything. The Lotus Sutra thereby encourages (alchemical) faith in our inherent capacity for wisdom, courage, and compassion. In general the Lotus Sutra is considered to contain the essence of the Buddha’s enlightenment, offering the reader a key to the transformation of suffering, thereby enabling the individual as well as society to flourish.

In an early illustration in a Lotus Sutra handscroll (1257), the lotus symbolizes the bodhisattva’s human predicament: rooted in humble mud, the plant still braves the elements and flowers in the open air of enlightenment. Bang’s lotuses address this symbolic essence, and their meditative presence invites us to explore the authentic states within.

Bang repeatedly returns to variations on the theme of the lotus. His explorations of the ecological theme are represented in layered techniques that reflect the natural process depicted. Obsessed with the materiality of the golden flower, Bang’s oeuvre chronicles all stages of the life cycle of a lotus, an imperative that comes to full fruition in the suite of lotus paintings “The Sound of Silence”. In these works Bang celebrates the lifecycle of the sacred flower: its minute sprouting seeds and potent roots flourish in dark putrid mud nurturing succulent verdant stems, which are eventually crowned by buds bursting into fragrant floral fêtes.

Spanning past, present, and future, Bang’s lotuses proliferate and cross-pollinate in various stages of bloom or decay, drooping or turning their corollas towards the sun in rich seasonality. A deep darkness occasionally rules sections of his paintings, but these strata are inevitably penetrated by phosphorescent mud-embroiled microbes generating photosynthetic alchemy. The autonomous light-harvesting momentum is occasionally dimmed by the sfumato of the vapours escaping the lethargic alchemical transformations in the depths of the black mud. The vigorous ecological cryptoclimates below the floral canopies are populated by a dynamic fauna, above the waterline reflected in the metallic exoskeletons of dragonflies, some copulating on the wing.

In these canvases Bang portrays variations on the lotus from incubating vessel to telescoping growth, followed by full dazzling bloom that fades to seed dispersal from capsules that ultimately decay in poignant noble rot, a slow sepsis converging to gelified reagents nourishing new sprouts. These alchemical cycles and transformations offer comprehensive views of the beginning and the end of the ecological process. The accomplished graphics represent a blended technique that offers no vanishing point, nor hierarchies of near and far, east or west, centre or periphery.

Instead the lotus paintings in the “Sound of Silence” series focus on eternal elements that wax and wane with the autonomous yens of the moon and the alchemical spectrum. Suspended in alchemical color sequences undulating in oceanic wave functions, Bang’s compositions reduce the post Renaissance perspective to a trompe l’oeil. Inviting the viewer to discard inessentials and focus on pleasure, Eros, and the sublime shadow texts of the quotidian, Bang’s paintings seem in no uncertain ways to urge the spectator to take a break and see worries for what they are: insignificant figments compared to the inexhaustible sources of joy and revelation that surround us, wherever we are.

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