by Jay Constantine
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Human beings and their relationship to the cosmos: it sounds like a hopeless cliché. Yet, how can we possibly know anything about ourselves without knowing our origins? The more data we uncover about the universe, the more fantastic our situation appears. Information and discovery alters our understanding of metaphysics and religion; it causes us to re-evaluate our position in the scheme of things. Time and timelessness, multiple universes and other dimensions, the origin and fate of our universe – these are but a few of the life-changing topics that cosmologists and physicists are investigating.
Presenting material of this sort in an artistic context is fraught with problems but my need for awe and mystery overpowers common sense and the fear of embarrassment.
In my recent work I create an imaginary space where scale can be manipulated and the sense of time can be compressed. By juxtaposing the world of the very large (macrocosm) and the world of the very small (microcosm) I can create analogies between celestial forms and microorganisms. By presenting cosmological events from the distant past with fully evolved humans from our own time, I can pretend to view the universe sub specie aeternitatis (from the perspective of eternity). In this way, past, present, and future can be condensed into a magical pictorial setting.
The circular format of the work was chosen because of its reference to telescopes, microscopes and mandalas (images from science and religion can coexist in an artistic context more easily than in the rational world). Of course, many cultures consider the circle a symbol for eternity so it seemed appropriate to use this format in order to represent the universe. Along with astronomical images and microorganisms, I also depict objects of nature and the human figure. Presenting a plethora of creatures from the natural world (extinct or surviving) speaks to the evolutionary processes that formed
humans. The vast distance of time involved for such processes to reach the current stage is almost inconceivable to the human mind.
I have titled my current series of paintings: A Theory of Everything. I am referencing ideas that have been discussed by many cosmologists and physicists – the creation of a theory that can unify general relativity and quantum mechanics. Of course, this theory has yet to be discovered. However, I have used the phrase in a more general and creative way to indicate a universe where imaginative and alternative realities concerning humans and their relation to the cosmos can be examined.
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio and received a BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art and an MFA from Northern Illinois University. After briefly living in Chicago I moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan to take a full time teaching position at Kendall College of Art and Design. As a full professor of painting, I have taught at Kendall for 30 years. I was chair of the Kendall Fine Art Program and Painting Program for over decade. As chair, I was instrumental in creating the undergraduate painting major and the MFA in Painting.
I have received grants from Arts Midwest/Regional NEA, Art Serve Michigan, the Michigan Council for the Arts, the Arts Foundation of Michigan and served as an Artist -in-Residence at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art. I am also included in the NEA Artist Fellowship Archive at the Smithsonian Institute. I have had solo shows at many museums, art centers, alternative spaces and commercial galleries throughout the region. My work is included in public collections such as the Grand Rapids Art Museum and the Kalamazoo Institute of Art as well as private collections.