An interview about perception and creativity in art
Kirti P. Michel has been creating handmade – often large – collages on paper for 40 years. In this interview, this artist and educator reflects on perception in the artistic context and expands upon his creative process.Kirti examines holistic methods of evolution, harmonisation and healing, and is a specialist in Oriental spirituality, which is reflected in his complete body of work. As a collagist, Kirti tests our perception, with his oneiric scenes. He often creates a dense sphere of visual elements, replete with symbolism. Their theoretical focus is the representation of “magical spaces” — something that he also shares in his writings.
A self-taught artist from Traben-Trarbach on the Mosel, Kirti spent all his academic years exclusively in India. In 1972, he was based in Bombay (from 1974 in Poona), and was one of the first students of the Indian philosopher Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who later became known as Osho. The nine years he spent in this Centre for Meditation and the therapy forged his view of the world.
Kirti was also trained in Poona by B.K.S. Iyengar, the founder of the globally practiced Iyengar Yoga, a form of Hatha Yoga. Three philosophical movements have accompanied Kirti until the present day: yoga, meditation and Japanese Zen philosophy. In 1976 Kirti travelled to Japan for six months as language teacher, then received his initiation to Zazen (seated meditation) in Tokyo. He was also a guest in the Zenkloster Ryutakuji for one month. Kirti has been a practising member of the Zen organisation in Germany since 1990. In 1982, Kirti moved to Hamburg and started to teach yoga and meditation. He completed his accreditation as health educator for yoga and Ayurveda, in addition he managed and developed a programme of yoga and healthcare for employees as a part of NDR training and higher education.
The foundations of his philosophy can be found in his publications – such as “Das Yoga der fünf Elemente” (2003) and “Psychologie des Augenblicks” (2013)”. For the last ten years Kirti has been organizing workshops in Crete about methods of self-awareness on the basis of his “Das Yoga der fünf Elemente.”
1. What is the source of your energy?
When I refer to “my” energy, I usually experience daily oscillations, depending on the wide or tight focus of my perception. If I concentrate too much on past personal issues, then I feel confined and less inspired. However, I see the source of my energy in the transpersonal. When I open the focus of my perception, I remove the limit of my “personal energy.” It is like the analogy between the sun and the moon: when the moon says I shine, in truth she reflects only the light of the sun and borrows her luminosity from a bigger source.
Creative inspiration comes from an otherworldly sphere of awareness that is not predetermined or limited in any way. The more I open myself to the real source, the more I feel free, light and I become a receptive medium for creative activity.
2. Where do you get the motifs in your large collages from?
I have been collecting extracts from magazines, advertising, art books and so on for 40 years, and thus I have boxes with tens of thousands of preselected ideas and motifs. I am continually looking for new material and I always ponder to what extent these images might reflect my personal connection with my perception of the world and how they correspond with my aesthetic sensations.
3. Where does the choice of your motif come from? How does an image become reality?
When I begin to create a collage I don’t have preconceived ideas and I draw inspiration from the accidental and coincidences. I start to cut out figures and backgrounds that appear spontaneously using nail scissors, then I mix the motifs with each other until a thematic, semantic area arises, bringing together themes that engage me in a symbolic way. During the process, I give value to fluid, chromatic, perspective transitions, so that single items that may seem contradictory and surreal cease being separate and incompatible.
4. Are there thinkers or artists who inspire you?
In the latter part of 1968, my attitude to life was influenced by the autobiographical novels of Henry Miller. The phenomenon of creativity played an important role in Miller’s work. At that time I had less creative impulses, but Miller’s joyous, hilarious musings on his existence and struggle to become an artist and writer encouraged me to start my first modest attempts in the art of collage, and to develop my own form of expression. Miller’s message was: “Everyone can be creative.”
I was initially inspired by the paintings of Salvador Dali and René Magritte. My first attempts resembled grotesque, alienated montages in the Dadaist style, but soon the bizarre seemed too comic and “artificial“ to me. Later I drew inspiration from the romantic paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites, the Pop Art of Viktor Vasarely and the psychedelic drawings of Abdul Mati Klarwein.
In the meantime, the internet and media offer countless stimuli for creative and unimaginable developments – the possible combinations of perspectives and techniques are infinite. I don’t have concrete models – I merely follow my current inspiration that comes from the inside.
5. You organize annual yoga workshops. Can you tell us something more about them?
For ten years, I have offered self-awareness seminars of one week on Crete Island in June and September on the theme “the five elements of yoga.” The primary elements EARTH, WATER, FIRE, AIR and SPACE are the foundation pillars of creation. The reflection upon their sensually tangible characteristics and qualities — through appropriate physical exercises, illustrative theories and philosophical background — provides the basis for a deep comprehension of any kind of creative processes.
6. What is art? What is beauty?
Is this a delicate question that aims to determine if there are generally binding criteria to evaluate the perception of art and beauty?
My spontaneous association is between “art” and “ability” — whether it is the art of healing, handcraft, painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, literature, poetry, acting, movies or music. In every case, years of learning, practice and research are the key requirements for an education in art. This requires the ability to concentrate and lucid senses. I am convinced that clear, physiological and functional senses are the basis of reliable perception. The mental-spiritual is the correct condition to create and perceive art, because the human consciousness is like a clear mirror. When we are restless, nervous and driven, filled with too many ideas and concepts, our perception becomes blurred and there is no space or time in which the essence of things is able to appear.
A corresponding “sense of beauty” is the result of a conscious process that matures through the training of the perceptive and active senses, the exploration of the world of the unconscious through inspiration. The beauty and maturity of a work depend on the ability of the artist to perceive, and this refers not only to the forms of visible and audible phenomena but above all, to the breadth of the inner space of consciousness.
How is one able to recognize, for example, the subtle aesthetics in a Japanese temple when there is only a small space in your consciousness available?
7. How can passion for art or love coexist with the fundamental ideas of Buddhism – with the abandonment of attachments…. (Ideas about how things should or can be) when you are literally burning with a new idea, a newfound technology and its opportunities or a new, fascinating acquaintance?
I associate “passion” with different mental and spiritual conditions: a passionate interest in an artistic project has something to do with intensity, enthusiasm and commitment in a positive way. The totality of concentration upon one thing breaks free, because the adherent “I” disappears in the complete dedication to the creative act. In love, the separateness of two entities dissolves and blends in one being. This kind of passion doesn’t lead to attachment, but means that we feel life deeply and enjoy it to the fullest.
On the other hand, attachment can be experienced as painful. The resulting jealousy, fears and hurts create a “passion” that ultimately “brings suffering” and at some point it means the end of love. And based on this knowledge, Buddhism recommends the cultivation of the inner attitude of letting go.
However, you often cannot say to a person who is suffering in a relationship and is consumed by pain: “Just let it go!!!” – It will be useless…! When we will ourselves to let go, there is an inherent aspect of holding on. In order to change one’s inner attitude, a deeper understanding of how nature works is necessary: don’t stop the flow of concentration, don’t look back on your memories, move from moment to moment. In an inexorable, floating current, it is not possible to hold on as we might like.
Letting go is like a salt crystal that falls into the sea, sinks to the bottom and dissolves in the process…Cultivating this inner attitude needs time and willingness.
8. Kirti, what would your last words to humanity be?
The last words of a yoga teacher to humanity would be: “take another deep breath – it will be over soon. Inhale – accept – exhale – let go.”
9. What is happening in your artistic life at the moment? Where is the journey going?
Generally: I don’t know! I always let myself be surprised.
Specifically: I am looking forward to running my upcoming self-awareness seminar in Crete from 24 of June to the 1th of July and the seminar in the YogaResort Alpenretreat in Tirol from 19 to 26 July 2020. But the current global situation does not allow for a guaranteed date. But we still have our seminar on Crete in September.
Kirti, it was a real pleasure talking to you. For us YOU are a source of inspiration.