MFA Thesis



What follows are my Master of Fine Arts, Thesis and Abstract

I was given license to build my “Thesis”, three large high fire ceramic murals at Ventura Harbor Village, CA.

A written explanation of the iconography can be found in my ABSTRACT



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An Abstract



Michel Petersen, Master of Arts in Fine Art

The imagery embedded in “Trimorphous Didaktikus: A Pagan Trinity” celebrates the theory that Creation is a continuous and self-perpetuating activity, specifically, that the planet Earth is an autonomous self-regulating geothermal organism that recycles the by products of its own creations to perpetuate itself. The concept of Creation as an ongoing process is didactic, exponentially geometric, and the comer stone of my thesis. The popular notion that Creation was a one time act some billions of years ago with its attending nihilist view of our living planet as an inanimate object hurtling meaninglessly through the void of space is the conceptual antithesis of ‘Trimorphous Didaktikus’. In contrast my thesis has roots reaching far back into antiquity borrowing from both primitive atavism and also new scientific paradigms in an attempt to communicate a holistic and living interpretation of both the evolution of human consciousness and its relationship to the living planet.
Thinking has now brought the human mind to the brink of a completely new paradigm, where DNA splicing and human cloning are possible, thus bridging the awesome gap between Creation itself and Man. The idea of an organic bridge built upon thoughts intimately connecting us to the essence of this planet is poetic to say the least and highlights the utter uselessness of the endless and polarized debate between science and religion regarding the origin of creation. Indeed, the critical issues facing science and religion collectively are in reality issues pertaining to global environmental ecology, conservation of non-renewable resources, and strategies to control global demography.
As a public artist working in the public sector I felt a tremendous need to use my art form as a vehicle to transpose and elucidate upon these issues. My search for an iconography that could embody a global didactic has led me through many divergent fields of study: biology, anthropology, philosophy, gene culture theory, western history, mythology, and the history of western art. I was looking for iconography that could embody a devotional paganism free from direct visual association with preexisting global religions and ethnicities.
The thought that the juxtaposition of disconnected iconography might create an entirely new visual dialogue led me to experiment simultaneously with three separate iconic systems. I decided to use Sacred Geometry because it would allow me to work within a classical format and also because, according to Plato, numbers are innate forms of human spirituality capable of building a hypothetical bridge between the sacred and
the profane. Next, I chose to incorporate sacred Chumash Indian pictographs into my mathematically formatted pagan trinity because of the adaptability of all things Chumash to my central concept. The Chumash are a lost non-renewable life form. According to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Art, the last pure Chumash died in 1952. Also the Chumash are a metaphor for primitive peoples worldwide who have perceived nature as a morality base for their cultural sacraments, and lastly, the Chumash were particularly fastidious about caring for nature. The living Earth was included in their cosmology in such a way that an act of violence towards the natural environment was an act of sacrilege against their hierarchies of spiritual beings. And in the case of acts of desecration against the Sugar Pine, a tree found up on Pine Mountain in the Sespe Wilderness, death was the penalty. The Chumash had no need to build a bridge to cross from the profane into the sublime no division existed between themselves and their deities. Thus, the Chumash are an icon with which to express a holistic integration between Man and the living planet. Unfortunately, the Chumash are also a Metaphor for the tragic result of collective human indifference to the delicate balance within nature, which if defiled, will ultimately destroy us all.
The choice to use the Yellow Tail Tuna fish as the single most repetitive symbol within my trimorph was threefold. Firstly, to bring attention to a creature close to the endangered list. Secondly, because there is a connection between fish in general and the esoteric geometric shape of the vesica pisces, a sacred shape with connections to the fundamental design of human cells, the great pyramid at Giza and the Gothic Cathedrals
of central Europe. And lastly, the fish is a metaphor for the original one celled spirochete swimming across the primal ooze of pre-history propelled by a life force that drives us eternally forward into the unknown.
During my research I discovered number systems that had been used throughout global history to undergo esoteric forms of initiation. The number nine, the number thirteen, the numbers seven and eight in combination were used respectively to give an occult power and a unique face to each of the three murals that comprise my thesis.
Nine is the universal number for the manifestation of conscious spiritual activitywithin the physical body. In the Kabalistic numerology, there are nine steps of development between nothingness and manifestation, ten being the final step into reality. In this case the mural itself is the realization of esoteric phenomenon in the physical world. In addition to choosing specific numbers with which to geometrically divide the space within the mural, placement within the installation complex was critical. This particular circular mural needed to be placed away from the viewer and above the viewer’s head to evoke a response of wonder. Thus it was placed twenty feet back from the main causeway and, after installation reached over sixteen feet high on the diagonal wall upon which it was permanently mounted. The impression of a powerful and extremely elusive entity is portrayed, thus rounding off the total conceptual emphasis on the spiritual manifest within the physical. Thirteen was chosen because it is the riumber most closely associated with the moon mysteries and its annual cycles, thirteen in all. I felt it was appropriate to create a moon mural in a harbor setting where the tides are always visible, to remind us of actual celestial activities. Thirteen times twenty-eight equals three hundred and sixty four, which indicates some irregularities in our calendar. This mural is also placed strategically to invoke a certain response. This ten-foot in diameter ceramic mural is placed directly above the viewers head on a diagonal wall. It
looks like jewel, quiet yet full of potential. Once again the viewer has to look up and can’t
touch the artwork. Lastly, the numbers seven and eight were chosen because seven is the number of man and his earthly cycles and eight is the number of change and transcendence. There are seven graces, seven deadly sins, seven days in the week, seven days to creation, and seven notes in the Gregorian musical scale, and seven Liberal Arts. Eight on the other hand is the New Covenant and has to do with the reanimation of seven.
Christ rose on the eighth day, there were eight human survivors on the Noah’s arch, there are eight sides to the traditional baptismal fount found in western.churches and the
Gregorian scale is renewed by the eighth note, the reoccurrence of the tonic as the octave. This eight foot square mural sits at ground level with its heart directly in the viewer’s face. Touch it as much as you like, it is the representation of renewal and is so brightly colored in the hues of spring that when the morning sun crosses over it, it is literally blinding.
The three murals stem from the same origin and bear the same iconography, yet like a true trimorph, the resulting individual physiognomy of each artwork is uniquely different. Individually and collectively each has didactic qualities with the potential to momentarily free the viewer from the confines of linear intellectual consciousness, with its filters of measure number and weight, by pulling the viewer inadvertently into a unique and deeply pagan iconography. The intricate design work revolves from circular interiors. Spinning like a kaleidoscope the directional design elements draw the viewer through a cultural warp into uncharted visual narratives. My hope is that the viewer will recognize sufficient iconography to remain interested enough to explore the innate concepts buried within the clay forms.