Mark Griffin - profile

Mark Griffin was a painting student at the San Francisco Academy of Art in the late 1970s. During the same period he was deeply involved in two other areas of study, which continue to be central influences in his art. Griffin was studying music composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and he was also a devoted student of Tai Chi, and meditation. His meditation teacher was Swami Muktananda, a famous Indian Yogic Master, who taught a particularly potent form of energy meditation, a practice which was based in the classical Yogic worldview. While Griffin works in several mediums, including large scale, site-specific, sculptural installation, and photo based collage, it is perhaps his paintings which best exemplify his artistic concerns.

Griffin's work in a general way partakes in the vocabulary and syntax of Abstract Expressionism - or perhaps to be even more precise, German Expressionism. Griffin himself lists three German Expressionists as influences: Joseph Beuys, Beuys' student Anselm Kiefer, and Georg Baselitz. And the brushwork on his large canvases is reminiscent at times of the slashing intensity of Baselitz, and of the bold expression of Kiefer's compositions.

Beuys, Kiefer and Baselitz were using the emotional intensity of expressionism to address the dark chaos, defeat and humiliation of Germany after the end of World War II. By allowing the darkness and confusion of the period a central place in their work they were attempting to bring about a healing, to find a trace of some spiritual order still alive after the destruction of German culture. For Beuys especially, there were explicit Shamanistic aspects to his work, an attempt to find redemption and rebirth after a time of darkness and death.

Mark Griffin's style

Mark Griffin uses a similar style of expressionism, intense, unblended colors, applied with broad strokes, using thick impasto, but the content is different. Rather than the hostility, isolation and tragedy of the German expressionists, the content for Griffin's work comes from the Yogic view, the metaphysical structure in which meditation and Tai Chi exist. Manifestations of internal energy states, embodiments of specific moments of being.

The ancient Yogic/Vedic literature of India portrays a world with four interrelated and juxtaposed dimensions. The physical world is one level, but in addition three more increasingly subtle, yet equally real, energetic levels exist. Although this worldview is rich and complex, there is quite a simple, non-mystical way to understand these four levels. Human beings would be said to have a physical body, an emotional body, a mental body, and a causal body, and human behavior is seen as a result of the intermingling of all these levels. The needs and desires of our bodies push us toward certain behaviors, but our emotions can be more powerful, they can override physical conditions of hunger or comfort for example. Similarly our mind's actions of reason and judgment push our behavior in yet other directions. The causal level may be understood as our intuition of levels of order that transcend our individual selves. This is the realm of spirituality, or a sense of connectedness to a greater whole. The human condition then becomes, more often than not, the disharmonious push and pull of these forces within us.

Mark Griffin's art is served on a metaphorical level by this rich multidimensional Yogic/Vedic view of human existence. Each painting emerges from a process which seems to be a record of energy felt and expended as it passes through the brush to the canvas. In this way, the painting-as-process is connected to the pace, rhythm, movement, ebb and flow of the exterior world, not through specific imagery but through energy fields. In Griffin's large canvases, as well as in his large photo collages, we always find juxtaposed layers of images. And these visual layers straddle the boundary between total abstraction and representation. One may find the outline of a body together with the shape of a bird or some other animal. Yet other layers could be flames or abstract washes of color. And the bold energetic gestures of Griffin's expressionist style present us with a vision of the world as dynamic, complex, pulsing with life, and always with a hint of levels of order beyond our egocentric view. Both visually and metaphorically we find within Griffin's art the tension of opposites, a dynamism held in check, disparate elements harmonized without being destroyed by larger constraining principles. Finally there is an optimism about his work, a hint that in spite of all the contradictory forces at war within the human heart integrating principles may yet exist.