Art, Peace and Transcendence: Réograms That Elevate and Unite
by Paul Ré
University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM, 2015
152 pp., illus. 31 col. Trade, $29.40
Reviewed by Rob Harle
This book is delightful, inspiring and I believe unique. The images presented are called Réograms. Paul coined this term, which includes his surname Ré (pronounced Ray) and with an indirect reference to the Rayograms of Man Ray. Paul's images though are very different in both subject matter and production method to those of Man Ray. As he states, "…my Réograms begin with one of my drawings, paintings, or sculptures from 1971 to the present. That hand made work is scanned into my computer and digitally transformed into a new work of art. [Between 1997–2014] "I created 134 editions of my Réograms, each of four impressions…"(p. xvii).
Art, Peace and Transcendence is beautifully produced with a satin finish paper that really enhances the delicate, and in some pieces, intricate line work of the images. There are 58 works varying from subtle, fine black and white images through to those with intense colour. The book has a Foreword by Fredrick H. Shair, a Preface, and a highly detailed Introduction by Ré himself. This is intended to help viewers understand the images, a point I return to further on. These are followed by an Epilogue, Biography, and Bibliography.
The purpose of Ré's work, which includes music, sculpture, and poetry, as well as all his different 2D artworks, is to promote global peace. His background in physics, which is ever present in his images, has convinced him that everything in the universe is intimately interconnected. His physics insights are supported by the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, which further suggests the connection of all to a Divine Source. The following will help readers get a true understanding of Ré, who says, "This poem below, which I wrote in 2004, is a good summary of my background and the intent of my life's work (p. xv).
Bridging To Peace
My life has been a journey
art and science,
East and West,
the worlds of the blind and sighted,
humankind with nature,
and most basically,
a bridging to the serenity
deep within me.
Continuing this journey,
may my art
help others to nurture
their tranquil center.
And may they then build bridges
from their inner harmony
to a Global Peace.
I suggested earlier that this book is unique. Firstly, the combination of yoga, physics, computer-enhanced images, poetry and Ré's odd sense of humour make it unique. This is further reinforced by the fact that the book was conceived by Ré, written by him, features only his artwork and outlines his life's philosophy.
This brings me to my first minor criticism of the book, and that is, it would have benefited immensely with the inclusion of at least two detailed, critical essays by scholars who could objectively evaluate and discuss Ré's work. The Foreword by Shair does not fulfil this function adequately. Secondly, most artworks are accompanied by descriptions not only of how they came to be created but also what they mean and how the viewer should view them. To me an artwork should stand alone and require no elaborate explanation. Some artists do not even title their work. A title, I feel, can help the viewer 'get started' so to speak on their subjective discovery of the artwork. The artwork if successful must speak for itself first and foremost! This is an opinion, not a criticism as such, and I will leave it to the viewer to decide this aspect of Ré's images.
I am the first to support and defend an individual's right to hold whatever beliefs he or she chooses to have, but I find it irritating and indefensible when an individual presents his or her personal belief even in the most gentle and well meaning manner as though it is fact. Ré does this concerning the unknowable, non-testable concept of the Divine. He writes, "This work expresses the Divine Love that enfolds us not only in our limited space-time, but in dimensions beyond the physical realms. May it help heal and strengthen us, allow us to meet our challenges here while reassuring us that the Basic Nature of Life is Bliss, an all-encompassing joy. That is not a naive statement" (p. 60). Really? I suggest that this is most certainly a naive statement and that it has no basis in logic, scientific, nor even respectable philosophical argument.
Further on page 119 he claims, "And that Great Spirit or Great Goodness is quietly guiding us to experience the beauty and wonder of life to live in peace with all creation." This is purely fanciful, wishful subjective opinion. There is no coherent argument, only religious doctrine, ever presented for a teleological purpose to the universe by design or by the Great Spirit (meaning God).
Perhaps those in positions of influence, such as Ré, should learn to preface their remarks with words like, "Perhaps such and such is the case, I personally believe this to be true." This is not a trivial criticism!
This annoyance aside, the book and its presentation of the vision and work of Ré are truly inspiring. If we all embraced Ré's enthusiasm for promoting peace, equality, sustainability, and transcending base materialism, 'perhaps' this world would be a better place for all.