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April 8 - May 10, 2003 at Louis Stern Fine Art, West Hollywood

by Bill Lasarow

“Quandra Loka #211," 2003, pig-
mented inks on canvas, 90 x 60".

“Quandra Loka #276," 2003, pig-
mented inks on canvas, 90 x 60".

“Quandra Loka #231," 2003, pig-
mented inks on canvas, 60 x 40".

“Quandra Loka #203," 2003, pig-
mented inks on canvas, 90 x 60".

“Quandra Loka #205," 2003, pig-
mented inks on canvas, 90 x 60".

“Quandra Loka #059," 2003, pig-
mented inks on canvas, 90 x 60".

It must be stated at the outset that Adi Da Samraj is not an artist, but for more than thirty years has been an active spiritual teacher. He is a New York native, a Liberal Arts graduate of Columbia College and Stanford University for whom Indian Buddhism became a central calling. Think Richard Alpert/Baba Ram Dass for a related figure. Adi Da writes and teaches extensively; just because he has never been on the radar of the media as Ram Dass has doesn’t mean he is not an interesting and charismatic figure.

Whether or not Adi Da is a bona fide avatar, as claimed, photography has been part of this energetic man’s practice and vocabulary for around forty years, though most intensively during the last five. The selection here of a recent series of female nudes immersed in the metaphorical waters of life are the iceberg’s tip of a significant body of work that is, itself, but one aspect of the work of this “Giver” (the meaning of “Da” in Franklin Albert Jones’ adopted name).

This context may set up a “Wow” factor for some, or eye rolling among the skeptical, but it would be dishonest to discuss these images in the usual context of visual art. Whatever their visual assets may be, they are not referencing the historical or present issues facing art and photography--at least not as a core intent. They should be approached as a record of Samraj’s metaphorical experience of the Divine, and as a visual instruction on the pursuit of spirituality.

That said, our license within the four walls of the gallery is to focus on their visual qualities, and respond to those for better or for worse.

The better here is that these multiple exposure images are a constantly playful dialogue between form and light. This Quandra Loka series (individual works are designated by number; the series title, roughly translated, means “realm of unity with the beloved”) allows the submerged figures to alternately sink into aqueous murkiness, and surface into shimmering clarity. Sometimes sculptural hybrids emerge as in #211 and #231 (to note two); images can become downright painterly in #276 and #204; and they may assume the presence of antiquity in #205, or early modernist surrealism in #203.

The sensuality of feminine curves, breasts and crotches has an honesty, but does not drift into eroticism. It is the connection between body and spirit, not body and pleasure, that consistently informs these photographs. The photographs are themselves made immersive by being printed onto large canvas fields.

The worse is that the chosen metaphor is finally limited by its familiarity. The connection of water to womb, to the source of life is important, but not resonant. The use of light is skillful, even eloquent, but does not display fresh insight. Beautiful images that preach to the choir may qualify for enjoyment and approval, but are not sufficient to spark the genuine insight or epiphany that is the coin of the realm for the best in art.

The lingering question left by these images is whether they have been conceived and formulated for our sake or the sake of the artist. While they yield visual pleasures and state the case for spiritual seeing, do they reveal an avatar who is indeed pushing himself to see beyond his own next horizon?