Inner Spaces: Two Mandalas

by Robert Magrisso

Artist's Statement

Inner Spaces is a series of articles looking at art as expression of the spiritual teaching. The constructions, carvings and collages presented in this series have been created over a number of years. They have been motivated by the desire to express an ever-changing inner vision, a vision that is both psychological and spiritual, personal and universal. Highly symbolic, yet at the same time using actual objects and photographs of real objects, the work is always striving to get in touch with and express the mystery that is at the heart of reality. Death, grief, healing and wholeness are some of the themes towards which I find myself gravitating. These are themes I daily encounter in my professional life as a general internist physician and in my daily meditation practice.

The works are a bit like meditations, with an overall theme, a kind of “imaginative picture,” which evokes feelings and communicates something hopefully of value to the viewer. That is why I have called them "Inner Spaces." I often use the star-filled night sky as a background because it always puts everything else in a different perspective, and I tend to use the work to expand my perspective. In a certain sense, that image is to me an image of God, but God as viewed now in the 21st century. For the photographs of the cosmos that appear here could not have been taken at any other time in history than these past 40 years. Similarly, a photograph of the earth taken from space may be found in many of the collages. It is, for me, an image of the Mother Earth, another kind of image of God. At the psychological level it is an image of wholeness, and I am often striving for wholeness through these works.

I have been a member of Cafh for the past 35 years and the spiritual ideas and practices of Cafh are embedded, mostly unconsciously, in these works. In August of 1995 I had a heart attack, cardiac arrest and near death experience. This has also served as an inspiration to many of these works.

Two Mandalas

In these two collage works, I have used the mandala form. The mandala is a traditional pattern, generally using the circle and the square in a symbolic representation of the cosmos. In these works, I have used very modern images in the traditional format, trying to tie together the present as a continuation of the ancient, without losing the uniqueness of the present.

Mandalas, for myself, are a way of unifying opposites: opposites as complementary parts of a larger whole rather than parts in conflict. For example, mother and father, male and female are opposites, but also two parts of the greater whole. In "The Unfinished Evolution," I have placed a mother image and a father image on opposite sides with a fetus in between-the creative product of opposites. The background is a photograph of a total eclipse of the sun-a conjunction of light and dark.

The mandala format has diverse elements as parts of a single image and is a way of representing unity in diversity. In “Lightbearers,” for example, many individuals who are considered as having brought "light" into this world are seen as aspects of the basic archetype of what might be called the "hero" or the "initiate." These individuals come from many different fields and are, with the exception of Lincoln, twentieth century figures. In a way, they can be seen as a contemporary representation of Joseph Campbell's notion of The Hero with a Thousand Faces.1

Collage in general implies pulling in sometimes disparate elements of reality to create a new and meaningful whole. In some ways the collage process mimics the same process we engage in every day, finding meaning in the patterns of our own lives. It seems to me that the process of creating meaning through the collage and that of discovering meaning in everyday life are both aspects of something broader that I would call “meditation.”

Inner Spaces: Two Mandalas

(Collage, 1983)

The background of The Unfinished Evolution is an astronomical photograph of a solar eclipse. In the dark shadow created by the moon passing for a moment in front of the sun are photographs of the earth, the moon and a human fetus, the latter connected by a vast umbilical cord to the earth. To the left of center is C.G. Jung, the psychiatrist chopping wood, and to the right is Mother Teresa, praying over a line of skulls. These were skulls discovered in Cambodia of victims of the Pol Pot genocide. Below is a statue of Gandhi with a flame in the background and a pink rose in the foreground. Above is a photograph of the planet Saturn, one of the most beautiful sky objects that we can easily see. It is the sixth planet, the mediator between the inner and outer planets. In the lower right part of the work is a photograph of a Tibetan monk taken by Thomas Merton shortly before the latter's untimely death in Asia.

In essence, the collage is a mandala. I see it on two levels, one is that of the actual figures and the other is symbolically. The center is essentially mother and child: the earth, our mother, and the human fetus representing the human race. Jung is a kind of father, Mother Teresa, the “mother.” He represents the inner work of spiritual unfolding and she that of compassion and service, the Mysticism of the Heart. Thinking on a long time scale, one can see the human race as in the midst of evolution, the kind that is evoked by a quote on the edge of the work by Paolo Soleri, the Italian visionary architect:

As the end of a process, man is absurd. As the beginning of a process, man might be hopeless, desperate, but never absurd. We stand where the magnetic field is just beginning to orient each particle (monad). The total pattern is far off in the future but the magnet is operative and the particles will orient themselves. In reality the magnet (which stands as God) is itself self-constructing and the force field is not just undefined but also highly improbable, not absurd, just inconceivable.2

In the margins of the work are various written texts, including a review of a book on war and technology, a selection from Jonathan Schell's book on nuclear holocaust, The Fate of the Earth, and a report of an astronaut's view of the earth as seen from space.

The collage could be seen as an attempt to fit all these disparate elements of reality into one coherent and hopeful whole.

In the top central area of the collage is written:

The Unfinished Evolution:
The human soul
Is One soul
Still Unborn
As One


Inner Spaces: Two Mandalas

(Assemblage, 2007)

FIGURES: Outer circle from 12:00 clockwise:

C.G. Jung
Mahatma Gandhi
Simone Weil
Martin Luther King Jr.
Helen Caldicott
Martin Buber
David Bohm
Gary Snyder
Rachel Carson
Fred Rogers
Nelson Mandela
Dalai Lama
Eleanor Roosevelt
Niels Bohr
Alice Walker
Albert Camus
Mother Teresa

Inner Circle from 12:00 clockwise:

Doris Lessing
Helen Keller
Maya Angelou
Vaclav Havel
Elie Wiesel
Joseph Campbell
Thich Nhat Hanh
Dag Hammarskjold
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Huston Smith
Marie-Louise von Franz
J. Krishnamurti
Victor Frankl

Below from left

Simone de Beauvoir
Thomas Merton
Albert Einstein
Richard Feynman


Abraham Lincoln

Lightbearers is an assemblage constructed with the images of over 30 individuals whom I consider bearers of “light” to this planet. Obviously, it is an arbitrary and personal group, but I chose individuals who have inspired me. It is like an all-star football or baseball team, except that these players can be seen as moral and intellectual heroes.

For the most part, the images were found through image-searching on the internet via Google Images. They were downloaded and re-sized and cut out with an exacto knife, glued with sobo glue to thin wood and cut out again with a scroll saw. The entire construction is mounted on plywood and framed in padauk wood, which is from West Africa. The work is very three dimensional in the sense that it projects out from the surface (see photo at the end of this piece).

Abraham Lincoln is the only figure from the 19th century, the rest having lived in the 20th century. They have left a collective wisdom that has positively influenced our world and transcends themselves as individuals. In that sense, I see them as not only human, but also bringers of light to the collective darkness in which we dwell. People always ask, "Why Lincoln?" and all I can say is that Lincoln is one of the all time greats in my opinion and, living in Illinois, who else could I place there?

In the foreground is part of a painting by Maynard Dixon entitled “The Earth Knower.” The Native American figure in front of the eroded, ancient western landscape evokes a timelessness and is another kind of archetype, one also tied to the earth, but not so much the earth in space as the earth as our ground. I think it balances the star-filled sky out of which the images emerge and which is our cosmic context. I have always loved the photograph of Einstein on the bicycle for his expression seems to convey a level of play that goes with wisdom as I understand it. 

Inner Spaces: Two Mandalas


1. Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Bollingen Series, Princeton. 1972.

2. Paolo Soleri, The Bridge Between Matter and Spirit is Matter Becoming Spirit. Anchor Books Edition, copyright 1973 Cosanti Foundation, p. 246.