by James McGrath


“Truth loves its limits, for there it meets the beautiful.”
– Rabindrinath Tagore, Fireflies


In our time an artist who proclaims in his work aspiration, beauty, truth is the object — if not of outright scorn — at least of suspicion and of an unconscious desire to degrade. Pilate-like, it is easier to digress than it is to experience: “What is truth?”

To asseverate the exalted is considered naive.

As though one were not deeply aware of, and deeply immersed in finding solutions to, the problems and uncertainties of our time. And seeking to transcend the trite and unavailing offerings of the latest relativism, was not acting out of a more profound awareness. As though language and reality were not wholly related. As though truth was a facade.

It is considered irrelevant.

As though propaganda ever accomplished anything evolutionary. As though relevance could be packaged and understood and so simply acted upon. As though economics ruled all. As though cartoons were art.

It is considered nostalgic.

As though all the answers had been found and had been found lacking. As though history had ended. As though surface was substance. As though the models of the past could really be thought to apply now; as though the values of the past could really be thought not to apply now.

It is considered intellectual.

As though art never engaged the totality of a human being. As though mind did not encompass more than thought. As though intellect was consciousness. As though the carrier of a profound intuition of the emergent could be anything but abstract.

It is considered spiritual.

As though matter was the photographic negative of spirit. As though the divine did not compenetrate matter, and was not constantly revealed through it. As though there was no connection between matter and mind. As though metaphysical speculation was spiritual experience. As though direct apprehension of ultimate reality was the exclusive province of religion.


Reality is often portrayed as that which underlies the world. We ordinarily experience only deceptive appearances. The apparent world is characterised as finite and non-ultimate; it is supported by a particular metaphor.

To experience truth is to pass beyond appearances, to risk shattering the metaphor. It requires an act which is both fundamentally creative and destructive. To accomplish this is literally to risk the world. No wonder that the search for truth is accompanied by a feeling of terror. The fear is existential. And it must be accomplished again and again, surface giving way to surface, for to experience the greatest truth requires knowledge of the ultimate reality.

In art, one is not content with merely copying surface appearances — the drive is to capture essence, and as a result the work appears strange, distorted, “abstract”. The difficulty for the viewer lies in not being able (or willing) to transcend the world metaphor. The difficulty for the artist — and the limitation — is to preserve a unified image. Essence can only have meaning when braced by totality, by equilibrium, by a weighing and balancing of opposites. The artist must always turn outside, to external nature. Without this station point, all is lost.

This quest is fundamentally tragic: and it is this tragic mode which has driven much of the abstract art with which we are familiar today.

But … the world may also be seen as unfolding, emergent, infinite. Translucent rather than opaque. Surfaces do not obscure, do not have to be swept aside to reveal truth; they can accrue, being as they are accessible to intuition. Universe subsumes cosmos. The experience of truth lies not only in penetrating to the core, but in also reaching out to the infinite.

Truth lies in the apprehension of the whole. Metaphor no longer obtains. The possibility exists for direct experience. The intercession of an intermediary is an unnecessary encumbrance. One creates truth, and the act is one of incorporation rather than destruction and for this reason, instead of existential fear and “a heap of broken images”, one finds joy, humour, delight. One works from the centre to the very edge. And finds beauty.
In art, the work is truly abstract for there is no model from which to copy. The form is drawn purely from inner experience. Intuition is the compass and universals are the landmarks by which one navigates. There is no danger here of being swallowed into the void: only delight in endlessly finding … oneself.

One accepts responsibility for creating meaning in this world. Herein lies the difficulty for both the viewer and the artist.

For the viewer to appreciate what the artist is doing requires an act of supreme faith. It requires self-knowledge. It requires the ability to relinquish control; it requires openness. One cannot argue, any more than one can argue with a musical composition — one can only choose whether to participate or not.

For the artist it means convening the entirety of one’s internal resources. These constitute and define the limit of one’s basis of expression. It also means engaging with universals, the fundamental ideas which always and everywhere have informed the making of great art.

Unity is no longer at issue, rather it is intention. To realise intention does not require that one be able to create unity; it requires that one be able to act out of one’s wholeness. In Kyle’s work, intention is synonymous with idea. The idea of the work is not an intellectual construct. For him it is something deeply felt and incapable of expression in any but purely visual terms. In fact, he uses the term “pure visual idea” — pure in the sense of pure form and untainted colours; visual in the sense that the idea simply could not be expressed in any other way, especially verbally.

Nothing is superfluous, nothing is subordinate, each part has an equally important role to play. This means that symmetry, in Kyle’s hands, is not a compositional device. It is a primal act whereby the chaos of the blank canvas is brought to order and activated. Symmetry is a universal, always and everywhere valid.

Out of some of these considerations emerged a concept unique in abstraction. It represents one of Kyle’s greatest contributions to the field. This is something he terms syn-optics. As the term implies, it involves “seeing together” disparate shapes united by colour. One reading gives way to another, revealing the form and ultimately the idea of the painting. Instead of a kinetic jumble, one becomes conscious of an underlying formal pattern. To see syn-optically is to see in terms of an expanding and more encompassing whole rather than in terms of separate parts.


Layers do not obstruct. To intuition, which is the guiding principle in this modality, they are transparent. More than that, in their interaction they reveal aspects of reality hitherto unexpected.

Transparency is the harmonic principle. It is close to symmetry in its power to cohere.

Kyle has used the two in combination in his recent series in order to both create and resolve ideas of tremendous eminence. In effect, he has extended syn-optics. The syn-optic forms, though remaining firmly anchored to the plane, had always suggested space; with transparency, that suggestion is now overt. The result is veil-like and ethereal. Powerful.

The spiritual connotations of transparency are manifold. It evokes transcendence, purity, quiescence, perfection. Soul.

Moved as we are by the perfection of these works, we can experience anew the rapture of entelechy.

It is the soul-stuff, the informing spirit. Entelechy is grace. It is to experience all in its archetypal state, without limits, in its original perfection. It is to be infinite. It is meaning and it is meaningless. It is at once the immutable and the mutable. It is beyond categories.

This is ultimate form, whence all form takes its source. This is ultimate truth and final wisdom. This is reality.

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