“The role of the artist I now understood as that of revealing through the world-surfaces the implicit forms of the soul, and the great agent to assist the artist was the myth.”
What marks the beginning of the existence of a work of art? Is it that moment when an artist lifts a pencil to sketch an outline of an idea that may or may not develop into a full painting? Or when one sits before a piano to feel out the notes that most faithfully replicate the masterpiece playing in his or her head? Maybe it begins long before such moments: in those days and hours when an individual feels compelled to respond to an impulse to create––whether the work is one of visual art, a musical composition, a poem, or a new style of braids––long before discovering that those who give their lives to such demanding impulses are what the world describes as artists.
The art and poetry that make up ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love, had their beginnings in two journeys that converged in Savannah, Georgia, in 19991, when I met the author Aberjhani. My journey at first had been a physical one that throughout my youth took me back and forth between Savannah and New York City. As I grew into adulthood, it became a consciously spiritual one that taught me how crucial it was to balance my passions for the material world with an increased awareness of and respect for the spiritual realities of human existence.
Aberjhani’s life had taken him on a comparable double journey as he traveled the world first in pursuit of his education and later as a military journalist. All the while, he took notes on his changing physical environments at the same time that he took measure of the personal tragedies and triumphs that forced him to grow and evolve spiritually. Just as I had begun to tell the story of my soul’s journey through visual art, the writer had begun to tell his through literary art. With that in mind, you might say our creative sensibilities met before our actual persons did. It was in this distant and separate, and then later up close and personal, fusion of creative instincts that ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love, had its genesis.
The first public acknowledgment of the project came June 25, 1993, when the journalist John Ryan published a story titled “Kindred Spirits,” along with a photo of Aberjhani and I by Wayne Moore, in the Savannah College of Art and Design’s (SCAD) former weekly newspaper, The Georgia Guardian. At that time, the book’s working title was “The Way of All Light.” It later changed to “The Light and the Way of Luther E. Vann,” and later still to “Elemental,” then to “Illuminated Love.” The name on which we finally settled felt like one most descriptive of the book’s personality: ELEMENTAL: The Power of Illuminated Love.
In The Georgia Guardian article, Ryan described our work in progress as follows: “Painting in a style that has been likened to the Italian pittuna metaphysica tradition as well as some of the more powerful African traditions of craftsmanship, Vann’s paintings seem to embody the same philosophies that Aberjhani has been exploring through his poetry. In many of Vann’s works, representational figures recline against backgrounds of rich color, enlightened with halos and peering across the canvas through beams of light. Likewise, Aberjhani’s poetry tackles strong religious concepts and rejoices in the power of spirituality. Together, the two fit together like puzzle pieces.”
The idea that our work fit together like puzzle pieces was accurate and marvelous. In one way, however, it was incomplete because the work the two of us have done is only part of something much larger. The greater puzzle of universal wisdom and beauty that we have strived to honor through our work includes the profound legacies of world artistic and spiritual traditions, the innate integrity of human communities where people seek to live in social harmony, and that regenerative stream of life sustained upon the earth itself as it spins through the cosmos to the music of the spheres. It also embraces such simple and yet essential things as the psychic nourishment received from family and friends while growing up; and the welcoming kindness received from “strangers” when venturing forth into the world. I could not have known years ago as a child that my Cousin Ozena would, as of 2008, maintain a presence on this planet for 100 years and that the inspiration and motivation she inspires would one day reveal itself as an important part of the puzzle. And yet there it is, quietly demonstrating patience, love, and power through the image titled Memories, Ozena.
Over the fifteen years that have passed since that initial article on ELEMENTAL appeared in The Georgia Guardian, the project has received the blessings of many who raised their voices and exercised their influence in support of it. We gratefully identify as many of these as we can in the acknowledgments section. One of the most extraordinary pieces in the greater puzzle of the ELEMENTAL saga fell into place when the Telfair Museum committee, the Friends of African American Arts, took it upon themselves to raise the monies necessary to produce a book of this substance and quality. They did so by appealing to the public for its assistance, and the public, primarily citizens of Savannah, responded with an outpouring of compassion, recognition, and generosity. In short, the city of Savannah chose to champion two artists born of its own culturally rich soil and by doing so participated in the manifestation of a unique creative vision.
The final pieces of the larger puzzle can only be provided by the hearts and minds of those who give the book their attention by sitting down with it, spending time with the images, and reading the poems. Many, though not all, will likely discover it is not a book they will want to read through all at once but may wish to revisit many times. My hope is that as you turn from one page to the next, you will not only share in the personal journey of years it has taken two artists to reach this point. Hopefully, you will glimpse something of your own life’s journey and with Elemental’s Power of Illuminated Love, possibly recognize and celebrate something you had not been able to recognize or celebrate before.
by Luther E. Vann From
ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love