The journey along the road to Spirituality is powered by Love but directed by Truth
Painting is Life
Is an artist able to reflect spiritual truth in the midst of oppression? Does the physical body naturally exhibit divine character? Should the peak of creative expression always demonstrate underlying order to be considered unique? Are there immutable principles to be found amidst the chaos of human endeavour? These questions were never far from the arena of working consciousness that encompassed this artist’s life of dedicated expression through brush and canvas.
In 1917 Arthur Aswell Rowe was born into the family of a Cornish tin-miner in west England. His birthplace was the parish of St.Just in Penzance quite near the legendary healing waters of Madron Well which folklore endows with magical powers. Before he was ten years of age his father was taken by the dreaded disease of phthisis (as tubercolosis was then called) so prevalent amongst underground miners at that time. The family emigrated to South Africa where Aswell was to grow up amidst the raging fever of the gold rush. In the fast growing city of Johannesburg he attended school, funded himself through university and took up practice as a professional civil engineer – all of this happening not far from the place now recognized as the Cradle of Human Kind.
Aswell, the inner man, was fired by a different flame. As an early adult losing his youngest brother to the world war he was driven by a great need to find Truth – a search which finally led him to the realm of Christianity after traveling a long road of study through many of the world’s classic beliefs and philosophies. Here he was inspired to embrace the principles of Truth and Love as embodied by The Christ. Along the road of self and soul discovery Aswell’s artistic nature found expression through the exposition of divine Beauty in the form of the classic Feminine Nude. Empowered by the desire to delve deep into the Divine mind and equipped with the discipline of the trained engineer he embarked on a life long journey with the three principles of Truth, Love and Beauty.
The Era of Controversy
The trials and tribulations of an artist are inevitably controversial. Aswell lived in a country where the brutal oppression of the masses by the government in power was consciously orchestrated and powered by radical racism. Association between white and dark skinned people was explicitly forbidden. Activists against government policy faced a life of harassment if not imprisonment or death. In defiance of government policies Aswell facilitated cross-cultural (multi-racial) spiritual healing initiatives at his own home under cover of dark every weekend. His painting of Unity expresses his political stance against inhumane prescription with the depiction of 3 sprites each of different skin colour.
As a religious man of extraordinary commitment he was a devoted Christian who gave of his time and person to part time preaching in the Methodist Church. His underlying principle was ever that Christianity should never be subjugated by churchianity. Always he endeavoured to share with the congregation his underlying wonderment of Divinity as he saw it expressed in the Universe around him. Most specifically he would share his passion for Nature and the environment from which he derived so much inspiration. Natures’ colours and organic shapes spontaneously dominate his paintings.
But the era in which he lived was conservative. South Africa, unlike Italy or France had no culture of artistic expression that encompassed nudity with grace. So it was that his exploration of the classic Feminine Form was not warmly welcomed by religious peers who found the compositions uncomfortable to view at a time when pornography was deemed illegal and undesirable. It seems there is no precise line in the minds of the public that demarcates the difference between the “acceptable” nude and that which is not. Then when the artist laid claim to the expression of Divine Beauty demonstrating in the nude Feminine Forms on his canvas it proved to be just too much for many to understand though it is probable they never forgot his paintings.
Inspiration from Beyond
A momentous realization inspired him to paint 5 works titled Jesus of Advent or as he affectionately called his creation “Jesus Immanuel”. His endeavour was driven by spirit deep within that suggested the message embodied by Christ would best be portrayed symbolically in order to avoid the inevitable distortion induced by the constraints of language. The artist himself openly admits to being spiritually inspired whilst busy with the work – to the extent that elements of it may not even have been painted by his own hand. An admission contrary to the nature of this man of great humility and one which bears testimony to the truth of the message for those who view the work.
From age 28 to 80 Aswell developed his passion for visual expression taking time daily to understand the details of human anatomy together with the principles of colour and light. His contention was that the true artist must learn the relevant technical disciplines in order that they become a reflex activity during creative expression. It was natural for him to sketch and paint with both hands – and sometimes both together – each as competent as the other.