It is my feeling that it is a human obligation to create meaning. We begin to train for this task early in life with our childhood games of pretend. In these games we experience the extension of intent into the world through our fantasies. It would seem unusual that we would spend so much time in this activity were it not so very important to our adult life.

When the artist creates a mimetic image it is agreed by both the artist and the audience that a game of pretend has begun. "Let us pretend that we are looking at an apple," suggests one of my paintings. Yet, we know that we are not looking at an apple: we are looking at a painting. In fact, I want the viewer to engage in the act of viewing while maintaining a constant tension between the object of the fantasy and the empirical reality where a painting, but no apple is present. It is from such a dialectic, a tension between what is dreamed and what is, that meaning is created. This is the dusty area from where structures of meaning can emerge into the light of vision.

It is not by oneself that meaning is created and sustained. Tradition is the vessel that contains sustained meaning. When we join together in our fantasies (the tensions between empirical reality and the universe formed by our demands for order, meaning , and beauty) we reach a critical point where we seem to create new realities. Realities can be created in isolation, but it is tradition that sustains realities. So, I want my painting to make reference to tradition: to the tradition of mimesis. More than that, I would like my work to add to that tradition. For this reason I present an older signage along with new systems of signs. As there is meaning generated by the tension between the empirical reality and the "reality" of our fantasy, so, too, is meaning generated by the tension between the traditional and the novel.

And of what meanings do I speak? There is the linguistic meaning (cast in Latin and attaching itself to an ancient tradition that invokes ritual). There is the exoteric meaning of the works that emanates from the visualization of the images both traditional and novel. There is the esoteric meaning that constitutes the inner and deeper meaning that comes from the tensions between the "real" and the "unreal," the traditional and the novel, and must be fathomed by each viewer. Finally, there is the obligatory meaning which comes from the virtue of striving to reach the real, and inner meaning. The games of our childhood prepared us for these things.

--Ben Mahmoud, Artist's Statement, 1995

 

"Omni Hierarchia Simulatio Est"
acrylic and leaf on panels | 53" x 57" | 1995 

 

"Volvens Per Noctum"
acrylic and leaf on panels | 52.5" x 70" | 1995 | Private Colletion