Michaela Potter’s geometric art reviewed

Consider Michaela Potter’s work. She does business as Wanderlust Productionscreating media presentations informed by her passion for travel, but I ran across her work with Mandalas at Imagekind. It struck me that her mandalas isolated and amplified some of the phenomena that I’ve encountered making geometric art from photographs.

All the pieces I’ve seen are circular eight-sided figures, each made from a single photograph that captures qualities of a particular place. As she writes:

Wanderlust Mandalas are digital images created with photos from my world travels. Each mandala represents the emotional and spiritual essence I experienced on my various trips and invite the viewer to have their own contemplative experience of my journeys.

Michaela Potter\'s Alaska Mandala
Alaska Mandala

This Alaska mandala is blue and cold-looking. (Click on any of these for enlarged view.) Let’s look closer:

Close-up of Alaska Mandala
Alaska Mandala detail

Icy, wet, cold, jagged and filled with light. Literally a slice of Alaska. Well, literally a slice of a photograph taken in Alaska. A 22.5 degree wedge of photograph reflected and repeated in a circle. By selecting a slice, removing the additional context the photo could provide, and repeating around the center, Michaela sets your brain on seek, without providing an object to find. You have color, contrast, form, texture, the information that this came from Alaska and that M.P. considered it a worthwhile subject for your contemplation.

The first feelings that come up in me are alertness and caution. This is not my turf! Not turfy by any means. I don’t know what’s safe here, and it evokes a barren, beautiful world where I may have to rely on my own resources. Projection of my insecurities onto a bit of landscape? Of course. M.P. has her memories to refer to; the rest of us will be supplying bits of ourselves to fill out the picture.

I have not had an opportunity to contemplate the complete full-size mandala to experience its effect over time.

Michaela Potter\'s Thailand Mandala 2
Thailand Mandala 2

I am more at home in Thailand, and more familiar sensations of warmth and odors of incense greet me here, along with a sense of human order.

Close-up of Thailand Mandala 2
Thailand Mandala 2 detail

Looking closer, I’m instantly gone in a scan for faces and bodies. Nothing like eight pairs of round red eyes to get your attention. Ooh, round white eyes in the corners, and some kind of alien with gray sunglasses just below it. Rows of singing golden coneheads. Winged ruby-eyed mole creatures. It will be a while before I return from this.

Then there is a further period when I imagine finding this as an actual artifact in the world. It looks like a domed ceiling with an ornate blue skylight in the center, high above me.

OK, I’m back. No, I’m gone into the green cat eyes in the top of the round mandala and the red and blue flower brooches. OK, I’m back. There’s a lot of attractive detail here, which in itself is an observation to hold on to. Easy to get lost in form and association. I have to say the blue starry form in the center is beautiful in itself. But remembering that this form is imposed by repetition, what can we take from this slice of Thailand?

It’s about people, first, not impersonal landscape. Vivid, detailed, dramatic, brilliant. Shiny. Pointy. There’s more to experience, I’m sure, but that’s what’s coming to me. [Reactions in the comments section are very welcome.]

Michaela Potter\'s Laos Mandala
Laos Mandala

Here in Laos, we’re not offered so much distraction. The order is strong, but quieter and simpler. More organic, certainly.

Close-up of Laos Mandala
Laos Mandala detail

I can see faces here, but they’re not compelling. Or they weren’t till I wrote that. This is a bit like snorkeling [someone's going to be unhappy when they google "snorkeling laos" and find this post]. Oh, how is it like snorkeling? You know how you hear and feel your own breath very urgently at first? Contemplating these mandalas, I find I’m very reactive to my own mental effluvia at first. Perhaps this settles over time. But of course I am writing a blog post, which is almost by definition being reactive to your own mental effluvia.

As a pattern, this has beautiful quiet color; restrained, orderly, organic and somehow rustic. Nice variations on octagon and star.

As a vehicle for the essence of an experience of Laos, it seems to convey more to me about the environment than the Thailand mandala did. Perhaps because of the plant, the weathered appearance of the [wood?] and the seemingly outdoor light in the saffron cloth.

Of course I’m interested in Michaela’s work in relation to mine. One aspect of geometric art from photographs that I’ve enjoyed is that it mostly removes the actual subject from the photograph, but retains many of its qualities. This has the potential to allow you more time to attend to qualities of form, color, light, texture without the immediate demand to identify what it is and get on with life. By settling on one geometric form and explicitly setting out in quest of the essence of different geographies and cultures, M.P. highlights this quality. By calling the result a mandala she invites contemplation of the form and the extraction of essence through the interaction with your internal process. Or so I reckon.

I thank Michaela for permission to use enlarged details in this article. The images are copyright Michaela Potter. See more of her work at Imagekindand at Wanderlust Productions.

[Update]I finished this review at 2 AM, but with the nagging feeling that I had forgotten something. This is the first time I’ve talked about someone else’s work online. Oh yes, the conclusion! I’ve talked about the invitation extended by M.P.’s work, and my mental processes as I confront it. How does it deliver on it’s invitation? Quite well, I think. It was certainly a vehicle for me to take my own contemplative experience of her journeys. Each mandala set me in a different place, related to its origin. Each one connected to some part of me, and produced a contemplative experience of a different nature. How much of this is related to the source culture or geography and how much is an idiosyncratic reaction of my own, I don’t know. But that counts as success in the terms of the work: representing “the emotional and spiritual essence” of her experience, and giving you the opportunity to have your own related but unique internal journey.

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