I STARTED CREATING THE MANDALAS IN 1999, when I joined a mandala-making class on my first visit to the former Osho Commune International in Pune, India. Since then, I have continued to spend as much of my time as possible in India – with some of that time devoted to painting mandalas.
A few months into an arts foundation course in the UK in the early 1980s, I realised Western art school was never going to support me to create the decorative, detailed, beauty-oriented art I loved. Unwilling to be processed into a mainstream avant-garde ‘artist’ working to values and ’aesthetics’ I had no feeling for, I left. I deviated into obtaining a PhD in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, with a doctoral thesis about the influence of esoteric philosophy and magic on the art and ideas of the Surrealist movement.
Academia held no long-term interest for me however, so I became an arts and travel journalist, spending some years writing features on art, architecture and travel. Once I had discovered India and mandala-making, I worked as a freelance sub-editor for half the year to fund my trips to India for the other half. And the mandalas began to pile up.
Around the same time as I discovered mandala-making, I also discovered Sufi whirling at the Osho commune. A whirling skirt is as circular as a mandalas is, and whirling is the wild, active, Sufi approach, while mandalas are the calm, quiet, Buddhist approach to the same search: to find the eye of the chaotic whirlwind within our minds, the silent centre that is the seat of the being. For some years, I spent much of my time either whirling or painting mandalas – so perhaps some of that heavy diet of meditative centring work has rubbed off on me.
The vision of the 20th-century Indian mystic Osho also helped shape my sense of the bigger picture, which had already veered markedly away from the impossibly narrow and distorted understanding we are programmed with at school and university and through mainstream media – the so-called scientific materialism that determines the way our 21st-century world works (or doesn’t). My earlier engagement with the esoteric worldview of alchemy and the Western magical tradition while studying late 19th and early 20th century culture for my thesis had already tuned me into a more heart-centred, multi-dimensional understanding of our nature and our purpose here.
The magic of the mandala form and its universalising structure makes it a natural vehicle for the expression of such mystical and esoteric concepts, and many are encoded within my designs, although this is very rarely a conscious intention on my part. I do not derive inspiration from anything I may see or read about or experience in the world around me – I do not need or seek any external inspiration as such at all.
I always work only from a place of simple joy in the play of forms and colours, and wonder at the complex and decorative patterns that emerge from the lines I draw, as it were, blindly, without planning and without much concern for the end result. (There is more on the specifics of my creative process here.) Yet it has been made clear to me that these mandalas are nonetheless strongly active forces for healing and awakening the consciousness. They are expressing much more than I as an artist consciously put into them.
After each design is created, I sit and reflect on it, allowing my thoughts to run until some of the deeper messages embedded in the form start to emerge. I then compose a short text encapsulating these to accompany the mandala. In this way my love of creative writing also plays its part in my mandala-making.
In recent years, I have worked as a freelance editor and typesetter, mainly for a small independent UK book publisher, as well as writing a quartet of nonsense stories in verse and a quirky novel for children (mainly the grown-up but young-at-heart kind), while continuing to spend most of my time in India. Alongside further mandalas, I have also created an extensive series of digital artworks. Based largely on my many photos of Asian temples and palaces, these share the vibrant colours and complex decorative qualities of the mandalas. They can be seen, along with other photographic works, at worldinsplendour.com.
This divination deck project, which I was long ago guided to understand to be the true purpose behind the mandalas, finally became complete when the 70th mandala of the deck was finished early in 2023.
The original accompanying texts for some of the mandalas have been reviewed and all have been slightly expanded to adapt them better to the needs of the deck.
For me, the Mandalascope now represents a single large piece of work. Any mandalas I create in the future will perhaps form part of some entirely new project.