Hermes interviewed artist and writer Nicholas Cope about his recent art projects; the incorporation of sacred geometry with ancient megalithic sites and design as well as the influences that took him in this particular direction.
Hermes: Can you tell us about your background, what brought you to art?
NC: For me, making art is an undertaking of personal, artistic and spiritual development. Since my first degree in Fine Art Painting in 1984 and particularly since my studies and practical work for my Masters at the Royal College of Art in 1991 my artistic endeavours have been characterised by a discarding of many preconceptions and a focus on attempting to express something more than just the superficial and surface appearance of things. My current art is the result of many years of study involveing a deep and personal exploration of ideas that I consider to be of foremost importance in relation to the fact that I am a human being living in this particular time and place. It is a perspective that has led me to acknowledge that there are objective truths that go beyond human sentiment and opinion.
Hermes: Would you describe this as spiritual art, or esoteric art?
Do I consider my images to be spiritual art or esoteric art? I prefer not to answer that directly, I leave it up to the viewer to make these valuations. My images are expressions of how I understand things with the intention to communicate something of value beyond the material. They are not made in any great contemplative or meditative state – there is far greater art than mine that does – a Zen master using a single brushstroke to paint an apparently simple circle certainly is contemplative and spiritual art, but this is made within a traditional context which no longer exists for us in the West. It is this fragmentation of our world that I attempt to overcome by making images that redirect my attention to ideas related to unity and order. They are my humble attempts to reclaim an inner form of expression whilst at the same time being part of the modern world.
Hermes: Perhaps you can tell us more about the sacred geometry depicted in these pieces and why you chose these specific sites for the picture.
NC: For many years, geometry has been a very important element in my work. My time at the R.C.A and my later friendship with the director of the course, the master geometer Keith Critchlow, has always been an important factor in not just my artistic development but also my personal awakening to particular traditional or, if you like, spiritual ideas. Geometry can be an aid to appreciate the world beyond our senses and exists independently of the world we have constructed around us and the human values we all adhere to. This particular perspective concerning what could be described as sacred geometry is non-human in its origin and is capable of being the symbolic form par excellence. It can dissolve the material world in which we are trapped offering us a vision of the sacred order of things and even of eternity.
A circle is just a circle but at the same time it can possess Metaphysical significance as it profoundly manifests a representation of the centre. In order to draw a circle with the most ancient and sacred tool, the compass, one is required to establish the centre beforehand. The manifestation or ‘product’ of this centre is the drawn circle. Symbolically we can see this circle as representing the entirety of the material world with the centre that in principle is not physically apparent. There is a very important correlation between the ‘centre’ the ‘source’ and the ‘origin’, all three principles are non-material in our physical world and, using the geometric analogy, can only exist prior to this world. I am not necessarily referring to the centre of any material ‘thing’: I trust the reader will acknowledge where all this can potentially lead us.
The idea behind my images is that they attempt to portray a way out of ‘this world’ pointing towards something more. If I am encouraged to talk about such matters I would say that much of my art represents portals or doorways. What that ‘something’ is and where this ‘portal’ leads I leave to the viewer because this is something that is deeply personal to the individual who will naturally perceive things in their own way. If my art works are enjoyed just as pleasurable images that one may wish to hang on their walls as decoration that is fine with me.
I am intrigued by how the physical world, as a two or three-dimensional image or object, can represent something much more than the sum of its parts. I see this idea represented in the Egyptian ‘false doorways’ found in funerary structures and tombs from the early dynastic period. They are solid representations of closed doorways made usually of stone or plaster which are in fact symbolic portals that can be accessed after bodily death. There is a stunning limestone example I regularly visit in the British Museum that comes from the tomb of Ptahshepses, the Sun Temple’s High Priest of the 5th Dynasty King Nyuserre (2450-2300 BC). I would encourage anyone to visit the museum and stand in front of this remarkable object and concentrate – it can be a moving and enlightening experience.
In practical terms my current art works are made digitally, so in a way my method of making images is with light. Light is very important for any artist, that’s quite obvious really. There is often a representation of a light source in my pictures, sometimes two. This dual nature of the source of light is something of great Metaphysical significance as the uppermost second sun is a representation of the ‘Hidden Central Sun’ which is invisible in the physical world – though the artist can make it visible. Its rays do not reflect off earthly objects and its brilliance is of a higher order compared to the physical sun in our sky. It represents the ‘Heart of the World’, the ‘Spiritual Heart’ which radiates from the primal non-material source. This highlights the analogical nature of symbolism as it can show us that the apparent world around us represents so much more than its mere physical composition. This is really what my work refers to in an attempt to describe something beyond the mundane.
Hermes: How do you prepare yourself to make this type of art?
NC: Most mornings I am up very early and spend several hours working on my images and my writing. The art works are never completed in one sitting. I return to them a few days or weeks later and trust that the images themselves will show me what they need in order to be complete. The past few months in lockdown have been, and continue to be, very productive for my mode of creativity. After all the making of art is a very solitary practice.
My recent work is a blending of my photography with older completed paintings and drawings. Often, I go back many years in my records searching for work that will combine well with the image. For a long time, I worked on complex pictures, usually on paper involving geometry, building them up layer upon layer which usually took many months to complete. See ‘The Hidden City’ which is an example of such a work, its media is watercolour, gouache and graphite on paper, 54cm x 81cm in size and was completed in 2015.
My current way of making an image is still very similar to my older work, I build-up layers with the aim of achieving a sense of depth. This is of course a two-dimensional illusion, much like the three-dimensional world presented to us ‘out there’. My images attempt to show the illusory nature of the world but also represent some principle behind or beyond the material forms. A quote, I refer to often, by the great 20th Century Metaphysical writer René Guénon, whose work has been profoundly influential on my outlook for many years, speaks of the significance of the physical world viewed through the perspective of Metaphysical symbolism. He states: “In nature the sensible can symbolise the suprasensible; the entire natural order can in its turn be a symbol for the divine order…” (Symbols of Sacred Science, chapter 2, Sophia Perennis. Originally published in Reganbit in 1926).
Some of the work reproduced here is based on my own photographs of stone circles and other contemporaneous structures. The Neolithic or New Stone-Age period of pre-history, particularly in the British Isles (4,000 – 2,500 BC), for many years has been a particular focus of mine. I first visited Orkney in 1994 specifically to spend some time at an ancient and important site on a small island called Papa Westray in the north of the archipelago. The site was named by the Vikings the ‘Knap of Howar’. Dated to 3,600 BC it is one of the oldest standing ‘dwellings’ in the world, and certainly the oldest in Europe. It is an example of an ancient traditional structure that represents something much more than its apparently simple appearance. My many years of research on this site led to me write a book, in collaboration with Keith Critchlow entitled ‘The Knap of Howar and the Origins of Geometry’ and was published in 2016 by Kairos Publications. In the book I explore the geometric and symbolic nature of its architecture where Pythagorean, Platonic and Neo-Platonic ideas of what the world is and how it is made are evident. Currently the book is sold out but I am hoping in the near future a second edition will be available.
Hermes: You are the current Professor Emeritus for RILKO, can you tell us about this organisation.
NC: My friendship and later my collaborator Keith Critchlow has been a particular inspiration for me since we first met whilst I was a student at Wimbledon School of Art in 1983. Keith was an inspirational teacher for countless students and throughout his many years of teaching, and with the knowledge in his books, he inspired many of us to continue to work with the principles underlying tradition and its applications in architecture, art and sacred geometry. In 2016 Keith retired from the Professorship of R.I.L.K.O (The Research into Lost Knowledge Organisation) and suggested that I take his place, which I did in 2016. Keith sadly passed away earlier this year.
R.I.L.K.O was founded in 1969 by Elizabeth Leader and Janette Jackson who saw an opportunity to study and promote work originally focusing on the esoteric mysteries of the Isle of Avalon, ie Glastonbury in Somerset. Keith Critchlow and John Michell were also both involved in those early days. R.I.L.K.O continue to publish a bi-yearly journal and regularly hold talks and events in London. The world, or should I rather say the outer world of events and circumstances, has changed much since R.I.L.K.O was founded but the work they do is as relevant now as it ever was, perhaps more so.
Hermes: You were going to have an exhibition this year but that had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, where can people see your art today? Is there a website?
NC: My art works reproduced here and many more can be viewed on my website: www.ncope.co.uk. They are available to purchase as professionally printed Giclée prints on the highest quality art paper.
An exhibition of my art work is planned for next May in St John’s Church. Lansdowne Crescent, Notting Hill, London, W11 2NN. My exhibition will be part of their May festival series of events. and will hang in the South transept of the church during that period.
Nicholas runs tours of the ancient sacred sites of Orkney. If anyone is interested in joining us for the next tour in August 2021 either get in touch with him or go to http://www.megalithomania.co.uk/orkneytour2021.html where there are more details.
Nicholas is also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/nicholas.cope1/
Currently the R.I.L.K.O website is under development, if you would like any more information on their activities or anything else regarding my work please get in touch with Nicholas.