The backyard in Brian Carleton’s Brentwood home has a large storage space filled with his collection of 25 Brobdingnagian-size paintings that are reposing in silence, darkness, and obscurity. They are awaiting the day when the world will bring them into the light, realize their worth, and discover the latent power in the collection to provide insight into evolutionary changes taking place in the human race that will alter our understanding of who we are and how we connect to the universe.
Last September, East County residents were treated to an eye-and-mind-popping preview of the collection — a pop-up art show staged in a Sunset Industrial Park warehouse in which Brian’s entire “News from the Noosphere” collection was briefly put on public display. The warehouse venue was essential because the pieces in the collection range from outsized to wall-size massive, much too large to fit within the display-spaces of a typical art gallery, let alone fit through the door.
Brian calls the collection, “Diving into the Noosphere.” The word “noosphere” is a portmanteau — a combination of the Greek words “reason” and “sphere.” The Russian biogeochemist Vladimir Vernadsky originally coined the term to denote a “planetary sphere of reason.” Teilhard de Chardin, a renowned French mystic, philosopher, and theologian used “noosphere” as the label for his theory concerning the evolution of the human species. According to Chardin, human reasoning and scientific investigation will move us to the next development stage in which, in his view, mind and interpersonal relationships are becoming integrated and foundational to an emerging revolutionary spiritual framework for thought and behavior.
Brian defines noosphere as an ephemeral part of the biosphere that both affects and is affected by human activity and thought. Like many other artists, he claims to be a frequent visitor to the noosphere, “Sometimes to the neglect of other parts of the biosphere,” he said with a smile. Brian regards himself as an explorer, traveling in peace, and seeking to enlighten viewers. Brian conceives of the swirling set of colors in each of his paintings as an instance of a pattern that is replicated in the expanding noosphere.
The idea of art as a channel for transformative energies came to Brian when he was a youthful artist. While engaged in painting commission pieces for clients in rural Kentucky, his spirit began to set out on a larger mission. Brian began his artistic pilgrimage in the early 1980’s by attempting, in his words, to crack the “codes” that that would unlock his imagination and would permit him to identify, describe, and interpret the unending series of images that were flowing from brush to canvas. He set out to create a Christian iconography that would present his personal religious beliefs. In 1984 he completed the first painting, called “The Red Square Theory.” The picture focuses on an abstract object a vine, perhaps.” The object is composed of seven squares or rhomboid shapes, each of them painted in Christmas colors with red to symbolize blood and humanity, and perhaps even strands of D.N.A. The image flows diagonally in a sinuous fashion over a chaotic space from the bottom left to the upper right of the canvas.
The most intriguing element in the painting is the manner in which the red squares are set off by dark viridian-green ribbons or banners that swirl around them in perfect reflective symmetry. Two identical halves appear to move in opposite directions reflecting the dual nature of man’s search towards the Christmas gift of Christ, on one hand, while falling away through humankind’s innate contrary nature, on the other. The upward direction of the image resonates with the ladder ascending into heaven in Jacob’s dream. The composition is a life-affirming representation of Brian’s belief in the presence of Christ as an integral feature of the cosmos, illustrating the principle that “In him we live and move and have our being.”
Completing “The Red Square Theory” was a watershed experience for Brian, and one that set him jumping for joy. He celebrated the work as achieving his intention of creating a worshipful and loving tribute to Jesus, as so many artists had done before him. He felt that he had been a channel and that the images had simply flowed through him onto the canvas. He seemed to receive confirmation a decade later when he stood in Ravenna’s “artistically perfect” Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, gazed at the mosaics on the ceilings and walls that depicted the life of Jesus, and realized with a shock that 1,500 years earlier the unnamed artists had incorporated green ribbons, red square-and-rhomboid shapes, and reflective symmetry similar to the elements he had incorporated in his “Red Square Theory.”
Brian was inspired by the experience and his work was evolving in a dynamic direction. He incorporated elements that Galla Placidia artists had used to create intricate and abstract-like patterns of squares and figures. He continued his work in the 1990’s by creating a massive 7’ X 9’ work that was so large he was forced to design it as two hinged pieces so that he could move it in and out through the door of his studio.
Brian exhibited his work at the celebrated Ward-Nasse Gallery and received high praise from a New York writer, Margot Norton, who commended his “utterly idiosyncratic works-inventive, commanding unique hard-edge geometric abstraction.” She further complimented the compelling and thought-provoking character of his art. Another work, called “Emblemata, R.S.T.” was a 5.5’ X 7’ oil in which he creating a mosaic using for tiles small colored pieces he cut out of four of his earlier paintings. Brian then assembled them on the canvas, following a computer generated sketch outlining basic shapes that would represent humankind’s struggle toward the divine.
BEHIND THE SCENES WITH BRIAN AND HIS NOOSPHERE
By Sayra Flores
My artist-husband Miguel and I began our relationship with each other decades ago when we were part of the New York Art & Theater scene. We have always enjoyed making connections with interesting people in the arts. Brian Carleton turned out to be one of the most interesting artists we ever met.
Miguel and I met Brian about seven years ago when we attended the Arts Commission Open Studio event that he and his wife Rhonda were hosting in their home. Miguel’s curiosity about Brian quickly developed into genuine interest when he learned that Brian’s work was inspired by the famous French mystic, philosopher, and theologian, Teilhard de Chardin. Miguel himself had been influenced by Chardin’s profound and intriguing observations, such as, “The universe as we know it is a joint product of the observer and the observed.” As Miguel and I examined one of Brian’s paintings, we realized that he was an incredibly talented artist, even though we were completely unaware of the scope and magnitude of his work.
We were drawn by Brian’s humble and pleasant personality as well as his creativity, so the next year we invited him to become a founding member of an underground artist collaborative that we were starting for the purpose of providing mutual support and encouragement. We also wanted to have some fun together so, for example, we adopted “Brentwood Yacht Club” as the humorous and capricious name for our little group. Brian brought a few of his paintings to our first event, which was held in Miguel’s studio. They were too large to fit through the door, so we displayed them in a grape arbor that is part of our back-yard garden. After putting them in place, we were struck by how magnificent they were and by the fact that they fit so perfectly in their new environment that you might imagine they had grown there. The paintings were compelling and powerful, but we still had no idea that they were only a small sample of the massive collection stored in Brian’s backyard.
Several years passed without further contact with Brian’s paintings. In August of 2019 they finally leaped into our consciousness when we asked Brian to do a “Living Artist Interview” in his home as one of the Yacht Club events that we tape and upload to our YouTube channel. We always conduct the videotaping in a whimsical fashion. Marilyn Wright brings her little sock puppets, Leo and BeBe, to these interviews to serve as hosts. Marilyn and I supply the voices as the puppets ask questions of the guests.
Brian seemed perfectly relaxed and spoke with the puppets in a conversational tone of voice. He mentioned in passing an early spiritual experience that had profoundly changed the course of his life and his artistic path. He then began talking about the “News from the Noosphere” collection that had been his life’s work. Brian explained that “noosphere” referred to humankind’s biological thought globe. Brian then led us to the storage space in his back yard where he keeps his canvases. The interview was unscripted and neither the puppets nor Marilyn and I were prepared for the vast collection of wall-size paintings that Brian had packed into that space.
Following the interview, we were frustrated at the lack of a suitable venue in which the public could view all the pictures in the Noosphere collection.
As Miguel witnessed the 25 piece collection being installed, he was totally overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of Brian’s work and his magnificent energizing mural-sized paintings.
However, things began to fall into place the very next day. Brian was at his part-time custodial day job and realized that one of the large warehouse buildings at his school was being reconfigured. It was empty and would not be used during the upcoming Labor Day weekend. Brian obtained permission to use that space during that time to photograph his work but then realized that he could also create a pop-up event in which the public could finally see all the paintings in his vast collection. Within a few days, a large moving van backed up to his storage space and transported the paintings to the warehouse, where they easily filled the available space in the three-story high building.
As Miguel witnessed the 25 piece collection being installed, he was totally overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of Brian’s work and his magnificent energizing mural-sized paintings. More importantly, as we began to study each work in detail, we experienced shifts in consciousness and were profoundly moved by what we were seeing. We realized that as many people as possible should see the collection. However, we were plagued by time limitations, holiday schedules, and the annoying question of how to enlist people to visit a warehouse in the middle of nowhere!
We did what we could and on Sept. 1, 2019, we hosted a Pop-Up Art Reception, inviting viewers to immerse themselves in the amazing energies of Brian’s work, viewing each piece from an appropriate distance, and embracing the magnitude of what they were seeing. Everyone who attended was intrigued and inspired by the exhibition; some attendees were obviously receptive to the message the art was communicating about the emerging stage of development in which we were integrating with the universe.
The exhibit was over too quickly, leaving us with the melancholy experience of watching the collection being packed up and transported back to its lonely storage area. Before the break-down began, a cellist payed a final tribute to the art and artist. The notes rang sweetly and with a mournful undercurrent though the silent spaces in the large warehouse.
The event has long passed. The pieces repose in silent splendor awaiting the time when they will make their advent onto the planet’s art stage in a manner appropriate to their size and potential for altering people’s fundamental conceptions and perspectives. There are no plans for the collection’s reemergence from its current obscurity. However, latent energies still surge about the pieces in the darkness perhaps awaiting the appropriate time to reappear and to share “News from the Noosphere” to a global audience who perhaps by then will be prepared to see and to understand.