The Words of the Andersson Family
Susan Osmond is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. who for nearly two decades was an arts editor for The World and I magazine.
Art can be a means to bring both artist and viewer into contact with their original heart of purity and with ultimate reality, and so can be a catalyst for internal healing and cultivating a state of well-being. Today, an increasing number of artists are taking up spiritual themes in their art, many with the avowed intention of aiding in the healing of the world and the spiritual growth of humanity, in addition to furthering their own spiritual search. Benny Andersson has long been at the forefront of this trend, which has come to be called simply "spiritual art."
During the nearly thirty years since he became a fulltime artist, Andersson has developed a unique visionary idiom, creating fantastical vistas where day and night meet, worlds open onto other realities, and rivers of light cascading from towering mountains pour into galaxies. Couples dance in wondrous landscapes, or are circled by protective beings of light surmounted by a brilliant star, while behind them the path to a heavenly world has opened and at their feet a new-born galaxy ripples outward with stars. Here the earthly and the cosmic meet in harmony. In his work, Andersson seeks to offer a portal to spiritual dimensions and to draw viewers into a personal experience of the ideal or the holy.
Benny Andersson was born in Sweden in 1953. He joined the Unification Church in 1973 and attended art schools in Stockholm from 1974 to 1977. In 1980 he came to the United States and in 1982 took part in the 2075 couples Holy Blessing Ceremony in New York's Madison Square Garden. He and his wife Kyoko have three daughters, ages 22, 20, and 12, and have lived for many years in Bogota, New Jersey. He has been a fulltime artist since 1983.
"Sometimes I feel that my paintings are like visual prayers," reflects Andersson. "In most cases one listens to a prayer. In this case one looks at a prayer."
When asked what he is trying to convey in his work, he replies: "First of all, I like for my paintings to reflect my faith -- but in a very open way. I don't want people to feel they are being preached to. I just want them to have an inspiring feeling so they can be stimulated to start thinking and dreaming.
"There is a spiritual realm in my paintings," he continues, "and I work a lot with symbols. Most of my paintings are about the unity of two, the harmony between two." This is most frequently conveyed through images of a man and woman together, or symbols representing the masculine and feminine aspects of existence. Sometimes it is conveyed through the combination of complementary opposites, such as a landscape of mountains and rivers gilded with golden light interposed with a night sky saturated with stars and spiraling galaxies.
Two large paintings Andersson was commissioned to do for the Cheon Jeong Gung in Korea incorporate other images that have since entered his regular lexicon. The commissioners of the works gave him the themes for the two paintings and also asked him to incorporate certain symbols. "One painting was to be about the ideal in the spiritual world, and the other was to be about the ideal in the physical world," he recalls. "They were to be very calm, harmonious paintings. Nothing too dramatic. They just wanted paintings that would give you a very uplifting, inspired feeling."
He was asked to include certain flowers in these paintings: The rose, symbolic of man, and the lily, symbolic of woman. These are the official national flowers of Cheon II Guk. Also to be included was the crane, which is the national bird of Cheon II Guk. "I was told that no bird can fly as high as the crane," he says.
It took Andersson a year to complete these two mural-sized paintings. They now hang in the entry hall of the Cheon Jeong Gung.
There are a number of other recurring images in his artwork. His paintings often include multiple planets or moons. "It's a way to convey that we are living in a world that has many dimensions," Andersson explains. "I try to suggest the unlimited and the eternal in my paintings -- to lead one's thoughts to the spiritual world and the many dimensions of life. I use the image of many planets to convey this, and also sometimes I make a kind of gateway into another world, which opens into yet another world."
Another recurring image is that of a waterfall of light spilling into the center of a galaxy, the swirling stars of which resemble rings of water rippling outward. "The waterfall symbolizes the water of life that comes from the Source of creation," says the artist. "The living water flows into the middle of a galaxy and then spreads out into all of the creation, imparting life."
The way that Andersson's paintings come into being has some similarity to these life- giving waterfalls. "Most of the time it starts from images I see in my mind," he says. "Any time I sit down and close my eyes, thinking what kind of painting I want to do, images instantly appear like a slide show in my mind. They have always been there, even when I was a child. It's endless."
He continues, "I usually begin from one of these images that are a constant stream in my mind, then as I work on the painting I may alter the image in some ways. It's not always that it just flows onto the canvas. It's a process. Even though I see images in my mind, I don't always succeed in putting them on the canvas exactly as I want to. In this situation I might take time off to meditate or pray -- or I just keep working at it."
Ideas do not come only from the internal stream of images, however. He notes: "Internal inspiration is combined with things I experience in life -- relationships, works from art history, or things in nature. I use them all in my paintings.
"My most important source of inspiration is my wife and family," Andersson emphasizes. "My wife has always been very supportive of what I am doing, from day one. In a way, she is the most important aspect of my life. I like to do work that comes from life experiences. If I do a painting about the harmony between a husband and wife, it comes from how I experience it. So our family is very important to my artwork."
Music is another source of inspiration, helping him get into and remain in the flow when at work on a painting. "When I listen to music," he says, "I get incredibly inspired and moved. It really transports me to another world." He listens to music all the time when working in his studio. "It really puts me in the right mood and I can concentrate and focus in on my painting." He listens to all kinds of music, he says, and has a large collection of recordings, but his favorite is what has come to be called Progressive Rock. Andersson has a number of friends who are musicians, and they tell him the inspiration between the mediums is mutual. "Many people I know who write music tell me that they find inspiration in looking at paintings."
Andersson's original inspiration to pursue a life of painting came from an unforgettable experience he had when he was a boy of about twelve. "I was just completely transfixed by a painting," He recalls. "It was really a kind of religious experience. At the time I didn't know much about how to paint, and I remember thinking -- Wow, it must be incredible to make a painting like that. I wish I could do that and inspire people in the same way I have been inspired."
The evidence is that he has succeeded in inspiring people around the world. Andersson regularly gets feedback from people who have purchased his artwork. They often tell him how the painting they bought helped in their internal healing or spiritual development.
When asked for examples, Andersson quips that he could write a book on it. One woman who came to an exhibition of his in Japan went immediately to a painting of a boy sitting in a beautiful landscape, and soon tears were pouring down her cheeks. She bought the painting, explaining that her teenaged son had committed suicide. When she later attended another of Andersson's exhibitions, she told him that she felt a continuing connection with her son through the painting, and it brought her great comfort.
Andersson says that numerous times people who have conflict in their homes between husband and wife have bought one his paintings dealing with man-woman unity. Couples later tell him that the painting became a focus for them, a reference and inspiration to improve their relationship. "Fortunately, it seems my paintings have been able to bring some positive energy to these situations," notes the artist, gratefully.
Some Unification Church members have told Andersson that they bought one of his paintings and used it to explain the meaning and value of the Blessing to their children or to other people, who were then inspired to attend the Blessing.
People often use his paintings as an aid to personal growth. There is a company president in Texas who bought one of Andersson's works and hung it in his bedroom. The man later told Andersson that at the end of every day he sits in front of the painting and asks, "Have I been good today?" The painting became a focus for these nightly self-reflections on how well he was following the precepts of Jesus.
A number of professional therapists and counselors have bought Andersson's paintings and use them in their practice. "When they buy the paintings, I have no idea what they are going to be used for," he says. "But later I get e-mails from doctors and psychiatrists who tell me that the paintings have been so helpful in their therapy sessions. I don't know anything about this area. I just paint. I was astonished to hear that my paintings were useful in this way, but very glad."
Recently a painting by Andersson, Circle of Eternal Harmon, was one of the works named Best Painting in the online juried exhibition The Healing Power of Art. The show is a project of Renee Phillips, the founder and director of Manhattan Arts International, and features the work of sixty artists. It can be viewed at www.HealingPowerofArt.org (www.manhattanarts.com/Gallery/ BennyAndersson.htm)
Andersson likes talking to people who come to his exhibitions or who have seen his work elsewhere. He rejoices that each viewer relates to his paintings in a unique way, often perceiving something in them that he didn't perceive himself. "For me it's a very magical moment when a painting can release people's feelings and dreams. That is the most inspiring thing for me as an artist."
In an interview given to The World and I some years ago, Andersson said: "Art can serve to help the human consciousness expand and experience new spiritual spheres, where both the artist and the appreciator of art can experience liberation and healing."
The art of Benny Andersson, created purposefully to uplift viewers and stimulate the inner mind of goodness to renew its hopes and dreams, truly transports us to a realm of eternal beauty, harmony, and peace -- a realm that awaits us not only beyond, but within.
See more of Benny Andersson's paintings at his website: artofandersson.spaces.live.com