Artist Cody Seekins hopes to take viewers on a psychedelic voyage into the subconscious mind. Buddhist allegories, karmic journeys and psychological chasms are the focus of his “Jataka Tales” exhibition, which opens Friday at Newman University’s Steckline Gallery. It’s a show where surrealist shapes become allegories and vibrant colors are gateways into a higher mode of thinking.
It’s also Seekins’ last planned show in Wichita, as he will be relocating to Thailand this spring. The 20 works on display spotlight seminal creations from the past that also tie into themes he’s been focused on more recently in conjunction with his MFA thesis.
“For the longest time, I could not figure out what to call my work. I work from life, and life has so much variety … anything on a given day can be an influence,” Seekins said. “It wasn’t until I was doing my MFA and after I had gone to Thailand for the first time that I realized I had a reference that would serve as a strong influence. That’s why I refer to my works now as ‘Jataka Tales.’”
In literature, the “Jataka Tales” are a voluminous body of work detailing the many lives and incarnations of the Buddha. Seekins, 37, lived in Thailand several years ago for six months when he was awarded a Freeman Asia grant, and he used part of his time there to travel the region and study Buddhism. Much of his work since has been heavily influenced by that experience. This exhibit examines dimensions of the teachings that Seekins has experienced in his own life and are the result of what he calls a “cleared, conscious mind.”
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“The Jataka Tales of Buddhism were allegorical stories of the Buddha and his past lives. They would usually exalt certain virtues and show certain transcendental characteristics that got him to the next elevated life … it’s a journey of resolving karma and becoming enlightened. They frame that traditionally within a reincarnation setup where you have multiple lives, but in these works I’m framing it within my life. Instead of a third-person perspective, it’s a first-person perspective. Instead of having lived two or three lives, I am reviewing different types of personal stages of awareness or conditions of awareness, different personal identities or egos, and different states of being housed within a single life that I’m able to consciously review.”
Seekins’ works are as entrancing as they are colorful, simple to view, yet complex to examine. He describes his “Jataka Tales” as a blend of academic-style portraiture mixed with psychological elements. The influence of Thailand is palpable, as is the persistent use of parakeet imagery. Parrots often take on the likeness of other forms, such as mountains or trees, or become part of the main subject in many of the works.
“There are a lot of synchronicities that occur from the parrot species,” he said. “I had a pet parakeet, and that animal really was profoundly influential on me. Even later on, long after she was dead, there were these happenings that would occur with parrots. It was always a really good influence, like a guiding principle of sorts.”
Many of the images straddle the line between the physical world and a more abstract view of a spiritual realm. In “Phra Nang Farang,” a rainbow Popsicle melts into the mouth of a tattooed boy in a river, with trees of parrot heads to his back. The background is based upon his impressions of the Phra Nang peninsula, which is known for its limestone peaks. “The Automatom” is a play on dualism, with a mechanical suggestion of a bird resting on the shoulders of a boy imitating a superhero, while a natural bird flies in the background. Seekins said that each is emulating the world of the other.
Before getting his MFA in fine art painting last year from the Academy of Art University, Seekins was a student at Wichita State University from 2003-2008, where he got a bachelor of fine arts degree in oil painting. In addition to the Final Friday opening, an artist luncheon will be held on Dec. 2 where Seekins will explain the works and their meanings.
“One of the main reasons for me to put on this show is that I have a history in Wichita that’s fairly long. I have a certain rootedness here and background here. I’ve shared a lot of my life and had a lot of experiences here. Recently, it seems like virtually every painting I’m doing is calling me back to Southeast Asia. That influence is definitely there. I have, I think, a date with destiny in terms of going deeper with that.”
If you go
What: A going-away show for artist Cody Seekins, featuring seminal and new works
Where: Newman University’s Steckline Gallery, 3100 McCormick
When: 5-9 p.m. Final Friday opening reception; Art for Lunch presentation noon-1 p.m. Dec. 2. Works on display through Dec. 19 during regular gallery hours, 9 a.m.-4 p.m Monday-Friday or by appointment.
How much: Reception, viewing and lunch presentation are free to attend.
Information: Visit www.codyseekins.com. To schedule a special appointment to view this exhibit, call 316-942-4291, ext. 2199.