Painting the Cosmos: A Metaphysical Universe

By Carolyn Wayland reviewed by David Bruce
Ojai, Calif.: Shakti Press, 2021. 96 pp., hardcover, $32.

The word painting in the title of this book is no metaphor or fanciful figure of speech. Carolyn Wayland’s book Painting the Cosmos is a visual delight containing thirty-three color plates of vibrant and dynamic works of art illustrating concepts from The Secret Doctrine. Her original paintings were done with acrylic on canvas, ranging in size from 12 x 12 to 36 x 36 inches. Having seen some of the originals while the artist and I were at the Krotona Institute of Theosophy, I can attest that the full-color reproductions in this book, which appear on high-gloss paper, are remarkably faithful reproductions of the originals.

The genesis of this book was “a week-long class on service at the Krotona Institute of Theosophy” in 2016. For at least thirty years, the author had studied metaphysics, Buddhism, and Eastern thought; this class provided an opportunity to demonstrate her belief that abstract painting has a unique potential to convey abstract truths. Wayland’s mentor throughout this project was Pablo Sender, who introduced her to The Secret Doctrine and also assisted with the writing of the text.

In many books, pictorial illustrations are meant to support the text. In this case, the text plays a subordinate role to the art. In other words, the main reason to have this book in one’s library would be to admire and contemplate the visual masterpieces contained therein. I use the word contemplate purposefully, for the author views painting as a form of meditation both for the viewer and the artist.

Imagine that you are an artist working with oil or acrylic on canvas. Whether your subject is a portrait, a scene from nature, or an historical event, you have a starting point even before the first stroke of the brush sweeps the canvas. From that starting point, you may replicate, interpret, or weave a narrative. But what if your subject is something abstract, say, justice or innocence? Human figures have been used quite effectively to illustrate those qualities or principles, as, for example a blindfolded lady holding the scales of justice in her hand, or the newborn babe swathed in a soft blanket.

But what if your subject is a metaphysical abstraction? Many people have difficulty in relating to metaphysical ideas, such as those found in The Secret Doctrine. Now imagine the immense challenge confronting the artist who would dare portray those nontangible and elusive realities on a two-dimensional surface. Imagine an artist who aspires to put ideas such as cyclicity, Fohat, pralaya, maya, karma, and akasha in visual form on a canvas. Carolyn Wayland has not only met that steep challenge, but she has done so with originality and flair.

One cannot do justice to her art with mere words. It has to be seen with the eye to be fully appreciated. That is why I recommend purchasing a copy of her book. If you take the time to contemplate the visual gems in Painting the Cosmos, you may begin to feel that you are not isolated from the cosmos and that you are truly part of something bigger and more enduring than your temporal self.

David Bruce

David Bruce is national secretary of the Theosophical Society in America.