Nicholas Baxter

Influences 2

Light Shines Through was a painting I completed in 2010 for a group exhibition memorializing artist and tattooer Monica Henk, whose life was tragically cut short in a still-unsolved NYC hit and run incident. Featuring a surreal depiction of one of Monica’s favorite pieces of jewelry, this piece is about the persistence of hope, and a belief in the triumph of mankind despite the potential for monumental sadness and suffering inherent in the human condition.

Light Shines Through, oil on panel, 2010, 12in x 12in

One of the original inspirations for my choice of theme and symbolism in this commemorative painting was the writing of pioneering logotherapy psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. A Jewish holocaust surviver, whose harrowing memoir of life and death in a Nazi concentration camp is a moving description of the unbreakable human spirit, Frankl’s work has been an ongoing influence in my art. Throughout Man’s Search For Meaning he describes his observations, and concludes:

We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.  For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.  When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.

Reiterating his powerful analysis, Frankl again poses the question and answers:

How…can life retain its potential meaning in spite of its tragic aspects?  After all, ‘saying yes to life in spite of everything’…presupposes that life is potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable.  And this in turn presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive.  In other words, what matters is to make the best of any given situation. … That is, an optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.

Though the hardships I’ve faced pale in comparison to his plight, my paintings have always been part of an over-arching narrative searching for meaning in suffering, and the process of finding hope through often difficult personal transformation. As such, I believe Frankl’s work appeared in my life quite auspiciously via energetic resonance rather than random coincidence (this, of course, in observance of the universal “law of attraction”).

To my delight, this quantum phenomenon reared its head again when my recent foray into the Integral work of Ken Wilber revealed an unexpected connection to the symbolism of this painting, inspiring me to revisit and feature it here. Specifically, it was Wilber’s use of a poignant Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, which features the title of the painting and summarizes it perfectly:

From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things, and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.