David Chaim Smith

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In podcast episode 83, we’re joined by David Chaim Smith. A Kabbalist, mystic, and extraordinary artist, Smith’s drawings are vibrant, esoteric, beautiful, and inspired diagrams that hearken back to the tradition of alchemical art of the seventeenth century. While invoking memories of such amazing drawings, his work also goes beyond and extends this tradition.

Elixir by David Chaim Smith

The exhibition entitled “Blood of Space: Drawings by David Chaim Smith” will be at the Cavin-Morris Gallery in New York City through May 15, 2010. The opening reception occurs on Thursday, April 1st at 5:30 PM and features a musical performance by John Zorn.

portion of 3 Aspects Sealing Nullification by David Chaim Smith

“David Chaim Smith is unstuck in time. David Chaim Smith makes drawings… They are incandescent utterances from the nexus point of unutterable ecstasy. They are inchoate maps of the un-mappable places of Original Creation. Is it dangerous to document these things? Yes it is. Throughout the history of Man it has been dangerous for the Mediators between Tangible and Intangible to absorb and expose Esoteric Teachings… There is nothing New Age about this mysticism. It isn’t at all user-friendly. These intricate beautifully rendered chart-like drawings compel you to give up your own time frames and become absorbed and changed. The images settle into your psyche as well as your aesthetic reference zone. But for some reason these involved mad dances through words and sacred geometries, biomorphic and astral thought forms, incantations and exhortations are not in the least solipsistic… He is a Keeper of Mysteries but his desire is for you to enter them as well so there is a tremendous amount of generosity in his Vision… The Blood of Space is integral. It is the Matrix. It is “the basic space of phenomena.””

portion of 3 Aspects Sealing Nullification by David Chaim Smith

Join us for a fascinating interview that goes from David’s history of esoteric studies to the inspiration for his artwork to the very nature of creation and time and space. He is sometimes contemplative, sometimes controversial, but always interesting.

Please join us in the Occult of Personality Membership Section for the second portion of our conversation.

David Chaim Smith

Cavin-Morris Gallery

Blood of Space: Drawings of David Chaim Smith

intro music by HipGnosis and Darkfold

outro music by Chris Pusey

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • mxyzptlk March 30, 2010, 12:23 PM

    This was interesting, and it sent me straight back to William Blake’s work (who was 18th-19th century, not 14th, 15th or 16th century, as Smith once says when talking about his diagramatic inspirations). But something caught me half-way through the interview.

    Smith starts by discussing his approach to art, claiming that contemporary art is all meta-art, art about art, and that he’s not interested in that. First, that claim is an arguable point in itself; dig deep enough, and all art ends up also being about art, and all meta-art points beyond just itself, whether it intends to or not. But that’s fine; intention can really only be judged from the point of articulation.

    Smith later gets into the mystical purposes behind his work and the importance of structure as the elaboration of ayn sof. Later again, he states:

    “The cognitive work that we do in practice, from my own perspective, is a quest for the realization of the mind’s primordial essence — which I believe the primordial essence of the mind is ayn sof. Of course I would say the same thing about what it is we know in our minds — the primordial essence of all phenomenon is ayn sof. So we are knowing ayn sof with ayn sof.”

    (By the way, ayn sof here is made to sound a lot like chi or the force.)

    Maybe I’m missing something here — let me see if I can break this down:
    Step 1: Ayn sof is the primordial essence of all phenomenon.
    Step 2: The purpose of the Qabalistic practice he discusses is to know the primordial essence of the mind, and since all primordial essence is ayn sof, then the practice is ayn sof knowing ayn sof.
    Step 3: The fundamental, diagramatic structure of his work is an elaboration of ayn sof.

    Question: If the practice is knowing ayn sof through ayn sof, and his work is an elaboration of ayn sof (knowing ayn sof), how is that not meta-art? It seems that if Smith’s art is an elaboration of ayn sof knowing ayn sof, and meta-art is art about art, doesn’t his work qualify as meta-art — as an expression of ayn sof expressing ayn sof?

    As to the mushy approach of New Age spirituality, that largely makes sense; the problem is New Age approaches tend to skim off the top of too many traditions and miss the difficult work many established traditions require. But it’s not quite clear if the work of a practice leads one to an understanding of the fundamental essence of the world, or to something else. For instance, take Smith’s line of argument that in ayn sof there is no thing, no object for the subject to grasp at. Of course not — if ayn sof is everything, it’s the subject and the object — so to suggest that the essence/god/ayn sof could be grasped is like claiming your right hand can shake your own right hand. There is a zen saying that goes something like zen is found where you aren’t looking, and wherever you try to locate it, that’s where it isn’t. This is also similar to what some late-20th century theoretical psychoanalysts discuss when they talk about the Real as the thing that still exists when everything else is stripped away, the thing that constantly eludes definition and identification. The Real is just outside our consciousness, and as such frames and structures our consciousness.

    These other approaches don’t seem particularly squishy; rather, they seem more akin to three explorers or scientists discovering the same thing after an arduous process, and that process in itself is so rigorous it precludes most from going beyond the first exploratory steps. Nothing squishy about that. However, that entire enterprise is premised upon the assumption that ayn sof, or zen or the Real, exists as some primordial essence and is something more than a manifestation of the way the mind perceives and structures the world through the filter of language.

    The premise here defines language is any symbolic system of reference used to understand the world — words, images, numbers, sounds, gestures, etc. Once we have any kind of experience, we understand and re-present that experience to ourselves through the veil of language, and once again when we try to describe any phenomenon outwardly. We also organize our lives and actions according to those re-presentations and re-re-presentations; so even if one’s presumed understanding of reality is an illusion, that presumed understanding still results in real, material effects in the world. In that sense, language structures and shapes reality. But if we can only know the world through the filter of language, does any practice actually bring us closer to some underlying essence of the reality, or does it really bring us closer to some understanding of how we experience and re-present (and re-re-present) reality through language — i.e. how our subjective and often unconscious application of language structures and shapes the reality we experience? Again maybe I’m missing something, but defining ayn sof, zen, or the Real as something that is at all times everywhere and never identifiable makes it a little bullet-proof and unchallengeable — there’s no way to discern whether it’s about knowing reality, or if it’s actually about knowing how we perceive and re-present reality. To that end, any sufficiently rigorous practice seems more like an exercise in hacking consciousness than an exercise understanding the fundament of reality.

    Anyway, we could never really know whether a practice helped us to understand fundamental reality or the juncture of reality and consciousness; it becomes a distinction without a difference. Maybe that’s where the Cartesian argument can be useful; even if I’m a brain in a vat, the fact that I can only know my own experience of thought and consciousness leaves me with that as a starting point. So any practice would seem to bring one closer to an understanding of how we perceive and re-present reality, and the rest is up for grabs.

    • rochester92 March 31, 2010, 11:33 AM


      First, thanks for listening and taking the time to write the most thoughtful and lengthy comment we’ve ever had. I appreciate it and will solicit a response from David Smith as well.

      With regard to the meta-art question. In my opinion, there is a difference between art about art, so to say, and the ineffable examining parts of itself through art. But it can get rather intricate once you start dissecting it, as you’ve shown here.

      Although I may agree about the New Age amorphousness, I am very uncomfortable pointing fingers at any tradition or system and making claims that it isn’t as worthy or noble as another. These comparisons don’t address the need for different types of people to have different types of beliefs and practices. In my opinion, it is up to the individual to decide what is right for themselves and if the belief system they adhere to is appropriate and will eventually lead them to their holy mountain. I have no problem with others making recommendations one way or the other, but hope each individual looks within and decides for themselves.

      I wanted to commend you on the statements you made about the importance of language and its use shaping our reality. In my own experience, some meditation practices helps me to try to transcend language. Is it hacking consciousness to understand a reality? Some days I think so, others not so much. In my opinion, practice is a crucial part of understanding what you refer to as the juncture of reality and consciousness. As you expressed, it requires sacrifice of time and effort to achieve a state of being, whatever that state may be.

      Thanks again!


    • rochester92 April 5, 2010, 12:45 PM

      Here’s the response to your question from David Chaim Smith:

      Question: If the practice is knowing ayn sof through ayn sof, and his work is an elaboration of ayn sof (knowing ayn sof), how is that not meta-art? It seems that if Smith’s art is an elaboration of ayn sof knowing ayn sof, and meta-art is art about art, doesn’t his work qualify as meta-art — as an expression of ayn sof expressing ayn sof?

      Answer: Not exactly. The intention and inquiry in mysticism is the realization of primordial essentiality. The intention of art making is not. Although all phenomena is ain sof in an absolute sense, in a relative sense it is a quest for a set of mundane meanings that prevent it from announcing its true nature, and it generally traps the mind in ‘lesser concerns’. We can take anything like football, politics, cooking, whatever, and say that it is ain sof knowing ain sof on the absolute level. That is true. But then we have the sticky issue of what is going on in a relative sense, which has nothing to do with the absolute nature. When something (art or any practice) sets out to be a form of mysticism, meaning to have a mystical intention, its relative meaning leads back to the absolute. It becomes ‘about ain sof’ in every sense; relative and absolute. In short, it becomes the mirror which ain sof is.

    • gkaminsky May 3, 2012, 12:03 PM

      Re-reading mxyzptlk’s comment, there is one correction regarding Smith’s statements about artist William Blake and the time period Blake lived. When Smith was referring to artwork of the earlier (sixteenth and seventeenth) centuries, it was with regard to the alchemical artists of the period. Blake lived from 1757 to 1827, so there should be no confusion about that.

  • girasol March 31, 2010, 1:13 PM

    What a fascinating interview with a fascinating artist. I look forward to seeing the exhibit in person – will make a trip to NY just for that. His drawings are stunning and his life story and perspective on his art are very intriguing.

  • Will April 1, 2010, 1:58 PM

    The Gallery web site gives no address!

    • rochester92 April 1, 2010, 2:10 PM

      The Cavin-Morris Gallery is located at 210 11th Avenue in NYC.

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