REVIEW: “FROM THE WORD OF FIRST THOUGHT” AT THE ANDERSON, 2018
Ron Regé Jr. is a visionary comic book artist who illustrates utopian political ideals, occult spiritual concepts, and the inroads between. His style lies somewhere at the intersection of Keith Haring, Alex Grey, and Seth Tobocman. Regé Jr. expresses how faith in a brighter world and in the future yet unseen is more than a secular political project — it is also a spiritual one.
A zine accompanying the show, handwritten in Regé Jr.’s trademark script, details excerpts of an esoteric text. This fable, The Word of First Thought, can be read as a creation myth. It is the manifesto of spirit itself, in first-person, paradox-laden prose: "I am incomprehensible, dwelling in the incomprehensible, although I move in every creature." This story addresses the light, the voice, and the subtle energy that exists within everything. The notion of "first thought" is reminiscent of the Hindu concept, Shakti. Shakti is the omnipresent, inconceivable life force energy bestowed upon humanity by the cosmos. The narrator names its conduit and channel, the androgynous Sophia, whose levitating portraits in dusty pink and pale blue hang larger-than-life in the gallery. In these paintings Sophia is multi-limbed and laden with iconic spiritual symbols. In "Light Sophia", she wears the crown of the Egyptian goddess Isis. In "Dark Sophia (Lilith)", she is flanked by the two serpents of the caduceus, with her posture inverted.
"Days of the Week", a luminous, pastel storyboard in ink and colored pencil, lines the walls, depicting the tale of a mystic vision and the gnosis of "first thought" in humanity. It is a visual tale of divine inspiration, where angelic beings flit to and fro, whispering in each others’ ears, transforming thought into reality. In one panel, a human, sitting in the grass with a flower in their hair, interrupts, blurring the lines between what is imagined and what is real. Through these whimsical, pastel portraits of swooping, swirling deities, Regé Jr. lifts the spirits, and unites the grandeur of spiritual experience with the naïveté of human existence.
"One Day While Crossing the Street" further illuminates the spiritual experience as a commonplace occurrence. On the wall opposite the "Light Sophia" and "Dark Sophia" is a comic depicting a spontaneous, out-of-body experience. Mid-stride, the subject of this comic has a vision of himself splitting in two, hatching another being from within his mind, all while walking across the street. In the last panel, a perturbed onlooker continues staring at their phone, hurrying along their way. What is a rupturing mystical experience for one is a mere annoyance to the unaware, preoccupied bystander. Here, Regé Jr. again articulates the spiritual in the mundane, and the tendency of the muse to visit when we least expect it. A refrain in New Age thought says that life is spiritual and mystical in subtle ways, whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, but if we notice its subtle blessings, the more likely we are to receive them.
Regé Jr.’s illustrations and comics fortify occult belief systems with visual culture. Occult myths and teachings are fragmented and hidden by their nature, and thus lack the iconographic repertoire that comes with major world religions. He interweaves these varied concepts into holistic tomes, as in his 2012 book Cartoon Utopia, which synthesizes comics from a breadth of New Age ideas. For Regé Jr., spirituality is for everyone. His message is always positive and uplifting, especially when communicated in his whimsical illustrative style. Both his original writings and the insights of prominent New Age thinkers come together in Cartoon Utopia to underscore the spiritual directives of art and music; of relationships, sex, and gender; and of resistance, solidarity, and community.
Throughout Ron Regé Jr.’s body of work, he exalts the divine feminine. He consistently portrays a feminine-centered vision of the spiritual world — in stark contrast to the patriarchal religious stories of the West. Bringing this liminal being, Sophia, to life through his artwork is no exception. Honoring Sophia through this exhibition is undoubtedly feminist, and all things revolve around the divine feminine in From the Word of First Thought.