The eye's mind . . .
Sunday Spectrum Magazine The Newark Star Ledger March 24, 1974
Text by Shirley Friedman
Photos by Demetrio J. Jaremenki and Steve Andrascik
The mesmerizing string sculptures of this talented artist may look like they were created with curves of color but it's all in your eye.
"String Mandalas" is what John Eichinger of Cranford, NJ calls his spectacularly intricate, fantastically colored creations formed with ordinary polyester sewing thread.
Vaguely reminiscent of the string structures sometimes used by math teachers to explain geometric principles, his are a planet away from those conventionally crafted string paintings.
Although John's mesmerizing art forms are intended to be hung as paintings, the six-foot-six youth dreams of the day when, working with architects and interior designers, he will convert barren lobbies and walls of commercial and industrial buildings into dynamic visual experiences.
This potential is confirmed with even a cursory glance at his original String Mandalas.
Viewers are astonished when they discover that the curves they think they see in his work are actually optical illusions: Every design is formed of straight lines only.
"So you see," he smiles, "When you think you see a circle, you're really looking at an optical illusion - like the world around us." He enjoys pointing this out as "a reminder that things are not always what they seem."
A "mandala," Eichinger reminds, is something that is concentric, drawing the attention to a central point. "Mandalas," he elaborates, "have been used throughout history, in every civilization.
I learned about this by experimenting with them and reading enough to stir my interest," (Webster defines "mandala" as "a Hindu or Buddhist graphic symbol of the universe.")
Although the sensitive, self-taught artist has been seriously creating his String Mandalas for only a year and a half, he traces his interest in this media back to childhood.
"As a kid, whenever I'd get bored, I'd doodle this king of thing on paper. Then when I grew older and moved into an apartment, it seemed a great way to enhance a large barren wall. Originally, I was going to draw on the wall - until I realized that it would be ridiculous to draw all those lines. So, instead, I hammered small nails into a pattern to connect the design motion of thread," he recalled.
The artist-craftsman began his String Mandalas in earnest while traveling around the world with his knapsack: "My traveling for several years was input. Now I'm putting it all down into this form of self-expression." His wandering-with-a-purpose, "to learn about other parts of the world, to gather impressions of people and many things, "followed engineering studies at eh United States Navel Academy at Annapolis and business school at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.
As the young man travelled
"searching for meaning and income without working for someone else," he began creating his String Mandalas wherever he happened to be. He sold his unique wall decor immediately to art, gift, and furniture stores, simultaneously exhibiting at major art shows including the Atlanta Arts Festival, the Greenwich Village Art Show in New York City, and the Chicago Gold Coast Arts Festival.
"This was great," smiles the soft-spoken, genteel-mannered Eichinger who was brought up in Cranford and whose family still resides there: "I found I didn't need to carry anything with me but hammer and thread, and I'd have a source of income wherever I'd go. I've been fortunate to find buyers of my art from San Francisco to London and Paris."
The design of the dimensional String Mandalas is first drawn on paper. This serves as a pattern that is then nailed onto the material-covered or painted wood background with tiny escutcheon pins. The paper pattern is later removed, with the pins remaining to outline the design.
Counting "only the first time around," John winds his threads back and forth, connecting the pins to create his unique forms. His deft dramatization is accomplished with spools of ordinary cotton covered polyester sewing threads. ("Just plain mercerized cotton thread won't work because it doesn't have the required strength and it is subject to humidity changes.")
The threads are formed into an intriguing, filmy network held taut on the background by those tiny pins. (The leftover end of a length of thread is tied securely and invisibly behind a pin's head.) So ethereally filmy is the final effect of many of his works that they appear to be rainbow-like, disembodied hues. "To me," enthuses the artist, "the excitement comes from the color, and especially how they overlap and form what I call 'interference patterns' which shimmer with a seeming life of their own."
The viewer is scarcely, if at all, aware of the threads themselves. Palest yellow, for example, evolves gradually through many shades into deep burnt orange. Brilliant blues on the periphery fade to softest lilac at the center. In others, innumerable pastels converge into many pre-planned concentric layers of threads - in many sections of the final work. As little as one color, or as many as 25 hues might appear.
Unlike the familiar string paintings sometimes done by youngsters in craft projects, Eichinger's creations represent complex designs with untold hours spent planning their form and selecting colors in a myriad of shades to interpret his ideas and to achieve unique effects.
Small String Mandalas may take the artist a day to create - after the design has been planned. His larger works can take weeks or more to complete. Many of the artist's large complex creations are based on mathematical formulae "taken out of my engineering background and applied to this art."
Although he sells a great many of the smaller String Mandalas, Eichinger doesn't consider these as creative as the challenge of his larger works that represent to him "the real creative process."
But design, color and the craft process itself do not account for the total fascination of his String Mandalas where their creator is concerned. He reminds those who view his work that mandalas have through the centuries been used for meditative purposes. Their aim often has been "to help the viewer transcend time and place." Viewing can be just such an experience, he believes.
"It's hard to find words to describe all this, but I meditate as I create: creating them is a meditative process. When I work, or teach this media, I
try to express certain esthetic vibrations via the colors and the design. It's really possible, I find, to sit down with this kind of creative process and become totally absorbed. Everything else does seem to disappear. For me, this is my way of expressing the exposure I've had to various philosophies and a miscellany of experience during my travels. I am grateful that the Universe has chosen me to be the channel through which these mandalas come into existence."