Mega Mandalas: a trip into tie dye. A story, by Courtenay Pollock.

The Large Mandalas are my flagship works. They average 90”X96” and are on tie dyed on cotton.

My first ever commission back in 1969 was to create a Mandala for a meditation/yoga room at a boutique in New York. I had just developed my unique tie dye method using geometric folding and dipping in hot water aniline base dyes. I had to look up in an encyclopedic dictionary the meaning of Mandala. Essentially it meant a graphic interpretation of the Cosmos according to the philosophy of the artist.

I had the dyes warming on the stove and a king size sheet washed and ironed and ready to fold. There was a knock on the door and two long-haired friends of my girlfriend came in bearing gifts. They brought some beautifully colourful folders like butterfly wings and at the centre of the fold was an orange pill. It was the legendary Orange Sunshine LSD. By now there are several friends at my girlfriend's home and we all took a tab. It was my first experience with a Psychedelic substance.

I set to work folding in the rays of creation and levels of being and consciousness into the cloth as my design developed. I was so focused that I was not paying any attention to the LSD, in fact, I had forgotten all about it. Meanwhile, the rest of the household were acting in a bizarre manner which I was peripherally aware of.
It took me several hours to complete my design at which time I went directly to the dyes and began the dipping process. It occurred to me how similar was my method to the metamorphosis of a butterfly and recalled the folders containing the LSD the effects of which I was studiously channeling into my creation. This was the birth of my first tie dye.

Starting at the centre of the design I started laying in the combination of colours and working my way out to the rings of Scarabs which were representing Bodhisattvas. It was another few hours of careful colour placement before I completed the dyeing. The Analine dyes I used were industrial dyes that typically would be boiled into the cloth for an hour in order to set them. Since I was using them in a completely different and unique way I decided to wrap the finished piece in tinfoil and bake it in the oven for an hour to set the dyes.

While the dyes were fixing I set up a stage area to hang the Mandala to dry. I had a black light directional lamp and a strobe light and also strings of tiny Christmas tree lights and another plain white sheet. I hung the sheet in place pinned to a ceiling beam and attached the ‘Fairy lights’ to the back of the cloth spiralling out from the centre. I set up the spotlights and strobe and blacklight illuminations ready for the unveiling.

By now several hours had passed and people were levelled out from their various transitions from the wonderfully clear and potent psychedelic we had all taken. I was definitely under an intense influence but, as yet, still actually focussed on my work.

The time had come to untie and rinse the Mandala. People gathered around the sink where I was now working. Two of the girls brought out their guitars and as the strings came off (chrysalis) bundle and the sections of cloth were opened they played and sang like Angels while the symmetrical images were revealed.
When I had finished rinsing, first in cold then warm to hot water, the project was still folded in its primary pleats so the entire design still wasn’t visible. I wrung it out so it wouldn’t drip while hanging and carried it to the display area for the great unveiling.

Our friends were gathered across the room ready for the show as I pinned one corner up then walked the other corner across the stage as I shook out the pleats and the whole picture came into view. I heard gasps and Ooo’s and Aaa’s as I pinned the opposite corner up and the entire Mandala was displayed. I avoided looking down at the piece as I wanted to get the visual hit of the whole piece for my first look. I walked to the other side of the room and turned and, OMG!, it was like nothing I had ever witnessed before. It was alive and so vivid and extraordinary.

The stage lighting was going and the images literally seemed to crawl and the thing rippled like a pebble in a pond. It seemed a living, breathing entity.
Back in those days none of us had a camera and so no photo exists of that first Mandala, sadly. But the memory is forever burned into my being.

Oh yes, the LSD was definitely working in me now that I was finished and relaxed. Wow! Psychedelic art indeed. A new take on tie dye art!

So my Mandalas became the driving vehicle of my art expression that still inspires me to this day. Their potential expressions are infinite and I still find innovative ways to evolve the design.