The concept of mazes, whether they be two, three or higher dimensional, has fascinated artists through the ages. From the ancient Buddhist mandalas to contemporary computer graphics, artists like the mystery and interactive capabilities of mazes in art. Mazes mirror the interdependent nature of life, and in doing so, are linked with many cultures' concept of the human mind. Ever since men began creating visual representations of their world, they have viewed life as something chaotic and complex, yet interconnected. The Mayan Indians, for example, described the maze as a design that linked birth, fertility and death in a spiral pattern. The maze symbol fits this model well, for although at first glimpse, no order can be seen, once studied, the maze is an organized, well structured concept.
In contemporary art, the confusion of a labyrinth fascinates many artists. For every decision taken, there is a path forsaken, a direction that must be abandoned. This loss creates a sense of panic, a sense of not knowing if one can "get out." This analogy of escape has been applied to the way humans view the mind. Just as a labyrinth has many directions and dead ends, the mind has intricate patterns and layers of consciousness. Many artists have played with the idea of the "labyrinth inside one's head," applying the concept of being trapped in a maze to the way one feels when one can not "get out of one's head." de Hundertwasser, in his painting "The beard is the grass of the bald one" explores a fantasy maze inside one's head. In order to explain the sensation of many psychological disorders, a visual representation of a maze was used, such as this painting on Hyperchondria by Paul Manson. Less surreal, but no less meaningful, are the drawings of Peter Lautrop, who depicts the brain as a ball of string shaped into a maze, yet extended out of the ear into the hands of another character.
Meanwhile, in the East, the mandala drawings of Tibet portrayed intricate mazes that were representations of the layers of human and supernatural consciousness as well, but their goals were different. While Westerners viewed these layers of consciousness as fascinating yet terrifying, the art of the East embraces this labyrinth as the path to a central peace. Absorbing the paths and diagrams of the mandala aids meditation, focusing and guiding the meditator. The Indian versions of the mazes are used for similar purposes, but the center is always occupied by a Brahman, who represents peace, but does not control it. One such example is the work of Escola de Ngor, whose painting depicts a meditation ritual. Often these mandala paintings are done with colored sand, and are blown away by the wind when finished. The priests who perform the ritual create intricate, delicate patterns of shape and color, yet stress the importance of non permanence, as they let their work disappear.
The Surrealist painters, such as Pintura de Matti used the maze as a way to enter new dimensions, new worlds. Artists such as Escher played with mazes to alter one's perception and depth. Once entering the labyrinth, the viewer is transported to a landscape over which the artist has control. Although there are many two dimensional pieces that deal with maze, Escher plays with three dimensional mazes that leave the viewer disoriented and upside down.
As computer graphics and technology become more elaborate, so do the styles and forms of maze art that appears on the Internet. This relatively new form of art is highly accessible and can link the viewer to other forms of mazes, including games and literary references, creating a maze of resources. Some such artists include Michael McCaffrey who displays his rich, colorful maze art in the form of posters that the viewer can then select and order. Although at first glance his creations are fantasy abstractions, when blown up, it is clear that they are intricate labyrinths. The Hard Naturist creates more recreational maze art, as well as the MizMaze Theatre, which is a central location for people who like mazes and art. Maze art on the Web has become so popular, in fact, that there is a maze art contest that anyone can enter. The cyber maze craze extends off the screen, however, with one such triumph culminating in a 1990 ten foot high multidimensional maze in San Francisco called Cyberthon. This maze blended a three dimensional jungle gym like structure with virtual reality, creating higher dimensions. Every path linked the subject with new visual, audio, and tactile stimuli, thus creating a labyrinth of sensations.
In regards to different and more traditional media, the works of British artist Adrian Fisher are still pleasing people around the world. The leading contemporary hedge artist, Adrian Fisher has created many intricate hedge mazes, as well as experiments with other botanical mazes, including the famous Amazing Maize Maze, the largest maze in the world, made from an entire cornfield. Built to honor the Year of the Maze, 1991, and the three hundredth birthday of the Hampton Court Maze, the world's most famous hedge maze, the Amazing Maize Maze is a three acre labyrinth with more than two miles of paths. Already, more than five thousand tourists have come to see this maze in Shippensburg, Pa..
The fluid and complex nature of mazes appeals to artists both asthetically and philosophically. Mazes inspire creation, whether it be in a surreal groundplan of a fantasy city, or in the representation of the chaos inside one's brain. From the more literal mazes of de Hundertwasser or Escher to the abstract mazes of Mondrian and Mark Tobey, mazes represent a connected world escape and movement, as well as an isolated place of confusion and no exit. As different media arise in the art world, the subject of mazes adapts gracefully, whether it be in computer art or an interactive bridge between music, play, and art, such as the Cyberthon.
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