Andy Warhol called him “the most famous unknown painter in the world”. That might have been true back in the 1960s, when Mati Klarwein’s work was being used on game-changing album covers like Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew and Santana’s Abraxas. But, today, Mati is increasingly being appreciated as a unique, remarkable artist.
Abdul Mati Klarwein was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1932. His father was a Polish Jewish architect and his mother a German opera singer mother. When Mati was two years old, the family fled to Palestine to escape the Nazis. Mati moved to Paris in his teens and studied with Fernand Leger, Dali and Ernst Fuchs. He first came to Deià in the 1950s, invited by Bill Waldren, founder of the Deià Archaeological Museum.
In 1965, Mati moved to New York. His work became popular with the counterculture, including jazz and rock and roll musicians. The cover of Santana’s Abraxas uses part of Mati’s 1961 Annunciation painting, originally part of The Aleph Sanctuary, a temple of all religions. More of that later.
Mati’s work went on to grace an impressive 52 album covers. Over the years, he was also commissioned to paint more than 200 portraits, including of JF Kennedy, Brigitte Bardot, and his friends Jimi Hendrix and Robert Graves.
Incidentally, he was believed to have been inspired by surrealism and psychedelia but it was more the case that he drew on material from his travels and fascination with non-Western deities and symbolism. Timothy Leary, a friend, suggested that Mati was naturally psychedelic.
Andy Warhol called him “the most famous unknown painter in the world”. Today, Mati is increasingly being appreciated as a unique, remarkable artist.
After travelling to countries that included India, Jamaica, Brazil, Morocco and Cuba where he “nourished his etheric self with the mysticism and symbolism” of each place, Mati settled again in Deià in the 1980s. He passed away here in 2002.
While he was alive, Mati was in the strange position of being an artist known only to the hip cognoscenti but whose work was in millions of homes around the world. Today, this is changing. Mati is increasingly being recognised as a major artist. His painting Grain of Sand (1963-65) was part of the 2016 You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 show at the V&A in London. The latest stage in the sharing of Mati’s mesmerising work with a wider audience is The Oracular Tachyon Deck project.
The Oracular Tachyon Deck is a set of 70 oracle cards that echoes the Tarot – the first 22 cards match the Major Arcana. But it stands alone as a “powerful tool for path work, healing, psychological growth, and spiritual insight,” according to Annie Lewkowicz who created the cards together with ?=! Productions.
“A tachyon,” Annie told me, “is a hypothetical particle that always moves faster than the speed of light. It’s part of a genuine scientific hypothesis within physics but its existence hasn’t yet been proved. Mati was intrigued by the concept and it shows up in his art (he named a 1974 painting Tachyon), and also in his writings. When we were brainstorming about a name for the deck, Serafine suggested something to do with the Tachyon, and I loved the idea. I agree with Mati that the Tachyon is a symbol of Spirit.”
The Oracular Tachyon DeckThe Oracular Tachyon DeckOriginally from Montana, Annie currently lives in Valencia. She is a freelance writer, a poet, potter and lover of all things esoteric currently studying for her masters in Transformational Psychology. “I have a deep and abiding interest in transpersonal psychology, transcendence, and esoterica,” she told me.
Around two years ago, Annie became a serious, dedicated student of the Tarot system. This led to a personal reading practice. For Annie, “Tarot and oracle decks are less about divination than they are practical tools for spiritual growth and psychological transformation. Readings can function as a form of personal therapy that focuses on imagery and symbols, rather than words alone.”
The idea for The Oracular Tachyon Deck came about when Annie met Serafine, one of Mati’s daughters, at a 5Rhythms dancing workshop in Taos in New Mexico. At a subsequent 5Rhythms workshop in Morocco, Serafine introduced Annie to Mati’s work and, Annie says, “I was completely stunned and smitten. It really was love at first sight. I think that Mati’s work is truly special – beautiful but also mysterious, provocative, sometimes even disturbing. He incorporated impressive amounts of symbolism into his work. I think it’s this level of symbolic meaning that really struck me when I first encountered his paintings, and it’s this quality that made things click when Serafine and I first started discussing the creation of an oracle deck.”
Creating the Deck meant Annie immersing herself in Mati’s thought process and energy. She studied his artwork, writings and manuscripts, arrived at a long list of titles for the cards and went through the artwork matching specific pieces to titles. As well as selecting images, choosing titles and collaborating with Javi Tubert, the project’s designer, Annie wrote the accompanying guide book, which consists of 70 original poems – one for each card – in an intense couple of weeks.
Annie’s wish is that people will “find their creativity and intuition sparked by these words, as well as Mati’s powerful images. I hope the deck itself really can be used as a tool for spiritual and psychological transformation in a personal, individual sense. It would also be great if the project can be a vehicle for bringing Mati’s art to a wider audience. I think that his work deserves much more recognition than it has so far received.”
The Oracular Tachyon Deck project is accompanied by the ambitious visionary Aleph Sanctuary online immersive reality gallery and an exhibition of Mati’s work opening in Palma on 26 April. Running until 9 June in the Misericordia, the exhibition will be curated by Gudi Moragues who previously collaborated with Mati’s estate for the book Mati: Paradise Lost and Found.
Mati’s original Aleph Sanctuary, begun in the late 1960s, was a cubic temple of all religions incorporating 69 paintings. Some of these represented passages from the Bible, including Annunciation, the painting later used for Santana’s Abraxas. The Sanctuary was taken apart and the paintings sold individually but it was later rebuilt in 1992 with aluminium structures holding Plexiglas reproductions of the paintings lit by rows of fluorescent tubes.
Mati’s original Sanctuary included paintings of the Tarot, but they were replaced. His children later found the Tarot series hidden away in Mati’s closet. He’d glued photographs of his daughters’ faces on each of the Tarot figures so there’s speculation that he was keeping them to be found.
The online Aleph Sanctuary Immersive Reality Gallery is the brainchild of Manuel Elviro Vidal a “scient-artist” who works with the University of Illes Baleares (UIB) Multimedia Laboratory.
When it’s complete, the online gallery will initially appear as a glowing white cube seen from a distance, floating in space. The outside will be lit by the “name flames” of everyone who took part in the crowdfunding. Their names and shoes will be seen outside the gallery.
Entering the gallery, you’ll be immersed in a technicolour orgy of Biblical imagery. The original 69 paintings will be present along with an account of their creation, including models, landscapes, sketches, preparatory drawings, spoken word readings of the texts Mati wrote to accompany them and music associated with the albums the paintings sometimes decorated.
There will be two versions of the gallery, one reality augmented and password-protected, the other full-on virtual reality for people with VR glasses.
Helping to fund The Oracular Tachyon Deck project offers you a unique opportunity to own beautiful limited-edition reproductions of Mati’s work to contemplate as well as use for a spiritual purpose. This is very much in line with his own view of his work. He disliked explaining his art and encouraged personal interpretation.
Personally, I’m looking to becoming a “name flame” in the Aleph Sanctuary.
Most of all, though, I love the idea that I’ll soon be able to carry some of Mati’s most evocative images of magical Deià with me wherever I go. For him, Deià was a place where he found “divine presence in every rock, leaf and grain of sand”. I’d say that puts into words what many of us feel.
But, just in case we’re in danger of being too precious, I asked one of Mati’s children what she thought what his reaction to the project might have been.
“He probably would have laughed, “she said.
If you’d like to know more about Mati’s work, please contact Cynthia at firstname.lastname@example.org.