If we trace Misha Bittleston's black and white works from the first six months of 2004, we can see a very distinct path leading from the chaos and confusion that are the deadening hallmarks of mid-winter malaise the Ramada series, through a set of works dealing with the defining spring cycles of (re)birth and destruction, to the mazelike geographies of definite and coherent, albeit abstract and unconventional, forms that are the artist's imagination ripening and gradually blossoming in explosions of creative invention depicting the mania of summer in full swing. At the same time, the works also comprise a detailed history of creation and destruction, both respectively highlighted by recurring forms.
The Ramada series of January 01-01 is desperately violent and despairingly chaotic. Ink convulsing on canvas. Before God said "Let there be light", "The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep..." (Genesis 1:2). The works depict a pre-big bang environment, a portrait of pre-Creation, the primordial kicking and screaming of all that was to follow. The Ramada black and whites are the work of a restless creator ruthlessly tearing invention from his insides. They are proof that searching is creating, and as the works progress, they reveal that creating is also searching. For Bittleston, the series seems to lay down the fertile foundation for what is to come, with the theme of the creator-who-is-also-a-destroyer reverberating throughout.
In the final Ramada work, the seed has germinated and we see the first of what will become another dominant motif that resurfaces throughout the works of the next few months: the canal-like passage. It seems to be a lifeline of sorts, a divine portal through which selected forms of life pass protected within from the swirling destruction cascading outside of it. The passage represents what some might call survival of the fittest; perhaps others would prefer Noah's Ark. Whatever the moniker one chooses, one thing is definite: it is a pathway of preservation.
In the work 01-03 that immediately follows the Ramada series, the presence of a sphere-like entity announces itself. Through intricate use of black and white, Bittleston is able to achieve a pulsating nucleus that seems to glow and radiate energy throughout the mist and gloom engulfing it. It represents the universe's penultimate union of sperm and egg, the very first moment in the history of everything.
The next work (01-07, which like its predecessor and many of those that follow is properly left untitled, since the time in history the works depict is a time before objects and matter had names) gives us the first clear semblance of order. The sphere-like entity is now a defined circle. Something like a solar system has begun to take shape. Star-like forms and patterns emerge. But there are areas of blackness on the edge that disturb the sense of harmony and seem to suggest infinite unknown mysteries and miseries lie outside the boundaries of perception.
The following work 01-11 presents us with chaos once again. Perhaps it is the wrath of the creator, displeased with the entity he has given life, lashing out and destroying it so he may begin again. Or perhaps the universe has achieved harmony in 01-07, and in this work Bittleston is taking a closer look at the ensuing chaos of the smaller forms that make up the whole. Both views seem prevalent if we look at the works that follow.
01-13 and 02-02 resemble amoeba-like building blocks of life viewed microscopically. These two works when taken side by side reveal the theme the artist worked so diligently on in the sixteen works preceding them: from chaos comes unity. 02-02 almost appears to be a completed puzzle from which 01-13 contains the pieces.
Dream, from 01-27, is the first work with distinctly humanlike figures, who seem to follow one and other marching in unison. It is fitting that it is Bittleston's first titled piece from 2004, and it poses quite a metaphysical question when the following is considered: it is as if these figures are dreams of the amoeba-like creatures, and if that's the case, are we all parts of the dream of humanity and unity? A dream contained in the initial germ of existence? It is a dream of many, this dream of unity and harmony, and a mere dream it will remain when those in power will always be bent on chaos and destruction.
02-08 gives us definite signs of life- flowers have sprouted atop a beautifully barren landscape. The flowers seem to struggle with the life they have been granted. They are like a family- sharing the same roots and witnessing each other grow. The eldest is bent wilting toward the ground from which it came, as the youngest must stand strong and continue to grow. The piece symbolizes a painful universal contradiction- those with whom we have grown must eventually perish, and we must persevere, yet this somehow makes us stronger and strangely more complete... the ever-mysterious will to continue through the unendurable.
Whereas 02-08 deals significantly with life, 02-13 Tornado at the State Fair contrastingly deals with destruction. Again, the theme of a spiteful creator attempting to blot out his invention resurfaces- interestingly at a state fair: a primitive form of the heretical marketplace, a hedonistic site where people gather not to worship, but to enjoy themselves.
The next three works contain Bittleston's other recurring theme: the aforementioned canal-like passage. In 02-18, it hectically blazes a swirling path through the center of an indistinguishable mass of black and milky matter. It steers clear of all that can go wrong. In 02-21 the passage takes on its most complicated form yet, as a series of passages bend, twist, and interconnect. It suggests that many paths are to be chosen from, but adds to that oft-expressed notion that all paths ultimately lead to the same destination... fate is dependent on character... where we go depends on who we are and who we are is where we are.
02-22 gives a close look at one of the passages. The shadowy figures within appear as lifeforms protected from the persisting destructive forces outside. An interesting concept of duality that is consistent with the year's previous works emerges- that of the creation needing the creator, but in due time outdoing the creator. As noted previously, an unknown spiteful creator returns throughout these works, seemingly to wipe clean that which he has constructed through acts of immense supernatural destruction. However, as evident in 02-22, and the two works preceding it, the creation manages to perpetuate its existence- through the motif of the passage, the pathway of preservation. These three works that follow Tornado at the State Fair together comprise the rebuilding efforts and struggle for survival that can and must take place after acts of unimaginable horror.
Out of all the works, 03-12 makes the most use of white on the canvas. It is a portrait of rejuvenation and rebirth- fittingly created in the weeks just before spring, when all begins to breathe life once again. Three apparitions healthily stand upright, brightly radiating life. The beings have recuperated from the tornado, and are not merely ready to live again, but fully welcome it.
03-28 presents another dual interpretation. It can appear to be an extension of 03-12, with the three pure beings stretching themselves into infinite vessels rocketing and fusing into eternity- the beings have become the passages- man is responsible for himself and his own destiny- for no other reason than he must be. It can also be read as the spiteful creator vengefully returning, showering destruction from above once again. Thus, it can be viewed in the first case as creation; in the second as destruction. Either way, it begets a baby in the next work.
Radioactive 04-04 seems to be the result of the marriage and offspring of the two interpretations comprising the duality of 03-28. A fetus with a face floats in a womb, a radioactive emblem on its chest. It is as if it is the child of the entirety of this immense body of Bittleston's 2004 work: its father the destructive creator, its mother the pathway of preservation, their duality the demon seed waiting to be born and unleashed into the world and have the world unleashed upon it. The baby represents the universal rebirth of spring: we are alive again, but we are born into a toxic blaze of existence, equally consuming and consumed by venoms, and while a fatal end is inevitable, we are blessed with the distinctly human power of the awareness of regeneration and recreating ourselves- a true symbol of spring.
04-18B, 04-22A, and 04-24C seem like explosive imaginative reworkings of intricate childhood memories of mood-mangling April weeks, with their inconsistent overcast days, exuberant bouts of sunbursts, and incoherent ramblings of rain.
04-18B contains the passage, but in its most chilling form yet. Whereas the passage had previously been a pathway of preservation from destructive forces, it now contains chaos and destruction swelling within it. Outside of it, darkness reigns, with the exception of a figure in the lower right corner. It looks like a face bellowing with laughter- perhaps the spiteful creator rejoicing over the fact that he has finally penetrated the inner workings of the passage? It is the dream of a radioactive child's guilt, as well as a realization of the end of dependence. The child learning it must fend for itself in this swell of confusion that is life.
In 04-22C, the passage has become completely submerged in black darkness. The undying epidemic that plagues all youthful souls: depression. But this work is not without optimism. The human-pathways from 03-28 appear as ancestral shafts of light and plunge themselves into the abysmal passage in a desperate attempt to fuse hope into it. It is the darkness that must be experienced before light can be appreciated.
04-24A contains a maternal figure in the shadows. Looking at one's own mother is perhaps the most comforting feeling there is. In this work, the mother's face is hidden in the darkness, and thus seems to imply independence and liberation from the womb, one's original pathway of preservation. From here on out, one is on one's own.
04-18B, 04-24C, and 04-22A are the chaos that accompany learning, witnessing evil, deciphering goodness, developing morality, fighting urges, giving into urges, conforming, rebelling, confusion, serenity, grief, madness... in a word: existing. In another word: growing.
And once one liberates oneself from childhood, one is ripe for love. In 04-25E, the pathway has aged and matured and squeezes from its insides what appears to be a heart. Love. The sole purpose of the passage: to produce the strongest concoction possible- love. It has endured much, but it has found its goal. 04-25EVF, which looks like an exact duplicate of 04-25E except for the fact that it is upside down, is a cautionary tale about love. The duplicate says: assure yourself that it is truly love- can you still recognize it when it appears differently (upside down)?
The five works that follow this recognition of love, 04-27, 05-20, 05-24, 06-19, and 06-27, explore uncharted terrains of a constantly blossoming imagination. No justice can be done in describing these. They simply must be seen and admired in awe. In each of these works Bittleston shatters the boundaries of what can be done with black and white. The Ramada series of January began it all with its mad splashes of ink that consistently took more defined forms up to the point where he is now inventing new worlds with new meanings. In the space of six months, Misha Bittleston's constantly evolving work shows how what we call a year is really a microcosm for all eternity; and what we call an eternity is a macrocosm for each individual human life. He also demonstrates that an unrelenting perseverance through chaos defines what an artist is. In this continually evolving series of work, much excitement remains to see where Bittleston will take us next.