The material world is tiring. Encumbered by the aesthetic constraints of a culture obsessed with productivity and homogeneity, this often insipid nature of being is one that drives many of us to further explore nature, art and even drugs. Psychedelic art, or (more accurately in this case) Visionary Art, seemingly encompasses all these elements. And thankfully for Cornell students, the Kava Lounge and Tea Bar is offering not only the display of Visionary Art, but an immersive art viewing experience filled with music, dance, tea and personal expression.
Tucked away under the Cornell Daily Sun’s office, this slightly inconspicuous gem of Ithaca’s nightlife is open to all ages from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Upon entering, you’re instantly immersed in a candlelit space, where lanterns and herb-filled vials dangle above a traditional wood paneled bar, frequently hosting a group of talkative kava drinkers. Should you decide to wander into the adjacent space, you’ll find a small stage to your left, a constellation of Moroccan terrace style tables and chairs in the middle, plush couches along the sides and crystals peppered throughout. Should you venture even deeper into the belly of this tea lounge, you’ll happen upon a little intimate room known as the Meditation Room, which is usually occupied and enveloped in slight mystery.
This space is part fantastical apothecary and part dive bar. Every wall is vetted in new, local Ithacan artwork that rotates on a monthly basis. And the owners, a husband and wife duo, use intuition, attention to aesthetic cohesiveness and above all an adherence to their central ethos of connection, communion and creativity to guide their curatorial decisions.
This past month, the bar area hosted the show “Tree Spirits” by Shera DElia. DElia is a personal friend of the owners and was supposed to have her work exhibited in March 2020. Her artist statement highlights the power in the stillness of trees as a backdrop to the chaotic turmoil of modern living. “Observe them in silence”, she writes, “[m]editate and commune with them. Allow their stillness and silence to bring you back into balance.”
When you look at her work, comprised of mixed-media paintings, you’ll see many representations of cylindrical, half tree-half human figures, composed through multicolored bulbous shapes and often using recurring colors like soft salmon pink, yellow and cerulean, a palette perhaps familiar to those of us who’ve watched the sunset on Libe slope. The figures are painted with thick circular lines, many invoking some symbolic elements of the feminine form; this happens to be a transcendental theme within the space, as you can see sculptures of feminine spiritual figures displayed throughout.
The next room featured an exhibition called “Elements of Magic: Celtic Mandalas” by Gaia Woolf-Nightingall, a British born visual artist, writer and organic Horticulturist. Larger in scale and complementing the large walls of the room, her work highlights the way the Elements (air, fire, water and earth) are woven together with ancient Celtic symbols to “express divine purpose and will.” Unlike DElia’s use of symbolic form, Nightingall opts for more representational depictions of the female form, which then become abstracted by large multicolored circles sprinkled across the canvas and perhaps referencing our solar system as well as Cubist surrealism.
Her artist’s statement makes the point of mentioning the place of magic and myth in her work, which can be seen through the use of colors like black and red that deviate from the earthy symbolism of DElia’s paintings while coinciding with the more intimate and arcane nature of the lounge’s backrooms. When asking a customer what the paintings invoke for them, they gravitated towards themes around the exploration of the mind. Through both these artists’ works, there is an emphasis on the subconscious realm through a visual collision between the physical form, the metaphysical form and nature.
Needless to say, there’s only so much words can do to fill in the experiential gap of seeing this art for yourself. If you’re looking for a momentary relief from the stressful sterility of modern life, then indulging in the thoughtful eccentricity of these artists and this space can be that for you.
DElia’s work can be found on her website: www.sheradelia.com or her instagram @artistshera. Nightingall’s work can be found on her website: earthelementalart.com.
Amira Olingou is a Freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].