On October 28, 2019, the world will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Birth of the Bab, the founder of the Babi Faith and the forerunner and herald of the Baha’i Faith.
The Bab’s mission: to end the age of prophecy brought to humanity by previous messengers of God, and to act as the catalyst for a new revelation that would usher in a new age in the history of humanity. In his six-year ministry, The Bab prepared the world for the coming of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith. This coming October, millions of people all over the world will remember and commemorate the legacy and sacrifice of the Bab’s extraordinary life.
Many artists, heavily influenced by the powerful teachings of the Bab, have utilized their creative work to transmit his revolutionary message. One of those artists—Florida-based painter, writer, and lecturer Mike Solomon—creates art with a unique story to tell, all inspired by the Babi and Baha’i teachings.
Raised amongst a family of notable artists in the iconic 1960’s art world, Mike’s introduction to creative practice was incredibly unique and formative. Mike’s own father, Syd Solomon, was a notable Abstract Expressionist, with works in collections at the Whitney, Hirschhorn, and the Guggenheim museums. Both of Mike’s parents played an integral role in the formation of the Hamptons and Florida art communities, exposing him to some of the most celebrated artists, musicians and writers of the fertile post-war artistic period in America. From his early exposure to authors such as Kurt Vonnegut and feminist writer and activist Betty Friedan, to abstract expressionist Lee Krasner and Willem de Kooning, Mike became well-versed in the diverse modes of artistic expression.
It surprised no one when, at the age of 15, Mike decided to pursue art as a profession. At that same time, he discovered the Baha’i Faith through a friend. In 1979, Mike earned his Bachelor of Arts at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and in 1989 earned his Masters of Fine Arts from Hunter College in New York. Over the span of four decades, Mike’s paintings and sculptures have been exhibited in galleries and museums in various solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States, and are included in numerous public and private collections. He is also a two-time recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant, and works out of studios on Long Island and in Sarasota, Florida.
We begin this Cloud9 interview by reflecting on Mike’s journey to discovering and adopting the Baha’i Faith, and how this new belief system informed his creative practice and professional pursuits early on in his career as an artist. Mike shares the following quote from the writings of Baha’u’llah, which he first came across as a new Baha’i, and how this quote helped him find his inner orientation and provided a set of standards in his search to becoming a professional artist:
It is incumbent upon these servants to cleanse the heart, which is the wellspring of divine treasures, of every marking; turn away from imitation, which is following the traces of their forefathers; and shut the door of friendship and enmity upon all the people of the earth. – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, newly translated version, in The Call of the Divine Beloved, pp. 15-16.
The writings of Baha’u’llah, and how they reflect role of artists in society and influence their practice, have always inspired Mike. He shares how a book titled Gate of the Heart by Nader Saiedi opened his eyes to the writings of the Bab, and exposed him to the Bab’s revolutionary and impactful teachings.
We begin our reflection by exploring the Bab’s approach to language—which reflects the names and attributes of God—in turn impacting the way we see the world, as a manifestation of God’s creation. Mike shares how this perspective relates to his own practice as an artist, and provides a gateway to connecting all that we see to the Creator, in essence using the artistic faculty to help spiritualize the world.
We continue our conversation by exploring the Bab’s teachings surrounding the concept of intentionality, where we perform our actions for the sake of God. Mike shares how the following quote from the Bab ensures that his daily practice as an artist is for God alone:
Verily, I do this for God, the Lord of the heavens and earth, the Lord of all that is seen and unseen, the Lord of creation – The Bab, The Bayan, as found in Nader Saiedi’s Gate of the Heart: Understanding the Writings of the Bab, p. 312.
Mike also discusses another teaching of the Bab, which pertains to one’s pursuit of perfection. The Bab teaches that striving for perfection is a moral duty. Mike talks about the implications of the following quote, and reviews the moral responsibility that artists have to bring their subjects and materials to the highest level of refinement and perfection—or, as the Bab says, “paradise:”
Whoever possesseth power over anything must elevate it to its uttermost perfection that it not be deprived of its own paradise. For example, the paradise of a sheet of paper on which a few excellent lines are inscribed is that it be refined with patterns of gold illumination, adornment, and excellence that are customary for the most exalted parchment scrolls. Then the possessor of that paper hath elevated it to its utmost degree of glory. Should he know of a higher degree of refinement and fail to manifest it upon that paper, he would deprive it of its paradise, and he would be held accountable, for why hast thou, despite the possession of the means, withheld the effusion of grace and favour? – Persian Bayan, Vahid 5, chapter 12, adapted from the translation of E.G. Browne in Moojan Momen’s Selections from the Writings of E.G. Browne, pp. 369- 70.
We conclude the interview by exploring in detail the Bab’s emphasis on the faculty of the heart as a means for true inspiration:
No one can recognize the truth of the Middle Way between the two extreme poles except after attaining unto the gate of the heart and beholding the realities of the worlds, visible and unseen. – The Bab, The Bayan, as found in Nader Saiedi’s Gate of the Heart: Understanding the Writings of the Bab, p.177
Through this interview listeners will learn about the incredible revelation of the Bab, and how it pertains to our everyday lives, particularly regarding the role and responsibility of artists in society.
On October 28, 2019, Baha’i’s around the world will celebrate the auspicious 200th anniversary of the Birth of the Bab! If you’d like to be part of the celebrations this coming October, you’re invited—please connect with your local Baha’i community.
Mike Solomon headshot photo by Michael Halsband.