Thoughts & Insights

Spirit Cannot Be Destroyed by Time (Erwin Schrödinger) – Some Thoughts About Entelechy and the Power of a Free-Ranging Spirit

Why would an artist with so much to offer turn his back on the allure of the art world after his highly successful first exhibition and retire to the seclusion of his studio for a long indefinite period? This is a question I am very often asked.

An intelligent man with whom I once had the occasion to hold a long conversation about OUBEY, his extraordinary life and equally extraordinary work, summed up his thoughts in a nutshell when he told me that OUBEY was an example of entelechy because he resolutely and unerringly followed his own calling. Regardless of what other people might say, he did what he held to be right and what was really important for him. He held fast to his own way and wouldn’t be distracted from it by the opinions and comments of the outside world no matter how forceful or enticing they might be. Thankfully, he refused to be seduced by a world which would have sapped and vitiated the very basic creative source and impulse by which he lived.

Aristotle coined the term entelechy for this kind of strong identity, empowered by a strong energy, focused on a clear inner destination. Not the least of the reasons why this term is no longer in common usage and indeed is now confined to scholarly publications is that the ways of thinking and acting implied in it are scarcely in high demand on today‘s vainglorious markets. The quickest most direct way to the spotlight of public attention, gaining reputation, fame and riches on the way – by whatever means possible – are elements of a career model that has certainly been seen here and there across past decades and centuries, too. Yet it’s only recently that such a stance has expanded to take on the dimensions of a mass phenomenon. The rules by which the games of the established art and media industries are played have long been conducive to such stances – indeed in some cases have directly nurtured them.

OUBEY recognized the danger of outside influences in the hour of his first success and consciously put himself beyond their reach. He is a counter-model, if you like. Not because a counter-model was what he wanted to be or become but because he was as he was. And had been like that from earliest childhood. He couldn’t be anything else. His decision to remove himself from outside influences to continue imperturbably to follow what he had to do, to paint the pictures that formed inside his head undisturbed by the mechanisms of the art business was a decision of existential importance for him. In this sense we really can see his life as a modern-day enactment of entelechy.

And now after OUBEYs untimely death, in bringing his work to the attention of a broader audience, it’s this power of a free spirit that I try to follow. Viewed from the perspective of entelechy, questions of what kind of high or low prices his paintings might fetch on the art market are completely drained of meaning. Just like questions of where and how his work might be assigned its place in the canons of art history. Because the whole point is not to give his works a material value nor their “rightful” place in art history. This would restrict them within boundaries that OUBEY strove his whole life to overcome. And it would seriously limit the potential of possibilities inherent in his work.

Perhaps the encounter OUBEYs paintings made with the Maori people in March of this year could only have come about because the OUBEY MINDKISS Project has remained just as free of and unaffected by the blandishments of a materially oriented culture industry as OUBEY himself was. In his paintings his free spirit found a form of expression in a non-verbal language that everybody who bears a trace of such a spirit within them may recognize and respond to. Naturally such companion spirits are not limited to the Maori people alone.

Yet the spirit is the central component that infuses the whole of Maori culture. In conserving and tending their original culture they feel themselves intimately connected with their “ancient ancestors” in the midst of their modern life and are acutely aware that the spirit is the only thing that endures while everything material is subject to the laws of mutability. The Maori who have seen OUBEYs original paintings have recognized this fellow spirit in them – which could lead us to think that in Aoteroa these paintings have found something like their ultimate destination. But that would be to take too limited a view.


Because time and again in very different settings and locations OUBEYs paintings have now shown that they are capable of articulating this spirit so powerfully that people from very different cultural backgrounds and value systems can also recognize and respond to it. “This picture makes me happy when I look at it” somebody wrote on one of the Tweet Sheets laid out at the Vienna stopover of the Global Tour in November last year on which visitors could jot down their thoughts and reactions. The picture in question was OUBEYs “Journey of the Monads” which he dedicated to the Monadology of Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz. At the end of his encounter with this painting in August 2010 in Geneva, Professor Alexander Deichsel, a celebrated expert on Leibniz’s theory of monads exclaimed “Monads never die!” And if someone of the caliber of Erwin Schrödinger once said that the spirit cannot be destroyed by time, the mere linkage of these three facets opens up an avenue of discovery of new and previously unsuspected possibilities in OUBEYs art.

This is why it’s only fitting that the Global Encounter Tour doesn’t terminate with this extraordinary illuminating encounter with the Maori people but continues to journey to different places in quite different regions of the world, to create further resonance, collect it and spread what OUBEY called his “joy of insight that everything is connected with everything else”.