Opening the Mandala
I had a headshop in Greenwich Village when I first came to America in 1968. I sold tie-dyed satin scarves. In 1970, I came down from the mountain to the Rukka-Rukka ranch where Weir was living and Frankie opened the door and said “Ah, the stranger from without. Come on in.” Sonny Heard said, “You can do our speaker fronts” and Jackson said “I’ll arrange it.” I had been reading about mandalas, levels of consciousness, the deities, all the levels of creation; and I’d invented a folding technique. So i got a piece of cloth, put it all together and came up with my first tie-dyed mandala. Danny Rifkin and Roger Lewis happened to come by when I was opening it up. I didn’t know what I was going to get. I was tripping at the time. So were they. As we opened up the mandala, we began singing the Hallelujah chorus in three-part harmony, and it was just “Oh, my God…”
Courtenay opening the mandala
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VICTORIA ( FLYING ) AMINI
I met Victoria (Flying) Amini in Tehran in Persia in 1972.
I had a plane ticket to anywhere I wanted and consulted the I Ching, my oracle of choice gave me a hexagram that said ‘Gateway to the East’ in the first paragraph. “Aah! Persia, land of ceramic tiled Mandalas”. I hopped a plane to Tehran that evening from London.
We arrived at 2 am. at the airport that looked like a glorified garage. I had no visa as I didn’t think I needed one, so I was taken into the police office where they jabbered at me in Farsi while I looked on bewildered. Resplendent in my hand-made clothing with long hair and curling mustache I viewed the performance through large eyes with dilated black pupils. I must have looked like an alien to these stiff and angry Iranian police officials. Just as the energy in the room was coming to a boil a young man who resembled Bob Dylan opened the door and spoke in Farsi to the assembly of riled officials. He translated to me that we were traveling from London together and had become separated upon landing and that I was his guest in Tehran. He then said to me, “give them a few dollars for their silly visa and all would be well”. I exclaimed “Ah! Visa”, and plunked down a handful of paper money. There were smiles all around and with great flourishes they stamped my passport.
I had remembered seeing this young man on the plane because of his resemblance to Bob Dylan. His name was Farhad and he indeed did invite me to his home in the city. He explained that he had just finished a term at university in London and was back home for the break. In the morning a chauffeur-driven Mercedes limo arrived with royal penants flying. “Our ride is here,” he blithely stated. “We are to be guests at a friend of mine’s house”.
We drove through the city out to the Palace mesa where we entered the courtyard of an impressive mansion. Farhad led us up a curving marble staircase at the side of the house and entered a large apartment dominated by a vast boudoir. Ensconced on a giant four-poster bed was a diminutive man with a jagged scar that ran diagonally across his face. The two sides of the face didn’t quite line up properly, but for all that he was a handsome fellow in a Persian kind of way. It transpired that he had gone through a wall in a Lamborghini at 170 miles per hour driven by the Shah’s son in law.
He looked at me and addressed my companion.
“Ah! Farhad, you bring me american guru”. Then turning his penetrating eyes on me said, “You are my guest here for as long as you want. You have some LSD with you, yes?”. Well, I did have 1,000 hits of ‘Clear Light’ window pane LSD of 100 micrograms each sewn into a rose patch on the seat of my pants. They were my ‘Ticket to ride’ for my travels. We enjoyed an immediate rapport and after our introductions Ali looked at Farhad and said, “For Courtenay I think Victoria, yes? “. They agreed and forthwith made arrangements for Victoria and me to meet at an impromptu reception at the house.
A few days later I did indeed meet with Victoria who had also just arrived from London where she had been studying art. We saw each other across the room and it was ‘Love at first sight’. Subsequently my host Ali partnered up with Patricia, Victoria’s younger sister, and the four of us became inseparable.
Three months later we flew to Paris to see the Grateful Dead at the end of their ‘Europe 72’ tour. After the show The four of us met with the band and spent a splendid few hours partying and getting to know my Persian guests.
We travelled with them to London for the last show of the tour.
While in London Victoria and I bought a ten year old Rolls Bentley to tour Europe and go to Monte Carlo. The four of us had such prescient energy together that we won money at the casinos Eventually Victoria, now calling herself Flying, flew to San Francisco where I rented David Crosby’s old house on Indian Valley road in Novato, Marin county, California. We stayed together in our love nest for a while during which time I introduced Flying to the Marin scene. She became fast friends with Jon McIntire and Bob Weir.
She and I remained lifelong friends even when she partnered up with Weir for some years.
The Iranian revolution was responsible for the assassination of a dozen of our Persian friends that we met up with frequently during my sojourn in the East. Flying is an artist painting with oils and lives in Geneva, Switzerland.
-Courtenay Pollock, September 2015
Stratton Arts Festival
The insert photo of me in front of a Mandala was from the Stratton Fine Arts Festival in Vermont. I had just opened the Mandala that I had demonstrated making. It was 1969 and I was living by the river in a commune on 500 acres of rolling green beauty.
I had been invited to create the environment for the Stratton fine arts festival which is a highly prestigious annual event. The friends on the commune and I created giant mobiles of tie dye kites to hang from the lofty ceilings of the festival hall. I had light boxes with tie dyed panels backlit and numerous Mandalas as backdrops to the sculptures.
I made a tie dye curtain 12′ high by 80′ long for the symphony hall window with a framed and backlit large Mandala over the stage behind the orchestra. It was here that I demonstrated the making of a Mandala before the symphony event. I opened the piece right after the music was finished. That’s when this photo was taken. My work won awards for merit and high acclaim at the art show.
Shortly after that I travelled to the west coast and met up with the G.D. and was commissioned to make their speaker fronts for the stage set up. That was the beginning of my ‘Golden road to unlimited devotion’
-Courtenay Pollock, September 2015
The first commission for my work was for a meditation room in a boutique in Syracuse New York. The lady wanted a Mandala at the focus of the room with the walls and floor also in tie dye. I had the dyes prepared and the king size sheet ready to start work on when a friend came by with some ‘Sunshine’ LSD. I had no prior experience with LSD and knew nothing about it, but we all took some and I focussed on constructing the design for the Mandala.
A Mandala is a geometric figure representing the Universe in Buddhist and Hindu symbolism.
I applied my philosophy to my design interpretation of the cosmos and worked from the centre of the cloth outward to the edges. I had to make up the way to create the geometry and effect I envisioned as I proceeded.
By this time people around me were acting kind of bizarre but my concentration was total. It took me some hours to finish the folding and tying to be ready for dyeing. My dyes were hot-water aniline based dyes. I had them ready to use on the stove.
Following my vision I proceeded to apply the colors starting again at the centre and working outwards. It was a long journey through the Mandala to the final dippings. I set the dye by wrapping the piece in tin foil and baking in the oven at boiling temperature. While the dye in the Mandala was setting I rigged a stage area with lighting for the showing. Spotlights at the front and backlighting that included Christmas tree lights set in a spiral that would be revolving behind the circle of the Mandala.
By now several hours had passed and the people in the house had settled down and were anticipating the opening of the project. I started untying and rinsing in cold water under the faucet. As the cloth was opened the colors and images were revealed. There were two girls with guitars playing and singing the Hallelujah chorus. It was a magical moment.
Finally the rinsing was complete and I wrung out the cloth and went to my staging area. Until now we had only seen slivers of the piece in the rinse. I pinned one corner while everyone stood back to observe. As I walked the other top corner to pin it up the whole design dropped open and there was a collective gasp. I was careful not to look at the piece until I was several steps away and then turned to get the full effect.
OMG! It was stunning. That first ever Mandala in glorious reds, golds, purples and blues and all the colors of the rainbow was extraordinary. Nothing like it had ever been done before except in cathedral ‘Rose windows’.
The lighting enhanced the colors and the strobing Christmas tree lights created a really psychedelic light show. We were mesmerized. Only now did I relax from my focus and realized how enhanced my perceptions were. I was high as a kite. That first Mandala must have programmed me for a lifetime of creating Mandalas. Not such a bad occupation, it has provided me a wonderful life.
-Courtenay Pollock, September 2015
Photo Credits: Main photo and Flying Amini – Courtenay Pollock, Courtenay – Unknown