With desire’s span He established the heavens,
as His hand coupled the tent of the planets
with loops of skill,
weaving Creation’s pavilion.
Ibn Gabirol (11C)
The work and personality of the late KEITH CRITCHLOW (16.3.33 to 8.4.20) was, and will remain, integral to the Temenos Academy, from its origin in the journal Temenos (1981-1992), throughout its history, and into the future.
Keith was one of the four founding editors of Temenos, ‘A Review Devoted to the Arts of the Imagination’: its ethos underlies the approach to education of the Temenos Academy. For over thirty years Keith served the charity variously as a trustee, a member of the Academic Board, and as President (latterly President Emeritus) of the Fellows.
In addition to his achievements as architect, author, scholar, and in his research, he will probably be best remembered by most for his unique gifts as a teacher. Keith Critchlow truly had the ability to awake wonder in his students and to enable them to see the Creation anew, with the marvelling eyes of a child.
You draw people out of where they are – as whatever is needed is always within them. That is my conviction and position. (Professor Keith Critchlow)
From Ian Skelly (and the late John Michell):
“John called Keith a revealer of neglected truths and a teacher who has inspired and transformed generations of students in all parts of the world. Yes he was a master geometer, said John, but he was more than that. Keith Critchlow was our Pythagoras of today.”
(Tribute to Keith Critchlow, Sacred Web 45)
From Paul Marchant:
“The legacy of Keith’s inspirational teaching continues to flourish into the future with profound effects on life and the environment. Not least of which his quest to appreciate the levels of universal principle as the reflection of the true aspect of all phenomena.
…The purpose of geometry is to participate, body, soul and spirit, in the objective universal laws that govern and cohere our universe. This activity can lead us directly to the centre of our own understanding which unifies us with the whole…
(Keith Critchlow: The Hidden Geometry of Flowers – Living Rhythms, Form and Number Floris Books, 2011)”
From Emma Clark:
“This was Keith’s particular quality of teaching – giving clues, opening doors, lifting the corner of a veil – so that for a moment you were transported to a completely new way of seeing, not only art but life itself and the universe as a whole. Each time you heard him, either in a lecture, or informal talk or a tutorial, the corner of that veil would be lifted a little higher and for a little longer.”
(Tribute to Keith Critchlow, Sacred Web 45)
From Daniel Docherty:
I give you the end of a golden string;
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,
Built in Jerusalem’s wall.
Chartres Labyrinth (Copper and gold on khadi paper, D.P.D., March 2021)
How many countless ‘Pattern Seekers’ have been enthused, encouraged and sent on their way, having been given the end of a ‘golden string’ through the illuminated teachings of Keith Critchlow?
I first met Keith in the mid-nineties when a small group of Brockwood Park Krishnamurti School students visited the V.I.T.A department at the then Prince of Wales’s Institute of Architecture. Keith led us through a veritable Aladdin’s cave of Artists and Alchemists at work …
We were introduced to John Martineau – aglow with recent discoveries – explaining to this group of green high-schoolers how the recent season’s crop circle mirrored the celestial rhythms and ratios of the inner planets, Venus and Mercury. We met David Cranswick precipitating various concoctions to recently retrieved medieval recipes. We were introduced to a young man at his drafting board designing a hindu stupa; another was illuminating a page of geometry and arabesque …
An array of Geometric patterns from various traditions adorned the studio walls. I can still close my eyes and feel the palpable sense of intrigue and enchantment that accompanied this first encounter with Professor Critchlow. The seeds sown that day came to fruition in the early 2000s when I spent three years studying under Keith’s auspices while a student at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts.
I feel eternal gratitude for those years, especially for the gift of being given the end of a ‘golden string’ – a living thread of love – that linked us into a vibrant and pure stream of perennial wisdom.
Through the contemplative practice of sacred geometry, Keith (and Paul Marchant, our other guide into geometrical mysteries) elucidated a direct means of participation and re-attunement into the timeless laws of the world.
Keith was always ready to remind us that above and beyond the practical aspects of geometry lay its ‘higher purpose’ which aligns his golden teachings with some mighty forebears:
Socrates speaks of its study as a means to ‘purify the eye of the soul … whose conservation is more
important than ten thousand fleshly eyes, since it is by that alone that we contemplate the
truth.‘ (Plato’s Republic Book VII)
A reiteration of this knowledge was expressed in the Islamic Tradition by the Brethren of Purity in their Rasa ‘il around the turn of the first millennium:
‘Know oh brother … that the study of sensible geometry leads to skill in all practical arts,
while the study of intelligible geometry leads to skill in the intellectual arts
because this science is one of the gates through which we move to the knowledge of the
essence of the soul, and that is the root of all knowledge.’
It is in this spirit that we continue Keith’s work – and the winding of the golden string – through regular short courses and symposia in the practice and philosophy of sacred geometry and the arts of the quadrivium at the Sacred Art of Geometry (SAOG) Studios.
It was an honour and privilege to receive so much support and encouragement from Keith with this endeavour during his final years. Long may Keith’s light continue to illumine and guide the pattern seeker’s Journey to Jerusalem!
From Simon Trethewey:
Coloured pencil drawing by Simon Trethewey, March 2021, inspired by Keith Critchlow’s ground-breaking book, Islamic Patterns, 1976
From Tom Bree:
In the past week I’ve been revisiting a Persian Islamic geometric pattern that Keith taught me nearly 20 years ago. The pattern contains a ‘bottle’ shape which in Persian is sometimes described as a ‘sormedan’.
A sormedan is a small cosmetics bottle that traditionally contained Kohl eyeliner. This type of eye make-up has an ancient history and one of the spiritual associations that it has is its capacity to ward off the ‘evil eye’. Interestingly this particular form of spiritual protection is also associated with the Hand of Fatima and the thing which both this talismanic hand and the sormedan shape have in common is their symbolic association with the number 5. The Hand of Fatima is also called a ‘Khamsa’ (Arabic for ‘five’) and has an ancient association with the planet Venus who forever plots out the cosmic coordinates of the five-fold pentagram star. The sormedan is primarily formed of pentagonal angles and also, when it is drawn, a tiny upside-down pentagram of construction lines appears in the middle of the bottle. I’ve always assumed that it was this little star that Keith was referring to when he suggested that the bottle is the soul containing the Spirit.
The very fact that I am still teaching and talking about geometry in this way 20 years after studying with Keith at V.I.T.A./The Prince’s School is testament to the profound effect that he had on his students. A geometric pattern is as grounded and mathematically rational as can be. Yet it is also a gateway that leads beyond anything that can be seen with human eyes. Keith was a gatekeeper for his great multitude of students and I am forever grateful that I was lucky enough to have been one of them.
The sormedan pattern ended up being the very first of many pieces of wood parquetry that I produced in my studies at V.I.T.A. But I no longer have it because Keith asked if we could do an art-swap. So the sormedan pattern returned back to the origin from whence it came and in return Keith gave me one of his paintings. It was a small ninefold mandala – as if to remind me of the nine heavens traversed by the soul in its return to its True Self. I did however make a very extensive parquetry piece for my V.I.T.A. degree show which contained the sormedan pattern repeated five times and in a fivefold arrangement.
Thank you Professor Keith Critchlow for being my Teacher.
Keith Critchlow, Ninefold Mandala c. 2001
From Marsha Andreola:
“I took this photo during a very special class that Keith held in August 2000, in Spirit Springs, Florida. During the Kairos Summer School Retreat that August, a few of us students enthusiastically asked if Keith might offer a class some day focused entirely on drawing. He agreed, and so Scott Olsen, the sponsor of the Kairos Retreat, set up an impromptu class a few days after the Kairos event ended. The one-day drawing class was held at a yoga retreat in Spirit Springs (a lovely retreat space in a swamp-like setting). Keith seemed to enjoy being free to simply draw, with no lectures, while we, the students, were ecstatic. When the day’s class was finished, and all of the tables and chairs were put away for the next morning’s yoga class, several of us students found ourselves lingering in the empty room, unable to leave. We were still soaking in the cosmic-angelic-electrical-inspiring energy of the day. We stayed in the room, sitting on the floor amongst our drawings, redrawing each one to remember the progression of steps. It took us about two hours to reconstruct the drawing Keith was demonstrating in this photo – “The Heart Chakra”, as he called it, a twelve-fold pattern. This photo has been sitting on my art table for over twenty years now, as it reminds me of the brilliance of the man, the profundity of the practice, and the magic of one very special day, drawing with Keith.
[NB the drawings in the photo were drawn by Keith, the 3D objects were made previously by Scott Olsen’s students.]”
From Lucie Rose Galvani:
“Keith’s book on the geometry of flowers and two buildings he designed (the Krishnamurti Centre and the Art Barn at Brockwood Park School) were an inspiration to me even before I knew who he was or that there was a school of traditional arts in London. When co-incidences lead me to discover the School of Traditional Arts, I was moved to finally find an art school which appealed to me and I decided to give it a go. I felt right at home when I started there, and I fell in love with geometry and pigments. Keith was not teaching or lecturing any more when I did my studies, yet I was lucky enough to meet him on a few occasions and I was touched by his kindness, humour and knowledge. Now I am a painter and I explore and teach geometry knowing that my life would not have taken that path without Keith’s work and the school he started, so I am forever thankful.”
Hommage a Keith Critchlow, L.R.G., 2020
As a SPECIAL TRIBUTE to our late President Emeritus on the anniversary of his passing we have added to our EXTENDED LECTURE ARCHIVE a series of audio recordings of the Temenos lectures he gave over the last 30 years. The first one is available here: Chartres (5th October 1993), dedicated to, and introduced by Dr Kathleen Raine and delivered in the presence of the Patron of the Academy, HRH the Prince of Wales.
Professor Critchlow designed the motif on the cover of Temenos 10 which was also used on the covers of the last three Temenos journals, 11-13. Click here for his explanation (taken from Temenos 10) of the symbolism underlying the geometry of the painting.
The circle is not only the perfect expression of justice – equality in all directions in a finite domain – but also the most beautiful ‘parent’ of all the polygons, both containing and underlying them … the circle has always been regarded as a symbol of eternity, without beginning and without end, just being.
Keith Critchlow, Islamic Patterns
IMAGE CREDIT (top of the page):
Chronos – Father Time by Paul Marchant, 2020