by Vatsala SethiSep 21, 2022
Back in 2015, Minneapolis-based artist, Neal Calvin Peterson, began creating large-scale collages of cities from around the world, capturing their fractal nature. Stitching architecture and urban elements, graffiti and sculptures alike, his street photography coalesced into a kaleidoscopic, spiritual series called ‘Urban Mandalas’, with Buddhist art as inspiration.
A mandala (Sanskrit for ‘circle’) is a cosmic, circular arrangement of patterns that in Hindu and Buddhist religions represent the universe and its impermanence. The project represents cities in the form of mandalas, to embody its urban fabric that connects all life, manmade and organic, illustrating how everything is ultimately connected. The project takes a life of its own as it meanders a familiar theme, but on a closer look, each Urban Mandala has its own intricate personality, mirroring the distinct city it portrays.
Peterson was born and raised in pre-internet, rural America, with a deep fascination for skyscrapers, which encouraged him to travel. “I took some formal photography classes in school, but most of my experience came from my own experimentation (or mistake-making). I later attended graduate school for art and design. From there, my creative process focused on combining photography within a digital, fine art context,” he shares.
The series focuses on populous cities of the world and express them as mandalas – when asked what inspired this particular collage style representation, Peterson says, “I love cities. They are modern marvels, where architecture has developed to the skies and infrastructure has burrowed underground. I chose to use photo collages to give a holistic impression of a city which is all encompassing. Often, an iconic city is represented through a singular image, usually its skyline – one of the first examples that come to mind are that of New York or Sydney. This, I feel, has reached its limit, and does not fully encompass the tone and breadth of an urban area. The circular mandala is the perfect form to signify community and interconnection”.
I view each city as a microcosm and every building or person as a part of the whole. Just as everything and every person is a part of the universal whole. All is one and one is all. – Neal Peterson
Almost philosophical and meditative in his approach, the American artist and photographer has traversed 23 cities so far, seeking those out that seem to have a layered character. Few of these have trickled into the series, from Miami to Amsterdam and Paris, where numerous photos taken in each city are layered and hemmed with precision on Photoshop to form one collage. “My travels in India back in 2012 were very inspiring and I would like to think they kickstarted the series, in specific, the architecture and art of the Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist temples there,” mentions Peterson.
In each of Peterson’s visits, he looks to capture elements that encompass the spirit or feeling of that city at that time. “I include famous buildings and sculptures, but I also look for the unique underlying character such as building materials, architectural details, and vegetation. Each mandala takes about a week to photograph and collage,” explains Peterson, who also teamed up with Amsterdam-based company Moooi to produce large-scale rugs with this series.
Hoping to capture every mega city on Earth, the ongoing series is currently on hold due to limited resources and travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. “My new goal is to create a foundation that will inspire other artists, designers, and photographers (or future artificial intelligence) to create their interpretations of cities and have fun along the way. I hope my mandalas will beautify the world by inspiring a sense of pride and community,” explains Peterson.