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South Orange and Maplewood Studio Tour

Hi everyone! Please come out this Sunday June 2nd from 11am-5pm and enjoy the South Orange and Maplewood Studio Tour! With over 70 artists (including me) participating it’s going to be an awesome day!

Tour details and map: http://www.studiotoursoma.org
Tour Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/StudioTourSOMA

I’ll have my sculptures, a new series of paintings called “Holy Bones”, illuminations, etchings and a new series of abstract landscapes. There will art for sale in every price range, but no purchase necessary. (See samples of older work at the end of the post, my newer work needs photographing :)

I’ll be showing with:

Wendy Bellermann and her fabulous black and white paintings
http://www.studiotoursoma.org/artists/wendy-bellermann

and Thea Clark an amazing jeweler and artist. You will NEVER see jewelry like hers. It’s completely awesome and not to be missed.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkJpgy60olY

Maps will be available for the rest of the tour here…

I hope you will come out and enjoy a glass of wine or juice, some good conversation and some beautiful art with me!

Interview with Sybil

Below is a new video interview about the meaning behind my work. I hope you enjoy it. Blessings, Sybil

Link for email subscribers.

Windows on Heaven Contemporary Icons Artist Talk

A small excerpt from Sunday’s artist roundtable from the show Windows on Heaven: Contemporary Icons. I speak from 4:43 on how my sculptures relate to Icons and how taking Icon painting classes at the School of the Sacred Arts influences my work. (The sound is a bit off for the first minute or so but it gets better) It was an honor to be included in this show!

Link for email subscribers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dXF3j-VyVk8

St. Francis Mid-Way, a Poem

St. Francis: The Healing Nature of Wounds by Sybil Archibald St. Francis the Healing Nature of Wounds back view by Sybil Archibald
The Healing Nature of Wounds by Sybil Archibald

This is a poem I wrote last year when recovering from losing so much blood. I felt great deal of despair and I found solace and hope in the example of St. Francis. I know I’ve posted a lot about St. Francis in recent months, but I promise this will be my last post on him for at least a few more!

St. Francis, Mid-Way, Speaks

On Stigmata
As the warmth spreads softly through your hands
You cannot realize how much it will burn
For years it will burn
Brighter and dimmer in rhythm with a secret cycle
but always aflame
always searing
bringing the spirit to boil
I am the pot for a sacred recipe I will never know.

My side cries the blood-red tears of a mother for her Son.
I will never forget.

My feet produce a holy smudge as I walk
Each step is a sacred stab
Painting soil, rooting me,
My palette: blood mixed with the trod upon earth,
Earth and man are one.

On Internal Boiling
I keep these ever bleeding wounds hidden as best I can
My secret shame that I should be singled out for God’s mark.

Many times I feel I cannot bear it.
Many times I wonder if I can go on.
But I do

There are moments when the pain and anguish subside, like the brief parting of clouds during a grey winter’s day
Then I am flooded with Your Light
I forget to wonder
I forget embarrassment
There is only You
My joy

Then the clouds close and blood fills my eyes.
I am here on earth again.
And the best I can do is bask deliciously in the echo of that moment.
Putting one wounded foot in front of the other,
Trusting that the pigmented marks I leave, my sacred painting, serves a purpose.

What the Ordinary Person Says of their Wounds
I am wounded to the core and my fever burns unceasingly.
I keep these ever-aching wounds hidden as best I can
My secret shame that I should be singled out, that I am different.
Is this God’s mark?

Lord, let my expectations and my mark be one.
Grant that my unfulfilled and broken plans
Dissolve in your sacred boiling pot.
I have endured all manor of physical pain.
But nothing compares to the suffering of lost dreams.
I throw myself on your mercy.

Let this small, circumscribed life have meaning.
Dear Francis, show me the way.
- Sybil Archibald 2012

St. Francis by Sybil Archibald

On An Artist’s Responsibility to the Light

Opening to Love by Sybil Archibald Opening to Love (back view) by Sybil Archibald
Opening to Love
by Sybil Archibald

Light

Light
devoured darkness.

I was alone
inside.

Shedding
the visible dark

I
was Your target

O Lord of Caves.

by Allama Prabhu
English version by A. K. Ramanujan
Original Language Kannada

My esophagus and I have had a lovers spat. But after 3 months on a liquid diet I am happily eating solid food again. What a trying time. Some days it took more than 2 hours to drink a single cup of fluid because it simply didn’t want to go down. Each time I go through a difficult spell with my health, I know that there is divine purpose. I always come through healed in mind and soul as well as body.

Though my esophageal quarrel was extremely difficult, I made it through because of painting. Painting allowed me to connect to the deep well of creativity that regenerated me even as I felt my body slipping away. Painting became my anchor to life and each time I lifted my brush I felt I was reeling myself into safe harbor. This time made crystal clear the personal value of making art and also made clear why art is so important to the world.

Anyone who has read this blog will know I believe art and healing are deeply connected. As an artist is healed by the process of their work, that energy is captured. This energy resonates within their piece where it has the potential to heal its viewer. This is my highest goal, to create work that heals. I also think that is what art does at it’s best. Art can do other things: educate, shock, bring beauty. But all these fall aside when measured against the sacred calling to heal and transform.

This may seem a lofty goal that is not often reached but it is important to set lofty goals as Henry Moore says:

The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do.
-Henry Moore

I would change that quote slightly from something you cannot do to something it seems you cannot do. It is too easy to limit what we can do by dismissing goals as unattainable.

Art has the ability to change people on a very deep level and therefore artists have a great responsibility. Some might say they have a responsibility to themselves or to their vision, but I would disagree. Instead, artists have a responsibility to the Light / Creativity that they shepherd into the world. It is a flickering flame that must be cradled and cherished that it may heal and guide us forward.

Unfortunately, the art world and many artists have forgotten the sacred nature of their charge. Many are trapped and blinded by history’s model of the bohemian artist shocking the world. This model began in 1863 when Le déjeuner sur l’herbe by Manet was first shown, it shocked audiences by placing a nude woman with a pair of clothed men in a landscape. At that time, the strict prescriptions of the 19th century salon were stagnating art and needed to be shattered. Younger artists liberated by Manet’s courage were inspired into a sort of 19th century “Fight the Power”. Manet’s model of shock eventually led to the great movements of 20th century art like cubism and abstract expressionism.
Le déjeuner sur l’herbe by Manet
Each of these movements sought to shock the art world and bring something completely new. For example, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso, generally recognized as the first cubist painting, was incredibly controversial. At first it was considered immoral and scandalous and later revolutionary.
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso

This became the pattern for success is the art world. Shock your audience by reacting to the art currently in vogue. Be the bohemian outsider attacking the collective notions of what is acceptable in our society. And this model worked well for a long time and gave us a lot of great art. However, now, this model is failing both the art world and society as a whole.

Today, it is almost impossible to shock anyone. We have all seen countless murders and even really war causalities on TV. We are even jaded to the point of numbness.

Yet artists still doggedly cling to this notion of shocking the establishment. No longer able to shock the public at large, artists have settled for shocking the artworld with increasingly self-reflexive works that are no longer accessible or meaningful to the average person. Works that paradoxically become more and more cerebral the less they mean. Works that deconstruct and criticize what has come before and call attention to everything that is wrong in this world.

It seems to me that as a society all we can see the darkness: the murder and crime, the wars, the destruction of our environment.

When I said artist’s have a responsibility to the Light it meant it. We need to start carving a path of Light out of the darkness we are mired in. Artists have a unique opportunity to praise what is good and beautiful in the world and to point the way to healing ourselves and our earth.

I don’t mean artists need to become Pollyannas. Showing only Light is just the other side of the coin showing only darkness. We must acknowledge the darkness and transform it, hold the world’s darkness on our canvases along with it’s Light, the pain and the joy in a way that allows the release of the pain and the movement toward joy. By praising rather than complaining we add to the Light in the world, we add to a movement of healing that will in time reach a tipping pointing where darkness and Light can rebalance in a healthier way.

Where does this leave artists who deal with dark subjects? I say that if an artist is authentically engaging their own pain and not just making an intellectual statement they are healing themselves and adding to the Light. It does not do to deny the dark, day needs night, as summer needs winter. What is important is the intention of finding the path of Light for it is there for those who search. And the world so desperately needs us to search. So artists, I say, be brave, be ever so brave and enter your own darkness to find your path to Light. The world is depending on us.

With love,

Sybil

St. Francis by Sybil Archibald

The stigmata of St. Francis altar by sybil archibald
The Healing Stigmata of St. Francis Altar by Sybil Archibald

Hat City Kitchen Opening

It is important for artists to support their community so I was thrilled when I was asked to exhibit a painting in Hat City Kitchen as part of their 3rd anniversary kick-off.

Here is a picture of me and my painting:

Sybil Archibald and painting
(I’ll get a better picture of this painting up as soon as I can… But I love this one because you can’t see any of my jaw issues! )

It is my first attempt at a large abstract ever. How much fun it was and what an adventure! The greatest part of making art is the adventure. That is one reason I never plan anything. I just get to work and I’m always surprised with what I end up with. The other reason I don’t plan my work is I don’t want to control my creative output, I want to just flow through as it did with this painting.

Hat City Kitchen is part of the ValleyArts district, a newly forming knot of galleries, artist studios and interesting places to hangout. My work is featured in the ValleyArts blog about the event.

A Poem- The artist on Break

The artist on Break

Quiet and
still

A tattered glove
lays in wait

for the fiery hand of
The Artist

This is how I feel today. Some days are for working. Some days are for patiently waiting.

The Artist #1 by Sybil Archibald

On Beethoven

Beethoven by Sybil ArchibaldBeethoven by Sybil Archibald

Beethoven: Listening to God’s Heartbeat by Sybil Archibald

Sometimes I am so terribly tired of being sick, of laying in bed while other people take vacations and walks, while they go to shows and out to dinner. I feel like stone in a river while life rushes by me. I want to scream, to tear my hair out, to throw myself from a window and end this prisoner’s life. But then I think of my beautiful husband and son. I feel their deep and abiding love and I know I must soldier on. They make me remember what is good and why I am here. But there are some days I still wonder how am I supposed to go on.

That’s when I think of Beethoven. Beethoven who lost the world of sound so essential to a composer. Losing your hearing as a composer must be something like losing your sight as a painter: an unimaginable, potentially spirit killing loss. But it didn’t kill him. He endured his loss and many other ailments to produce music that is filled with Light, not clothed in the darkness of his illness. His music heals and lifts up its listeners. It surrounds, embraces, and fills us with love. But he had to transcend his pain to get there. In a letter to his brother, he wrote that his hearing loss:

… brought me to the verge of desperation, and well-nigh caused me to put an end to my life. Art! art alone deterred me. Ah! how could I possibly quit the world before bringing forth all that I felt it was my vocation to produce? And thus I spared this miserable life — so utterly miserable that any sudden change may reduce me at any moment from my best condition into the worst. It is decreed that I must now choose Patience for my guide! … This is no slight trial, and more severe on an artist than on any one else. God looks into my heart, He searches it, and knows that love for man and feelings of benevolence have their abode there! Oh! ye who may one day read this, … , and let any one similarly afflicted be consoled, by finding one like himself, who, in defiance of all the obstacles of Nature, has done all in his power to be included in the ranks of estimable artists and men. Beethoven’s Letters (1790-1826), translated by Lady Wallace, pp. 45

His art is what kept him going through all the darkness. I understand because art also keeps me going. Beethoven is an exemplar to all struggling artists. He inspires me to keep going. My sculpture, praises his great efforts and perseverance in the face of such enormous limitations. In my dark and desperate times I think, someone stayed the course and brought Light from darkness, maybe I can too.

Sometimes I wonder if Beethoven needed his illness to produce the work he did. He listened through unstoppable ear ringing blocking out the world and heard deep and true silence. In that silence, he heard God’s heartbeat and translated it for the human ear.

This accomplishment of Beethoven’s is my goal too. Art is my way of seeking the Divine. By journeying toward the source of all creativity, I hope to leave tracks for others to follow as Beethoven did. Any contact with the “Divine Artist”, touches the deep well of generative creativity that cannot help but be healing. My greatest desire is to create art that is healing for its viewers. To heal through art is a lofty goal that I may never reach, but Beethoven spurs me on in art and life. When I paint or sculpt, I find all my feelings of despair evaporate and there is only now, this present moment where everything is good and I am. Bless you Beethoven where ever you are.

—————
To see more photos and detail of Beethoven: Listening to God’s Heartbeat click here.
Beethoven by Sybil Archibald

St. Francis Broken, a Sculpture: The Healing Nature of Wounds

St. Francis by Sybil Archibald

This is the story of the sculpting, breaking and repair of my St. Francis of Assisi sculpture and how it parallels my own spiritual transformation.

———————————————————————————————————————————

St. Francis in process by Sybil Archibald Something in me responds deeply to St. Francis and his life. When I contemplate him, I immediately feel more myself because he was so completely himself. He did nothing out of obligation or appearances, only out of freely given service. When I open to him, I see who I am and my own struggles but I see them through the larger lens of love. My vision of what my own story means expands and I am healed.

Making this sculpture was a remarkable spiritual journey. Francis was the first piece I started in my Earthen Vessel Series and also the longest to come to completion. The first time I thought he was complete, he had no arms (See image to right).

At that time, I was quite ill and confined in body and spirit. I had not yet found the confidence to act in my art and fully express my vision. Hence the his lack of hands, a symbol for our ability to act in the world.

I next sculpted the Pregnant Virgin: A Creative Vessel:

The Pregnant Virgin Mary by Sybil Archibald The Pregnant Virgin Mary by Sybil Archibald

It was a liberating experience for me. As the Virgin Mary’s back is open to receive, so I opened and for the first time in many years and felt complete freedom and harmony in creating. Then when I looked back at St. Francis, I knew he needed arms though at the time I was not conscious of why.

I added arms and I also painted his pedestal. It was the first of the series to have a completed pedestal and I was so excited to see my vision fulfilled.
St. Francis by Sybil Archibald St. Francis by Sybil Archibald

Then my life changed dramatically. My family and I decided to move from Florida to the Northeast and in the tussle of the move, Francis fell over and was shattered.
The piece of St. Francis' face St. Francis broken bodySt. Francis' broken body When I saw him scattered across the floor, I was not immediately upset. My first thought was, this is me. I am scattered and broken just as Francis. On a deep level I knew that repairing this sculpture was a necessity, that it was integral to my spiritual development. Somehow I felt that once it was repaired something in me would have been repaired. So, I collected every piece like a treasure and saved them.

Several attempts to fix him shortly after the fall met with no success. Something always failed to work or got in the way. Finally in September of this last year I enrolled in a sculpture class so I could get some ideas on what to do. The teacher was able to suggest something, but almost the next day and before I could do anything, my heart went haywire. I went through 3 months of complete agony as my heart raced and danced unrhythmically in my chest. I could barely leave bed. It was this forced seclusion, like a desert sandstorm scouring the landscape clean, that left me a new more whole person. It stripped away the past and located me squarely in the here and now for the first time in my life.

Shortly after emerging from bed I began to work again. As I started painting, the flood gates opened and I knew it was time to return to Francis. This time, his shattered parts came together with ease and he was repaired.

When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.
Barbara Bloom

My sculpture is not the same as before it broke, but it is richer in meaning. I did not mend his cracks with gold like the Japanese, but I left the scars of his fall visible. This sculpture now caries a deeper message about the value of wounds in our lives. It also carries the charge of my own healing captured in the creative act of making this piece. Please forgive the terrible photos. The colors did not translate and I will get quality images taken soon but I hope they will give you an idea of his repair.

St. Francis repaired St. Francis repaired
St. Francis repaired

St. Francis rejects worldly good by Sybil Archibald The arc of this sculpture’s journey illuminates a deep truth: sometimes we must be broken because we are too small. And more importantly, that the act of breaking is an act of love because the breaking brings the possibility of true and deep healing. We are meant to be bearers of the Light but our beliefs and ways are often too small for our aspirations. Thus, we must be broken so we may be reformed as a greater more loving vessel, so we are able journey where our hearts desire.

This sculpture’s journey, also parallels St. Francis’ own life’s story. He was a nobleman with every advantage who went to war. But while away, he was imprisoned and became very ill. An early biographer, St. Bonaventure’s (1217-1274 CE) wrote in The Life of St. Francis :

Since affliction can enlighten our spiritual awareness (Isa. 28:19), the hand of the Lord came upon him (Ezech. 1:3), and the right hand of God effected a change in him (Ps. 76:11). God afflicted his body with a prolonged illness in order to prepare his soul for the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

His illness changed him. It broke him of his privileged life and when he returned to Assisi he could not continue as he had before. In the end, he stripped off his clothing in the center of town and, naked, left his wealth and family behind (See pedestal panel to the right: St. Francis Renounces Worldly Goods).

But it was his very brokenness from war and illness, a seeming tragedy, that allowed him to reform and be the amazing example of love he eventually became.

The Death of St. Francis by Sybil Archibald St. Francis Preaching to the Birds by Sybil Archibald St. Francis receives the stigmata by Sybil ArchibaldPedestal Panels: St. Francis Receives the Stigmata, St. Francis Preaches to the Birds & The Death of St. Francis

Later in his life, St. Francis received the stigmata, the sacred wound of Jesus’ crucifixion. At that time he became a physical symbol of the connection between brokenness and love. Bearing the stigmata softened him and deepened his compassion. It connected him to the Artist (my name for the divine) and to the unceasing flow of divine creativity. But at the same time it anchored him securely in the physical world and reminded him always that he had a body; that he was here to be and act in the physical world. That he bore that anchoring pain without suffering over it, is part of what made him extraordinary. For more on this see my post on St. Francis’ story of perfect joy.

Our own experiences of pain and brokenness are mirrored for us by St. Francis’ life and also by the stigmata that he bore. I planted aloe vera in his stigmata to illustrate the healing power our wounds can bring to our life. Our brokenness and wounds leave their mark but free us to become greater than we are. Making this sculpture and taking a parallel journey from brokenness to wounded wholeness has freed me. This sculpture was the key to unlocking an unconscious mental cage I was inhabiting. I am forever grateful to St. Francis and the shining example of his life.

With love, Sybil

Artist Tour & Interview

St. Teresa by Sybil Archibald
St. Teresa of Avila

Don’t Make Lists
Every day a new flower rises
from your body’s fresh soil.
Don’t go around looking
for fallen petals
in a fairy tale, when you’ve
got the golden plant
right here, now,
shooting forth in light from your eyes,
your awakening crown.

Don’t make lists,
or explore ancient accounts.
Forget everything you know
and open.
-by Dorothy Walters

For many years, I have resisted showing my artwork and being public. I know I write this blog and the world can see it, but to me it seems more like a journal or a private conversation with friends. Somehow meeting people face to face, having to explain each time that I can’t shake hands and seeing their reaction seemed too much. But now it doesn’t.

My latest heart issues, stripped all that away. Now it’s hard to imagine why I crawled into myself like that for so many years. That time was like being in a monk’s cell. A time to face down my inner demons and connect to the sacred fountain of creativity, to find my artistic voice.

But now I am leaving the monastery and stepping out by showing my Earthen Vessel Series in process at the South Orange Maplewood Studio Tour on Sunday June 3rd. I also gave and interview to Patch:

Meet the Artist Sybil Archibald

Here are the details of the Studio Tour:

The Baird Center
5 Mead Street
South Orange, NJ 07079

11am to 5pm
Sunday June 3rd

If you are in the area, I’d love to meet you.

Sybil

The Kabbalist by Sybil Archibald
The Kabbalist

Meister Eckhart by Sybil Archibald
Meister Eckhart

Gallery Opening Tonight

Heartbeat

Only mouths are we. Who sings the distant heart
which safely exists in the center of all things?
His giant heartbeat is diverted in us
into little pulses. And his giant grief
is, like his giant jubilation, far too
great for us. And so we tear ourselves away
from him time after time, remaining only
mouths. But unexpectedly and secretly
the giant heartbeat enters our being,
so that we scream —-,
and are transformed in being and in countenance.
-Rilke

I adore that poem!

I have my piece The Pregnant Virgin: Creative Vessel in this show. I hope you can see it.

The Pierro Gallery
in the Baird Center
5 Mead Street South Orange, NJ 07079

Opening: Thursday May 24th, 6pm to 8pm
Gallery Talk: Thursday, June 7th, 7pm
Regular Hours: Wednesday & Thursday 2 to 7pm, Friday & Saturday 1 to 4pm

This show is the preview for the SOMA Artist Tour on Sunday June 3. I will be displaying the completed and in process pieces from my Earthen Vessel Series at 5 Mead Street, South Orange, NJ.

The Pregnant Virgin by Sybil Archibald
The Pregnant Virgin: Creative Vessel

A Poem for Inspiration

Honeycomb

A friend just reminded me of this beautiful poem. Thanks Katherine!

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – marvelous error ! -
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I lay sleeping,
I dreamt – marvelous error! -
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
- Antonio Machado

I may just have to incorporate this image into my next painting….

Wandering the Desert

The Pregnant Virgin by Sybil Archibald The Pregnant Virgin by Sybil Archibald
The Pregnant Virgin Mary by Sybil Archibald
Click the images for closeups, more information & more work in the Earthen Vessel series.
Painted clay and wood, 2011
58″ x 16″ x 16″


My heart howled
Held me hostage
Be a t b y b ea ttttt

Heart of mine why
did you beat in absent rhythm
instead of with earth’s steady drum?

Was it God’s own secret beat?
The chaos that crumbles old form
into fertile new earth?

I was a frail and helpless cage,
rattled from my depths
by a heart singing Your secret song.

Yet in that excruciating fear
crushed into stillness by that iron grip,

I heard the silence and
found You again.
How can I be anything but grateful?

My heart beats for You
I am a shell, one empty, cracked vessel,
your quietly waiting alembic,

Please
fill me with honey
for I have had enough of pain.
-Sybil Archibald 2012

My last post, Emerging from the Desert, was a bit premature. Instead I have been wandering the desert seeking a way home. I found myself deeper in the cave these many months than ever before. Like the the Desert Fathers and Mothers who wrestled their own shadows, I was in such darkness that I must have been blinded by the Light. Again the great Artist** struck me low so that I could be raised up, my coarse clay smoothed and baked to form a stronger vessel to bear the creative light.

The past few months have been some of the scariest of my life. My last post saw me moving with happy heart to what I felt was home. However things didn’t click as expected. I was so tired doing anything wore me out. I assumed the move was responsible. As it turned out, the real cause was that half my blood was missing due to a bleeding stomach. I awoke one night and my heart was racing. My defibrillator, which once before had been a great awakener, began going off repeatedly. I ended up in the cardiac ICU and 3 bags of blood later everything began to calm down.

For 3.5 months my heart beat with strange and frightening rhythms. All I could do was lay there a prisoner from inside as chaos coursed through my body. Sometimes it lasted minutes, sometimes hours. Often it woke me up from what little sleep I managed.

Is it strange that now I find myself grateful for this traumatic time? Like every crisis before, this experience has shifted me deeply to the core. A load of unconscious pain I was carrying has vanished. Crisis throws a stark light on reality and forces you to see what you had before been blinded too. It was painful to see certain truths, especially about my family, but it is more work to cling to a false reality and try to make it real. That energy I used cling to illusion is now released and will be used for more creative purposes. I am now more able to step into present moment, where all true art is created.

During this time I was unable to do even the smallest things like cook diner or sit on the couch for an evening; making art was a complete impossibility. But now that I’m feeling better and my heart is on earth rhythm again I am chomping at the bit to get back to my work.

I intend to shift my work from the expression of suffering to the exploration of joy. In retrospect, I notice this transition was already beginning in my Earthen Vessel series. But this clear focus will be a fresh adventure for me. It’s something I never consciously conceived of before this newest brush with chaos. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, I received this in a newsletter from Rob Brezsny, who I enjoy for his unique ability to reframe issues, his creativity and his wit:

GAZING INTO THE ABYSS OF HAPPINESS

More and more creative people find they do their best work when they’re feeling healthy and secure. We know writers who no longer need to be drunk or in agony in order to shed the numbness of their daily routine and tap into the full powers of their imagination. We have filmmaker friends whose best work flows not from the depths of alienated self-doubt but rather from the heights of well-earned bliss. Singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey is the patron saint of this new breed. “When I’m contented, I’m more open to receiving a lot of inspiration,” she has testified. “I’m most creative when I feel safe and happy.”

At the Beauty and Truth Lab, we’ve retired the archetype of the tormented genius. We have zero attraction to books and movies and songs by depressed jerks whose work is celebrated but whose lives are a mess. Stories about supposedly interesting creeps don’t rouse our perverse fascination because we’ve broken our addiction to perverse fascination. When hearing about illustrious creators who brag that they feel most stimulated when they’re angry or miserable, we unleash the Official Beauty and Truth Lab Histrionic Yawn . . . .

All I can say is amen to that!

** My name for the Divine

PS For all those who reached out from my last post. I’m sorry I didn’t respond. I hope you’ll forgive me :) I look forward to connecting in the future,

Emerging from the Desert

Plotinus by Sybil Archibald
Plotinus by Sybil Archibald

Form in Void
The tree is stripped,
All color, fragrance gone,
Yet already on the bough,
Uncaring spring!
Ikkyu Sojun 15th century

Three years ago, my family and I moved from the Northeastern United States to Florida. This summer we returned to the north- a circle complete, a spiritual trial survived.

We headed south seeking warmer weather and improvement in my health. My husband’s business closed so we sold our home and moved to paradise with a smile, happy to leave the busy northern pace and the weight of our possessions. More than anything, we sought a simplified life with deeper connections to one another and less stress.

I undertook this journey with an open heart. I was happy to begin a new adventure, but was blindsided by what happened. Within a month of moving I contracted shingles on my left eye and for 3 years my health related challenges never settled down. For example, my esophagus stopped working and I had a long period where I had to be on a liquid diet. These various issues kept me pretty much in bed. Under the circumstances, I found it difficult to meet people and became removed from the flow of life around me.

My life was literally stripped of everything but my family and my art. Friends, my house, my garden, life as I knew it had evaporated and I had no ability to replace it. It was definitely not what I expected upon moving to paradise and you won’t be surprised to hear that I experienced many dark days and nights.

At the time it seemed unfair and unbearable. Now, however, I see the reason. After meditating on the early desert fathers of Christianity, it is clear why I needed to be separated from my active life. The desert fathers believed that social interaction interfered with spiritual growth. They escaped into solitude deep in the desert. In In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (Treasures of the World’s Religions), John Chryssavgis writes:

“Desert” (eremos) literally means “abandonment”; it is the term from which we derive the word “hermit”.…The desert signified death: nothing grows in the desert. Your very existence is, therefore, threatened. In the desert you will find no one and no thing. In the desert, you can only face up to yourself and to every aspect of your self, to your temptations, and to your reality. You confront your own heart, and your heart’s deepest desires, without any scapegoat, without any hiding place.…After all, you cannot hide in the desert; there is no room for lying or deceit there. Your very self is reflected in the dry desert, and you are obliged to face up to this self.…The desert is a place of spiritual revolution, not of personal retreat. It is a place of inner protest, not outward peace. It is a place of deep encounter, not of superficial escape. It is a place of repentance, not recuperation. Living in the desert does not mean living without people; it means living for God. Antony and the other desert dwellers never forgot this.

The desert fathers forced themselves to face who they truly were, to wrestle and triumph over their demons. I was not so brave. I didn’t willingly undertake the loss of everything as they did, but none the less, this is what happened. I was left with myself alone. Everything that I ran to escape, the anxieties, the pain, the loss was there to greet me.

For many years this blog charted not only my spiritual journey, but my struggle to make art. When I lived up north, the pain of making art was hard to bear. It brought up my internal struggles, grief and anger: all these years in bed while careers were made and lives lived. In Florida, after about a year of being forced to sit with all of these feelings, they began to trickle away. Even my fear of being immersed in the creative process began to melt. I finally surrendered and art became my lifeline as it was in the beginning and always should have been.

I would rest up for days and then drag myself into the studio. Gradually it happened, I began to hit my stride again. This feeling I hadn’t had in 15 years of illness began to creep over me. I was in the process of becoming the vessel I always longed to be. I felt the creativity surge through me. I felt life begin again inside.

Now that I’m back in the Northeast, I’ve left the desert and returned to the true land of paradise; here where my association to others is strong and my friends are happy to see me. My material possessions- my garden and house are gone but my connection to life is restored. I have to be grateful for the difficulties and pain I experienced in Florida, because in journeying through I found myself again. The desert ends up being a beautiful place. I have unearthed that space within that acts as a door between heaven and earth. It is an entrance for creativity to flow from the Divine into the material world. I am only one of many, many doors, but it gives me heart to go on. My job is to protect that space from the busyness of everyday life; to grow it like the garden I once had, a desert transformed.

Here are some examples of what I’m currently working on:

St. Francis of Assisi (Dimension: 55″x 18″) / The Pregnant Virgin Mary ( Dimensions: 55″x 18″ )
St. Francis by Sybil Archibald The Pregnant Virgin Mary by Sybil Archibald
Click the images for more views and closeups.
St. Teresa of Avila
St. Teresa by Sybil Archibald St. Teresa by Sybil Archibald
For more of my new work check my online gallery.

Mary Oliver, Today’s Poem Inspiration

I usually read some poetry everyday to help me enter a meditative state of mind for making artwork. Today I read this:

Mozart, for Example
All the quick notes
Mozart didn’t have time to use
before he entered the cloud boat

are falling now from the beaks
of the finches
that have gathered from the joyous summer

into the hard winter
and, like Mozart, they speak of nothing
but light and delight,

though it is true, the heavy blades of the world
are still pounding underneath.
And this is what you can do too, maybe,
if you live simply and with a lyrical heart
in the cumbered neighborhoods or even,
as Mozart sometimes managed to, in a palace,

offering tune after tune after tune,
making some hard-hearted prince
prudent and kind, just by being happy.
-Mary, from Thirst

Artists often work in isolation and sometimes it can feel like your work has no purpose or meaning. This poem makes me remember that the subtle effects of art on a viewer can be very important.