Archive for March, 2009

Videos for email subscribers

I just noticed that videos don’t embed into the email subscriptions. Sorry everyone reading via email! I’ll make sure to include the URL’s from now on too. Yesterday’s video can be found at http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/carl_honore_praises_slowness.html

Have a wonderful day!

Here is one of my annunciation etchings:

Annunciation (c) Sybil Archibald

On Slowing to Find the Void

I needed this this week. I have been pushing like mad to complete a few computer projects and, surprise, no artwork was made. I most strenuously object to the serious term “artwork.” When you push, it does seem like work instead of the Divine play it is. So I am emptying out again, slowing down to find and embrace the void so that my creative voice can ring out again. It is but the faintest echo of the voice of the Divine Artist, but it is my succor, my peace & my purpose.

Form in Void
The tree is stripped,
All color, fragrance gone,
Yet already on the bough,
Uncaring spring!
– Ikkyu Sojun (1394 – 1481)

The Vessel

The Vessel 1 (c) Sybil Archibald

Etsy listing here.

On Clay

Clays are extraordinary, layered, crystal structures which have, built into them, what amounts almost to an innate tendency to evolve…Clay has plans.
-Lyall Watson, from An Introduction to Clay Colloid Chemistry

I started as an artist at the age of 6 in clay. The altars I built from clay I dug directly out of the earth are some of the most satisfying pieces of my career. There is an innate connection between God and earth. Clay is a meeting place, a doorway to Heaven.

I have been an avid gardener for years. I began to garden for the fragrance and color of flowers but now I garden for soil. It is easy to miss the Divine is the humble trappings of dirt. There is something about soil that is just afire with the light of God. It is the lowliest of things, we tread on it, ignore it, sweep it away, and yet it sustains us all. The soil pulses with life that we cannot or will not see. There is no more satisfying feeling than seeing what appears to be a barren, wormless plot of land transform into a teaming mecca of life.

Dirt

Working with clay gives me the same satisfaction. Clay itself is very dense, like the material word itself. It takes effort to move it and to see in it the true reflection of the Divine. And yet it is responsive. There is something in clay that wants to grow and transform and which responds to that same impulse within the artist. Clay is a partner in the creative act, not a submissive servant.

In the biblical story of the creation of man, God chooses to blow the breath of life into clay to create Adam. I have discussed this from the perspective of the gilder who must use breath, but the clay’s perspective is just as interesting.

That God chose clay to receive his direct kiss, should illuminate the central importance of Earth. By gardening or working with clay we engage the Earth. And if we empty ourselves and enter fully into the present moment something amazing happens. The artist becomes the physical vessel for Divine creative energy, holding it, that it may be translated into, fused with matter. The particular way in which an artist engages matter allows for greater concentrations of Macrocosmic energy to enter the world.

But that is not all. All matter, to a greater or lesser degree has consciousness of its Source. Clay is like a sponge that actively seeks to draw in Divine fecund energy. It and Earth itself has its own active spirituality and deep connection to God.

Contemporary theologian Thomas Berry argues this persuasively.

There is a spiritual capacity in carbon as there is a carbon component functioning in our highest spiritual experience. If some scientists consider that all this is merely a material process, then what they call matter, I call mind, soul, spirit, or consciousness. Possibly it is a question of terminology, since scientists too on occasion use terms that express awe and mystery. Most often, perhaps, they use the expression that some of the natural forms they encounter seem to be “telling them something”.- Thomas Berry, The Great Work: Our Way into the Future, Page: 25

He also says:

“Gardening is an active participation in the deepest mysteries of the universe.”

Medieval theologian St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that

All things love God. All things are united according to friendship to each other and to God.

And mystics such as Teilhard de Chardin and Hildegard of Bingen see it everywhere:

Crimson gleams of Matter, gliding imperceptibly into the
gold of Spirit, ultimately to become transformed into the
incandescence of a universe that is person- and through all of this there blows, animating it and spreading over it a fragrant balm, a zephyr of union- and of the Feminine.

The diaphany of the Divine at the heart of a glowing universe, as I have experienced it through contact with the earth- the divine radiating from depths of blazing matter.
-Teilhard de Chardin

Hildegard of Bingen says:

God’s Word is in all creation, visible and invisible. The WORD is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. All creation is awakened, called, by the resounding melody, God’s invocation of the WORD. This WORD manifests in every creature. Now this is how the spirit is in the flesh–the WORD is indivisible from God.

So let us not discount the importance of our physicality and out Earth in a reckless attempt to find a higher spirituality. Spirit is not up there, it here in every atom and molecule, every glowing and vibrant speck of dust. Let us be present and embrace the bounty God has offered us by entering into the unceasing flow of Divine Creativity on Earth. By embracing the Earth we embrace the Divine.

Eden illumination (c) Sybil Archibald

Art of the Spirit Business

Just a couple of updates:

1-I’ve opened a store on Etsy and I’ll be adding a new piece twice a day until I get it stocked up. This store is for smaller works, I’m currently revising my main art website to make it possible to purchase bigger pieces there too. This accounts for some of my slower than usual posting here. You can also subscribe to a feed of my most recent work here. (Also just started.)

2-I’m working on adding a new feature, a semi-regular interview with a spiritual artist. If you are interested in being featured or would like to do an interview of someone, please contact me.

3-For some reason, my feed seems to be double posting. So to all you reading this via rss feed, sorry for the inconvenience! I’ll get it sorted out asap.

4- Have a wonderful & blessed day!

Some via negativa poetry

I haven’t posted in a couple days, I have a number of irons in the fire and been doing a lot of art which I will share soon. But I’m thinking of you and thought you might enjoy these via negativa poems:

God is pure no-thing,
concealed in now and here:
The less you reach for him,
the more he will appear
-Angelus Silesius

If in your heart you make
a manger for his birth,
then God will once again
become a child on earth.
-Angelus Silesius

Beloved, show me the way out of this prison.
Make me needless of both worlds.
Pray erase from this mind all
that is not you.
-Abu Saeed Abil Kheir

Thank the flame for its light,
but do not forget the lampholder
standing in the shade with constancy of patience.
-Tagore (Little Birds 64)

Where is the fountain
that throws up these flowers
in a ceaseless outbreak of ecstasy?
-Tagore (Little Birds 70)

The Virgin Mary as Artist’s Exemplar

Post Updated: I’ve bumped up this post from last month because I added photos of the sculpture it inspired at the end.

This poem by Thomas Merton is, perhaps, the most beautiful and moving Mary poem I have ever read:

The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to a Window
Because my will is simple as a window
And knows no pride of original birth,
It is my life to die, like glass, by light:
Slain in the strong rays of the bridegroom sun.

Because my love is simple as a window
And knows no shame of original dust,
I longed all night, (when I was visible) for dawn my death:
When I would marry day, my Holy Spirit:
And die by transubstantiation into light.

For light, my lover, steals my life in secret.
I vanish into day, and leave no shadow
But the geometry of my cross,
Whose frame and structure are the strength
By which I die, but only to the earth,
And am uplifted to the sky my life.

When I became the substance of my lover,
(Being obedient, sinless glass)
I love all things that need my lover’s life,
And live to give my newborn Morning to your quiet rooms,
-Your rooms, that would be tombs,
Or vaults of night, and death, and terror,
Fill with the clarity of living Heaven,
Shine with the rays of God’s Jerusalem:
O shine, bright Sions!

Because I die by brightness and the Holy Spirit,
The sun rejoices in your jail, my kneeling Christian,
(Where even now you weep and grin
To learn, from my simplicity, the strength of faith).

Therefore do not be troubled at the judgments of the thunder,
Stay still and pray, still stay, my other son,
And do not fear the armies and black ramparts
Of the advancing and retreating rains:
I’ll let no lightning kill your room’s white order.

Although it is the day’s last hour,
Look with no fear:
For the torn storm lets in, at the world’s rim,
Three streaming rays as straight as Jacob’s ladder:

And you shall see the sun, my Son, my Substance,
Come to convince the world of the day’s end, and of the night,
Smile to the lovers of the day in smiles of blood;
For though my love, He’ll be their Brother,
My light – the Lamb of their Apocalypse.
Thomas Merton- 1944

Madonna del Parto (The Pregnant Virgin)I feel this poem physically. It engages my spirit, my mind and my body. I can not put words to the way this moves me.

I am devoted the Virgin Mary on many levels, but today I will talk about Mary as Womb, the physical location of creation. As pure Vessel for God’s Light, she is the ultimate exemplar for the artist. Just as Franciscan monks in the Middle Ages sought to imitate Christ as a spiritual path, so the artist must seek to emulate, in however imperfect a way, the path illuminated by Mother Mary. Merton describes her state:

“It is my life to die, like glass, by light:”

and

“When I became the substance of my lover,
(Being obedient, sinless glass)
I love all things that need my lover’s life,
And live to give my newborn Morning to your quiet rooms, “

The artist must strive to be empty, to be clear of “self”, to become wholly filled with the fecund stream of Divine Creativity. Then this endless wellspring is constantly seeking to pour through the artist so that it may be joined with matter in the act of making art. This is the artist’s sacred duty, channeling Above into below. (I written a lot about this see the “Making Art Category” of this blog for more.)

This poem also tells us that true union and emptiness come without fear. Translated for the artist: true creation, without trying control Creative energy but in partnership with it, provides a release from creation anxiety and fear. It is the process of trying to control that creates fear. The artist must become, as Merton so beautifully describes “like glass”. This is something I am beginning to know again after many years of intense creation anxiety.

Therefore do not be troubled at the judgments of the thunder,
Stay still and pray, still stay, my other son,
And do not fear the armies and black ramparts
Of the advancing and retreating rains:
I’ll let no lightning kill your room’s white order.

I am so grateful for this poem. Any poets out there, keep writing and take heart. Poems can transform lives.

This sculpture was inspired by this post and visa versa. These are photos of it in process. I’ll post more after it has been fired and glazed.
(c) Sybil Archibald The Virgin Mary as Vessel in progress

(c) Sybil Archibald The Virgin Mary as Vessel in progress

Thanks for looking!

Lapis & Gold

Lapis & Gold: Mulling Dragon's Blood Resin

I just updated the website for my book Lapis & Gold: Unlocking the Secrets of Medieval Painters and Illuminators. It’s an in depth look into medieval art technique and sacred and spiritual art practices. I hope it will help contemporary artists reclaim the power we’ve lost by relying on industrialized art supplies that pollute our environment and lack longevity. I also hope it will add to the dialogue about art as a spiritual practice. My writing partner, Karen Gorst, is a technical genius. There is so much in this book that has never been put to paper before. I’m really excited about it.

I first became interested in illumination during college when I studied at the School of the Sacred Arts at the same time as I was immersed in studying medieval mystics at NYU. It seemed like the perfect art form to me, a marriage of the mystical and material. It is through illumination that I first began to understand the sacred and healing nature of making art. For many years, I strictly adhered to illumination technique:

(c) Sybil Archibald The Binding of Isaac
The Binding of Isaac (Click image for larger view)

Now I just incorporate the techniques. I still make my own art supplies where I can but not always and I often work on paper instead of parchment. My work, however, is still true to the core values of the illumination technique: trust in process, trust in materials, and connection to the Divine. As Above, so below; the artist imitates the Divine Artist.

I haven’t written much about my book here because I’ve been on an unplanned, life-enforced break. It had to be set it aside to help my husband close down his business in 2006 and then I had my heart episode/awakening and then our big move which caused my life to unravel into the chaos from which new things are built. I have, however, talked about many of the same themes of spirituality and have touched on technique in a few posts (see Finding the Sacred in Contemporary Art).

I hope Lapis & Gold will appeal to a wide range of people. It has information for artists, art historians, spiritual seekers, conservators, medievalists and students of religion. Each chapter has technical information, ancient recipes tested and refined for contemporary use, history, and spirituality. (Click the links for chapter table of contents).

Supports: Paper and Parchment
Ink
Calligraphy
Gilding
Pigments and Pigment Making
The Pigment Almanac (A reference guide to pigments)
Paintmaking
Projects
A list of appendices

Here a sample of the types of information you will find in different chapters: the pigment chapter has detailed recipes, lightfastness & pigment interaction testing, and an in depth look at the alchemists who developed these recipes, their spiritual belief systems and how those believes manifest as you actually make each recipe; the calligraphy chapter has, among other things, directions for 3 writing styles, calligraphy as meditation, letter mysticism is the Christian, Judaic & Islamic traditions and the analysis of a medieval page to understand layout.

So now finally the time is right to begin again on the journey that is my book. The writing in finished. Lapis & Gold has ripened* on the vine & is waiting for a hungry publisher to come and pluck it. Any advice, contacts, or help you could offer would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you and bless you! Sybil

* Upon rereading this, I was amused to find that I had unconsciously used the same metaphor as medieval alchemists who sometimes referred to the metals in their chemical reactions as ripening.

The Importance of Play

I was determined not to post any more videos because the site is loading too slowly. This talk on the importance of play is too good to pass up and too spot on for what I’ve been blogging about recently (finding joy). So please enjoy and then go out and play!

New blog: Beyond Words

Karin Bartimole journal image

I have been reading this amazing blog Beyond Words. Give yourself a treat and take a look. It’s a blog of Karin Bartimole’s painted journal. The images are suffused with spirituality. I feel my heart open every time I visit that site.

Freedom in the Studio

Oh Sweet Irrational Worship
Wind and a bobwhite
And the afternoon sun.

By ceasing to question the sun
I have become light,

Bird and wind.

My leaves sing.

I am earth, earth

All these lighted things
Grow from my heart.

A tall, spare pine
Stands like the initial of my first
Name when I had one.

When I had a spirit,
When I was on fire
When this valley was
Made out of fresh air
You spoke my name
In naming Your silence:
O sweet, irrational worship!

I am earth, earth

My heart’s love
Bursts with hay and flowers.
I am a lake of blue air
In which my own appointed place
Field and valley
Stand reflected.

I am earth, earth

Out of my grass heart
Rises the bobwhite.

Out of my nameless weeds
His foolish worship.
-Thomas Merton

I had an amazing day at the studio! I was totally inspired by the video I posted yesterday. I realized that there is still a part of that edits my artwork in an effort to please people. I am sensitive to the fact that an image maybe too shocking, too unfinished, too too…. I never understood this before, and I see that I am unconsciously trying to control the way Divine Creativity flows through me.

So talking Vanessa Hildary as my exemplar, I drowned out my judging thoughts. I took other people out of the equation and just worked on a group of clay sketches. Quick and fun and totally, totally freeing. I’ll post some photos soon. I didn’t have my camera with me. I can’t tell you the last time I enjoyed myself so much!

On the Courage to be Yourself

Debra Ann over at Tangled Stitch had a recent post about accepting yourself that really got me thinking. Here she is talking about Thomas Moore’s Dark Nights of the Soul:

Well I am up to the chapter on Temporary Insanities and I think this is the chapter that best describes me at this time in my life. I have to decide whether I am willing to accept the eccentricities of myself or whether I am going to hide them. This one sentence made me cry” Without the zany persona, you might be condemned to darkness, and that would be a tragedy”. End quote first paragraph Page 259.

I got to thinking about how much I modify myself to please others and how it shuts down my creative process. Then a friend sent me the inspiring video below of Vanessa Hidary “The Hebrew Mamita”. I find that I can’t stop thinking about it. The video is a little off my main topic in subject matter (confronting prejudices), but bear with me. It’s more than just the importance of confronting prejudice. Hidary displays a radical acceptance of herself, an absolute and fearless facing of who she. And she defiantly displays it to the world. Her abandon is truly breath taking and courageous. It’s an inspiration. Watch this and imagine if you felt this way about yourself what kind of work you would allow yourself to make; what kind of nourishment you would provide the world.

The Earthen Vessel

Within this earthen vessel are bowers and groves, and within it is the Creator:
Within this vessel are the seven oceans and the unnumbered stars.
The touchstone and the jewel-appraiser are within;
And within this vessel the Eternal soundeth, and the spring wells up.
Kabir says: “Listen to me, my Friend! My beloved Lord is within.”

-Kabir

Enough said…

Pursuing Fun

I’m working on purging some of my seriousness and embracing the joyful face of creation. I found this wonderful, fun art form, artist trading cards (ATC or ACEO). I know, I know I’ve been living under a rock (or perhaps in a monastic cell!) The only rule is these card have to be 2.5″ x 3.5″. Fun right? So here are my first explorations:

ACEO Woman #1 (c) Sybil Archibald

ACEO Woman #2 (c) Sybil Archibald

ACEO Light & Dark (c) Sybil Archibald

I know, still a little serious. But I’m taking baby steps! I also think the images can be serious and still have been a joyful experience to make.

Here are some links to videos on art and play. First Matthew Fox on Otto Rank. Rank felt play was essential to the artistic process:

This one is just fun. Tim Brown talks about the relationship between creative thinking and play:

On Joy, Pain & Divine Laughter

Bernini, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa

I saw an angel close by me, on my left side in bodily form. This I am not accustomed to see unless very rarely. Though I have visions of angels frequently, yet I see them only by an intellectual vision, such as I have spoken of before. It was our Lord’s will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful – his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call Cherubim I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of his goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying. -St. Theresa of Avila

This piece of sculpture and St. Theresa’s vision had a profound effect on me when I visited Rome in my early twenties. When you see the piece, it is as if it is floating on air, the marble is to thin in places that it seem transfused with light. Both the sculpture and the vision are a paradox. The sculpture is both heavy stone and ethereal light, the vision is joy and pain captured in the same moment.

I have been wondering about pain and joy over the last several days. I’m beginning to feel I too serious. I think maybe the Divine does not expect us to be so solemn. As usual, I’m thinking about making art and about the emptiness and silence it requires, the pain and suffering it can bring up. I discussed fear and pain on numerous occasions, but never joy and I have to ask myself why.

St. Theresa’s vision shows us that pain and joy can coexist. The pain implicit in having a physical form need not stamp out the joy of our connection to the Divine. In fact, in St. Theresa’s vision, her joy is felt physically as well as spiritually. She describe pleasure, the vision is almost sexual in nature. When I discuss and think about Divine creativity, I always feel very serious and solemn. I’m sure I take myself much too seriously! I’ve been rereading Wendy Beckett’s The Mystical Now, Art and the Sacred and I came upon this quote:

If we confuse ‘the sacred’ and ‘the solemn’, we are only allowing God to come to us from one direction. (p. 34)

What if I allowed that the possibility of joy while creating is equal to the possibility of pain? What if I embrace art as play with the Divine? Could I capture the abandon of a child at play as well as the meditative silence of a monk at prayer? I think I do when I work. Making art is definitely a form of play, but my mind is more sensitized to the suffering and difficulties. Would a small shift in perception change my whole experience of creating?

In his book Coming Home: The Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions, Lex Hixon has an essay entitled The Landscape that laughs: Jewish Soul Masters of the Hassidic Way. This essay is all about the experience of joy and laughter as a direct experience of the Divine. It’s an amazing essay with so much to quote, but this passage really struck me:

Awakening to our own Divine Nature is not achieved automatically by going through certain steps in a sacred system, by prayers or meditations or rituals, no matter how sincere we may be. Ecstasy must first burn away these efforts of grasping God, leaving us with only apparent nonsense…Whatever bizarre or sublime form the holy presence may choose to assume and speak through, It redirects us to our original home, to the priceless spark of our intrinsic nature.

…Elie Wiesel writes about these stories of Rebe Nachman: “Laughter occupies an astonishingly important place in his work. Here and there, one meets a man who laughs and does nothing else. Also a landscape that laughs.” We encounter the same holy laughter in an account of kensho, or Enlightenment by a contemporary Japanese [Zen] practitioner: “At midnight I abruptly awakened. At first my mind was foggy, then suddenly that quotation flashed into my consciousness: “I came to realize clearly that Mind is no other than mountains, rivers, and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.’ …Instantaneously, like surging waves, a tremendous delight welled up in me, a veritable hurricane of delight, as I laughed loudly and wildly: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! The empty sky split in two, then opened it’s enormous mouth and began to laugh uproariously: Ha, ha, ha!'” Rebbe Nochman and this contemporary Japanese Buddhist both encounter a landscape that laughs. There is no fundamental cultural separation: ecstasy is ecstasy, fire is fire. (p. 121-122)

I have had two experiences with Divine Laughter, both around death. The first was with Lex Hixon himself. I was blessed to spend some time with him during college. Many years later I was told that he had died of cancer a number of years earlier. I was very sad and immediately said a prayer for him. Suddenly I heard him laughing and laughing with his distinctive voice as if he were in the room. There was such joy in his voice. My second experience was during the death of friends husband. I received a call from my friend that her husband had been taken to the hospital. She lived an hour away and I jumped in the car and drove to meet her. The whole way I was busy worrying and praying for her. When I was just about there, I suddenly realized I should be praying for him as well. It was as if the thought had been inserted into my head. Instantly I heard him laughing and laughing as if he were in the room. His laughter filled he car, there was such freedom and abandon in it. He suffered from severe depression so it was quite shocking to hear. When I arrived at the hospital I found that he had died at the exact time I had heard his laughter. I always felt that his laughter was a message for my friend, but now I see it was a message for me too. There is joy to be had here in this physical form.

I feel liberated, as if I am starting out on a new journey. I will keep you posted on my progress!