Archive for February, 2010

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.

The Artist Illuminated, a Poem

Fire on Top, an Illumination (c) Sybil Archibald
Fire on Top, An Illumination by Sybil Archibald
22k gold leaf and handmade paints on animal skin parchment

Over at Abbey of the Arts, Christine is holding a poetry party. She writes:

I invite you this week to write a poem about your own invitation to enter the refiner’s fire – in alchemy lead is transformed into gold through heat and this becomes a metaphor for the human soul. What is the lead within you ready to be transformed into something treasured?

I am not normally a poet but this topic is near and dear to my heart, so I was inspired.

Over the years, I’ve made a deep study of early alchemists and their influence on medieval art techniques. The process of manuscript illumination is deeply sacred and transformative. My early embrace of these techniques allowed me to see that making art, regardless of medium, is a spiritual practice. Though I use many different mediums now, within me the spiritual crack opened by illumination continues to expand with Light.

For more on the technique and meaning of illumination, see my posts Finding the Sacred in Contemporary Art and Lapis & Gold.

The Artist Illuminated

Parchment
I trace the lines of God
on this dead skin-
a calf once, a self
prepared to be reborn.

Gilding
The red clay of Adam
laying lifeless upon skin,
desiring yet empty.

Deep within
I find it-
Divine breath,
hot, filled with life.

Exhaling,
I wake the glue which binds
body to soul,
giving form to life.

The once rough clay
is now perfected
by a blanket of gold.

With a flash the gilded clay rises up,
a wild horse running free,
as the newly golden surface
reflects living Light
back to Its
Source

Making Paint
I crush azure blue from a stone like so many grapes
All the while
emptying
my frail body of care,
surrendering concern.

Bleeding madder root in a bubbling pot,
heating iron over a fire to red.
Finding within
this lifeless squid,
its precious gift:
warm and brown
sepia stains my palms.

The Artist
Thus paint is made,
and my own skin emptied,
a self once,
prepared to be reborn.

Here in this moment I stand
an emptied vessel.

I dip my brush
and disappear.

I am the the glove
for the fiery blue Hand of the Artist
which destroys as it creates.

I have been consumed
In tender, burning flame
a shell of my former self
all ashes, all dust

which I collect and slowly
begin to grind into paint.

-Sybil Archibald

Needle and Thread

I am loving my new book Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women edited by Jane Hirshfield. It’s really amazingly beautiful. Today I was reading this poem by Pan Zhao, the only woman to hold the post of Imperial Historian during the Han Dynasty in China, and it made me think of DebraAnn my bloggy friend over at Tangled Stitch who inspires me with the beauty of her work:

Needle and Thread
Tempered, Annealed, the hard essence of autumn metals
finely forged, subtle, yet perdurable and straight,

By nature penetrating deep yet advancing by inches
to span all things yet stitch them up together,

Only needle-and thread’s delicate footsteps
are truly broad-ranging yet without beginning!

“Withdrawing elegantly” to mend a loose thread,
and restore to white silk a lamb’s-down purity…

How can those who count pennies calculate their worth?
They may carve monuments yet lack all understanding.
Pan Zhao (48-117?) Trans. Richard Mather & Rob Swigart
from Woman in Praise of the Sacred

And Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

The Healing Hand (c) Sybil Archibald
The Healing Hand (c) Sybil Archibald

On Process, Sculptures and Kindness

Alleluia-
Verse for the Virgin

Alleluia! light
burst from your untouched
womb like a flower
on the farther side
of death. The world-tree
is blossoming. Two
realms become one.
Hildegard of Bingen
(Trans. Barbara Newman from Women in Praise of the Sacred)

When I make art, I am seeking the Void or the womb of God, a place Hildegard describes so beautifully as the nexus where “two realms become one”. The last several years have brought me a much needed emptying process creating space in my life for this sacred nexus to flourish. I have been laid open and unclogged by making art. Making art cleared me and making art connects me with the Void. It is a form of deep, committed prayer.

This is the story of my opening told through my sculptures. I started as an artist sculpting in clay at the age of four, but left the medium for 20 years. Upon my return a few years back, I made very controlled sculptures like this one:

The Egg Cracks (c) Sybil Archibald

Like an egg, I was slowly cracking open- excavating a space for the Divine to enter. But as I created, I felt stuck. I didn’t feel that deep freedom which connecting to the Divine creative flow brings. I was controlling the process too much.

To loosen my grip, I began a series called the “The Act of Creation”. These pieces are about surrendering to the moment of creation without judgment. It was important for me to create without expectation of the outcome, to surrender product for process. I entered into the Void and mingled with the Divine creative energies there. Thus I acted on this clay only by instinct and stopped in the moment I felt this internal flow of creativity recede. As a vessel, I felt the creative energies within me merge into matter and I felt it as a physical sensation deep within my body. These pieces are a captured instant of the creative process made concrete and a record of, perhaps, my most intimates moments in the arms of the Artist.

Here are just a few from this series for more check here.

Act of Creation #1
Act of Creation #1 (c) Sybil Archibald

Act of Creation #1 (c) Sybil Archibald

Act of Creation #2

Act of Creation #2 (c) Sybil ArchibaldAct of Creation #2 (c) Sybil Archibald

Act of Creation #3

Act of Creation #3 (c) Sybil Archibald

Act of Creation #7

Act of Creation #7 (c) Sybil ArchibaldAct of Creation #7 (c) Sybil Archibald

Act of Creation #8

Act of Creation #8 (c) Sybil Archibald

Act of Creation #9

Act of Creation #9 (c) Sybil Archibald

Act of Creation Group Shot

Act of Creation Group (c) Sybil Archibald

Making these pieces completely opened me up. Suddenly I had ears, finally the Artist had come and gently slipped me on like a glove. My current “Mystical Vessel” series, sculptures of mystics who profoundly influenced my spiritual development, could not have happened without this experience of letting go. Here are the first three pieces from this series:

The Pregnant Virgin
The Pregnant Virgin (c) Sybil Archibald

The Pregnant Virgin (c) Sybil Archibald
For video of this sculpture check here.

Hildgard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen (c) Sybil Archibald

Hildegard of Bingen (c) Sybil Archibald
For video of this sculpture check here.

St. Francis
St. Francis (c) Sybil Archibald

St. Francis (c) Sybil Archibald
He needs arms before I make a video…

Making art in this way, deeply connected to Divine flow of creativity, is an adventure, a riotous ride into the unknown. Like a whirling dervish, I spin into hidden realms and it is sweet compensation for a body confined by illness. Which is why, despite everything I have been through, I am profoundly grateful for the infinite kindness of God.

Facebook, Connections & Boundaries

Tasting the Light

It will arrive suddenly,
when you are unaware.

It will come over you swiftly,
lightning flash
across a large surface of stone.

After everything has melted,
there will be the taste
of bronze and honeyed fruit,
burnt cinnamon,
something blue and electric in the air.
-Dorothy Walters

This poem is about the Annunciatory Light, that deep connection to the Divine that fills you in an instant and changes your whole life. With it comes untold sweetness and Light but through great pain and destruction, or perhaps deconstruction, of your life.

Not everyone wants their life torn in two by a dense flash of Divine creativity which takes years to unfold. So, there is another, gentler form of connection to the Divine found in our relationships to other people. The intimacy issues that come up with loved ones are a doorway to our relationship with the Divine.

I grew up in a house with no boundaries. So not surprisingly, setting boundaries has always been a challenge for me. My life is devoted to being a vessel for the Divine Artist, but you can’t be a vessel if you don’t have walls. You become filled with other people’s mishegas, so stopped up that your own light is obscured. It’s like throwing mud on a mirror. The mirror of the soul must be polished and protected to let Divine Light reflect into the world. We must learn to build dams for the world’s ceases flow of mud and muck.

Facebook has been a good place for me to try and learn for this. When I first joined, I did it to promote my work. Using my personal account, I placed photos in art groups, joined things willy nilly, and accepted anyone who friended me. I assumed they were good hearted and interested in my work. Probably most of them were. Some were in it, I’m sure, to bulk up their friend numbers and other who knows? But I became subjected to a constant stream of junk posts, emails, politics and mental trash that was just not healthy. This is the essence of poor boundaries. So I deleted everyone I didn’t know and started from scratch seeking out people who were meaningful to me in my life. Not everyone on my list is a close friend, but everyone has touched me a in a way that has enriched me. I created good boundaries which give me more space to be a vessel for the Divine Artist. I am seeking to make a wall that is porous enough to allow in the beauty and connection in but strong enough to keep the muck out.

I have developed really wonderful connections with people I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting in person through this blog. These connections have been incredibly meaningful to me. They are, as is every human connection, steeped in the Divine. We are so blessed to live in a time where there are so many different ways to be in relationship.

To make more connections possible, I just set up a Facebook page for my art If you are a Facebook user, I invite you to join my page. I’ll be posting links to this blog, new work, poetry and other links to interest about the connection between art & spirituality. I hope people will find me through Facebook and then travel here so that we can create a deeper connection and share with one another our experiences of our own spiritual journeys so please recommend me to your friends if you are so moved.

Many blessings.

Sybil
Facebook page for my art

Dorothy Walters, Poet

I am speechless with excitement because I just discovered that one of my favorite poets, Dorothy Walters, has her own blog: Kundalini Splendor. It is filled with beauty and wisdom just like her poetry. Walter’s work inspires and feeds me on a deep level. Take for instance this poem, which tells the story of my life:

A Cloth of Fine Gold

You may think
that first lit flame
was the ultimate blaze,
the holy fire revealed.

What do you know
of furnaces?
This is a sun that returns
again and again, refining, igniting,
pouring your spirit
through a cloth of delicate gold
until all dross is taken
and you are sweet as
clarified butter
in god/the goddess’ mouth.
Dorothy Walters

She intimately understands the relationship between Creator and creator. This next poem pinpoints my experience of my own vision of the Virgin Mary,my Annunciation, and my ensuing illness:

Preparing to Meet the Goddess
Do not think of her
unless you are prepared
to be driven to your limits,
to rush forth from yourself
like a ritual bowl overflowing
with sacramental wine.

Do not summon her image
unless you are ready to be blinded,
to stand in the flash
of a center exploding,
yourself shattering into the landscape,
wavering bits of bark and water.

Do not speak her name
until you have said good-bye
to all your familiar trinkets —
your mirrors, your bracelets,
your childhood adorations —
From now on you are nothing,
a ghost sighing at the window,
a voice singing under water.
Dorothy Walters

These poems make clear the paradox of the terrible rending of life that is at the same time a beautiful gift, like the healing wounds of the stigmata.

Our job is, like alchemists, to heal and rarify matter. We are made for that nexus point where Creator & creator merge into One. Where Spirit infuses matter, where Light penetrates dark, and where we embrace our status as scared wombs born to give birth to the Divine.

I saw Copying Beethoven this weekend. I highly recommend it as a movie that really explores the spiritual path of making art. Here is an excerpt which sums up what I have been saying here. I couldn’t find a shorter cut, but check at about the 3 minute mark where Beethoven explains the spiritual purpose behind making music:

Here is the direct link for email subscribers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PSyxwaTICs&feature=related

Blessings.

Sybil