Archive for artist as vessel

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.

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

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,

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

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.

On Birthing, Artwork and Finding Joy

Christine over at Abby of the Arts (one of my favorite blogs) posted this Meister Eckhart quote last week, and I can’t stop thinking about it:

All beings
are words of God,
His music, His
art.

Sacred books we are, for the infinite camps
in our
souls.

Every act reveals God and expands His being.
I know that may be hard
to comprehend.

All creatures are doing their best
to help God in His birth
of Himself.

Enough talk for the night.
He is laboring in me;

I need to be silent
for a while,

worlds are forming
in my heart.
-Meister Eckhart

An artist needs to be silent to create, but how to find this elusive silence?

It’s clear that the Divine Creator wants me to find silence because my life in recent years has been stripped down to bare bones, the noise and chaos cleared out. Using my health as an agent, God has sent me into exile. First from work and late-night socializing, then from volunteering and now even from my friends and family. I’ve written about this before, but last year my family and I were forced to move from the northeast, south in search of warmer winters. So here I sit with a large share of the doing purged from my life, but what of silence?

I assumed that in my exile I would find nothing but space to unfold and work. Instead I found everything that the doing was designed to suppress. I found fear and anxiety, anger and sadness- a lifetime of regrets I never had time to feel. Now after years of learning to sit with these feelings, many have processed through. I am emptier than I have ever been. But still I have resistance to entering into that sacred space. Why?

It is the same reason that has always caused artists to drink and spiral into depression and fear. It’s not that life is so dark, it is that it is so beautiful and dear. I am only beginning to be able to tolerate the tiniest drop of the joy and pleasure that God offers us. An artist brushes that pleasure each time we create.

I have emptied myself to such a degree that there is no barrier left to that deep connection with my maker, that deep intimacy and joy. I find it difficult to proceed. But for me there is nothing else left, there is my connection to God which is expressed in two ways alone: my relationships to the people I interact with (most particularly my friends & family) and my creative process.

I am terrified to pick up my brush, to mold my clay. But there is nothing else for me to do. I will take baby steps and breath, just as I learned to tolerate my fear and still function, I will learn to tolerate and embrace my joy. This is what I was born for, to be one of God’s wombs. Rilke’s advice to an aspiring poet says it all:

Go into yourself. Search for that reason that bids you to write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest place of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all- ask yourself in the silent hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even in its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it. Rilke, Letters to a young Poet, Trans. Herter Norton

On The Ocean, Sculptures & Videos

Oceans
I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
And nothing
happens! Nothing…Silence…Waves…

–Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

-Juan Ramon Jimenez (Trans. Robert Bly)

Hello everyone! It’s been a while and I’ve missed you. My deep thanks to everyone who reached out to me in my absence, especially Jan & Karen.

I’ve been on a deep journey inside, a sort of excavation to make more space in my rough earth vessel for Light to enter. When I posted my picture here, it was such an overwhelming experience for me that I needed to withdraw to assimilate the massive spiritual change that act caused. I have lain silent and still, like the ocean, between waves gathering my energy, basking in the Light, in so it may rush forth again into the world.

That energy is now rushing into a series of sculptures of mystics from diverse religious traditions. I feel alive with new purpose in this work, as if I have touched something very deep within myself. Hildegard of Bingen & the pregnant Virgin Mary are complete while St. Francis is 95% of the way done and St Theresa of Avila is at about the halfway point. I plan Moses de Leon, Thomas Merton, John Muir, St. John of the Cross, Black Elk, & Meister Eckhart among others. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

Photos do these sculptures justice, so I have put together some videos. These are my first try with videos and I hope you like them! (Constructive criticism welcome…)

The second video is of the pregnant Virgin Mary. To me, she represents the ideal we can only strive to reach, the artist as a perfect vessel for Divine Creativity.

Thanks for viewing. Talk to you again soon.

My best to you.

On Icon Writing, Vessels and Sieves

Gabriel Icon, Vladislav Andrejev
Angel Gabriel by Vladislav Andrejev

During my college years, I had the great blessing of being able to study for a time at School of the Sacred Arts (SOSA) in NYC. It was an amazing place which gathered masters from many diverse spiritual traditions, teaching everything from Haiku, Tibetan butter sculpture, manuscript illumination, Russian Icon writing (painting), Tibetan Tonka painting, Indian dance, Chinese calligraphy and on and on. There were also lectures on mysticism and sacred traditions by scholars and spiritual leaders. Everything was geared to help you enter into and experience sacred mystical traditions, ground and guided by true masters. It was an amazing place which sadly closed years ago. It was here that I first met Lex Hixon, Karen Gorst (my co-author on Lapis & Gold) and studied Icon writing with Vladislav Andrejev.

Vladislav is an amazing man who radiates spirituality. I was in school at NYU and had to walk across Washington Square park to my Icon class in the old church that SOSA had taken over. I would often come upon Vladislav sitting on a bench deep in prayer in preparation for his class.

Let me put it kindly, I was not a success at Icon writing. This class was probably my first conscious, overtly spiritual struggle and my first awareness of my ego’s roll in defining my life.

To write an Icon, you have to set aside your ideas and submit to the form, following the master’s instructions entirely. At that time, this was impossible for me. Directions and me didn’t mix. I used to brag that I couldn’t even follow the directions on a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese and it was true. Not because I was unable read the instructions or understand them, but because my need to control was so profound. I couldn’t even follow the simplest instruction from someone, even written on a box, without arguing.

I wanted to write an Icon, but I want to “express myself” more. I was angry at being confined. I worked on an Angel Gabriel Icon and I was incensed that I could not alter the image at all to put my stamp on it. I was angry that I couldn’t choose my own colors for the many layers that built Gabriel’s face and clothing. It was absurd. I had big plans, but my plans interfered with my ability to write an Icon and striped me of the intimate knowledge and spiritual truths contained in that process.

In Icon writing everything has form, order and meaning. Order and form are strictly prescribed. You must travel their path to get to meaning. You can intellectually understand the meaning, but it will have no impact on your spirit without surrendering completely into the process. Only in this way will mind and spirit become one in knowledge and can you grow spiritually.

Vladislav’s class made it very clear to me that I had a problem. Through him, for the first time, I began to be aware of how ego was dominating my life. Of course, nothing shifted then. It took me twenty years and 10 days in the cardiac ICU to learn to surrender. But the awareness first came from him, through the process of Icon writing. It is an art, like manuscript illumination, which has deep spiritual effects on the artist. It demands the artist be healed through its process because it’s goals are so profound.

Icons are meant to be windows to God. They seek to remove the veils between the Divine and humanity. They are filters that allow a more pure resonance of God’s light to pour into the world. Theodore Roethke said:

Form is not regarded as a neat mould to be filled, but rather as a sieve to catch certain kinds of material.

This is a profound statement. We are not simply empty vessels to be filled with anything that comes along. We have a choice to filter and hold what is dear to us. Although we are vessels, we are active participants too.

What I didn’t understand yet in Vladislav’s class is that our only work here is opening the door for Divine Light, that some more true expression of the Self can emerge from surrendering the self, and that we are filters and windows too, walking Icons. While written Icons capture a timeless moment of peace and surrender harnessed by the spiritual surrender of the artist, we move through time. Each moment becomes a choice- what will we filter, what will we surrender? What kind of window will we build, one filled with an an opaque and dirty glass or one luminous, bridging two worlds?

Vladislav now teaches at Prosopon School of Iconology and has just released a set of instructional DVDs. Here is a short excerpt:

To see more excerpts or order the DVD go to the Prosopon School of Iconology website and click “Process” on the left sidebar. I believe after 20 years of work I may finally be ready to be a beginning Icon writer. I am ordering this video.

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

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!

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!

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…

Creation Spirituality

I just joined an interesting group, a kind of a Facebook for Creation Spirituality. Creation Spirituality is something I’ve become increasingly interested in as I explore my artistic process through this blog. I don’t agree with Matthew Fox, the founder of CS on everything, but he usually hits the nail right on the head when it comes to the creative process.

I wholeheartedly agree that art is a form of meditation and process is more important that product. It’s great that he talks about making art as entering into relationship with the Earth. It is also about entering into relationship with Spirit. The artist, consciously or not, seeks to merge Spirit and matter to create a greater whole.

Fox says the artist will have no peace until they express their creativity. I have absolutely found this to be true in my own life. I love the line “If your creativity is not busy about healthy things, it’s going to be busy about making you neurotic.” He quotes Otto Rank*, after a failed suicide attempt saying, “I must give birth everyday or die.” This is an amazing statement, but one I think is true for artists. Fox takes it a step further by telling us that everyone is an artist and everything we do can be an art if it is done with heart. If we connect to our soul and not just our minds we connect to the protective and healing properties of making art. I recently spoke about how art protects one from descent into fear. Fox understands that art is balm against many forms of disabling mental distress.

For more posts on Fox look here and here.

* Updated with name of Otto Rank. Thanks Matt!