Archive for Artists

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

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.

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!

Meinrad Craighead

Meinrad Craighead Goddess Painting
Meinrad Craighead is an amazing spiritual artist and mystic who articulates a brilliant vision of the artist’s work in this world. Here is her first mystical experience:

Years before the Goddess movement got underway, artist Meinrad Craighead first encountered “God the Mother” as a child. Lying with her dog beneath blue hydrangea bushes in her grandmother’s garden in North Little Rock, Arkansas, she had heard “a rush of water” deep within her. “I listened to the sound of the water inside and I understood; ‘this is God.’ “Thus, it is no surprise that she now lives and paints near the Rio Grande River, the watery guide she describes as the “natural, metaphysical, archetypal symbol which has ruled my life.” from Soul Sisters, The Five Sacred Qualities of a Woman’s Soul by Pythia Peay

Her first mystical connection to God was through the Earth. Artists have an implicit connection to the material world because it is our task to join matter and spirit in a work of art. Artists must have a fundamental respect for the raw stuff of matter and the Earth which supports and connects us. Craighead understand this fully. Here is how she describes the creative process:

As an artist, I’m the first to see the treasure which has never existed before. But the treasure is never for yourself. You are just the agent to receive it and bring it back.” The creative process, she says, is endlessly regenerative…. an artist is a transformer; transformation is what our work is about. It’s the work in the cauldron; you throw in anything and it all comes together as something delicious. It’s like there’s centrifugal force in us, and everything that comes in each day is spun around. Most is flung off, but the rich stuff drops right down to the bottom. You know what a compost heap is like; it seethes, makes noises, stinks, bubbles, and emits gasses. All of that is transformation. So when your imagination gets in there, it’s growing in the most incredible, rich earth. No wonder the images come out; they’ve been trapped in there. The work of the spirit is in each of us. All we’ve got to do is just do it. That is the incarnation, that is making the invisible visible.- Meinrad Craighead

It makes you want to run out and create, right? The video below is a preview of a documentary about her life. She is amazing.

I’ll only touch on a couple things that struck me because there is just too much here. I love how she describes “the Divine gaze” which holds us in existence. We exist because the Divine perceives us. How validating is that? The Divine chooses us to be filled with Creative energy, to be used us as channel to transform the material world. I am also moved by her portrayal of the feminine aspect of the Divine. There is great courage in her work. She gently expands our conception of what is possible and creates more space for the Divine in this world. In our minds, the Divine is no longer just the narrow definition of “God”, the Divine now has a “Goddess” face as well. God becomes as Tim Victor, a blogger I follow, says “Godde”. By doing so, Craighead brings more balance into the world. Her work heals and transforms our world. She is a true artist and a true partner with the Divine Artist.

The Spaciousness of Time

Rapids image source http://chestofbooks.com/
Abbey of the Artist has an amazing post on photography as a sacred practice.

We are moved when we touch the eternal and timeless. There is a sense of spaciousness in moments. Art and spiritual practice are how we find this moment of eternity, or even better, how we allow the moment to find us. There are many moments waiting for us each day, prodding at our consciousness, inviting us to abandon our carefully constructed plans and defenses.

The task of the artist is to cultivate the ability to see these eternal moments again and again. In this way, we are all invited to become artists.

It’s a beautiful and moving piece of writing. Checkout the whole post here. What struck me most was the line “There is a sense of spaciousness in moments.” The conventional notion of time always seems lacking to me. The whole “tyranny of time marching forward” must be more elastic than we are lead to believe.

Our sense of time is constricted by our lack of connection to the present moment. We live in our judgments about how things are going and what we wanted to happen instead of in what is actually is. The heaviness of our judgments create a narrow canyon for time to pass through. Just as when a river is forced to narrow it rushes by at an alarming pace, so to does time. As we release our judgments and attachments, there is more space for us to breathe and act, and more connection to what is. Time spills out like a wide, meandering river on a summer’s day.

River
Image source: Ken Corbett (Thanks!)

Making art requires us to enter this present moment and that is why it is such a gift to be an artist. We cannot get away with ignoring the present and still allow our creativity to flood the world. We are blessed with awareness and cursed by resistance.

Update: The photo above turns out the be of Ken Corbett on the St. Francis River! Not a coincidence I think…

Max Beckmann on the Artist and Danger

Max Beckmann Triptic
Max Beckmann is one of my favorite artists. I grew up a few blocks from the LA County Art Museum and there was an utterly stunning Beckmann show at some point during my childhood. Such a revelation! I sensed something in those paintings, a deep connectedness that I yearned for in my own life. As a child I felt these paintings were holding my hand leading me someplace I dearly wanted to go. Beckmann describes his work this way:

What I want to show in my work is the idea which hides itself behind so-called reality. I am seeking for the bridge which leads from the visible to the invisible, like the famous Cabbalist who once said:’If you wish to get hold of the invisible, you must penetrate as deeply as possible into the visible.” To penetrate is to go through. (p. 94)

This quote is from a wonderful book, Max Beckmann and the Self by Wendy Beckett. Another quote which struck me forcibly is:

[drawing] protects one against death and danger. (p.28)

Of course, and thankfully, there is no escape from physical death, but death by failure to live and danger are another matter. The idea that making art can protect the artist rings true to me. Certainly drawing helped be battle a fear which was over powering my life.

When an artist isn’t creating they loose their connection to the Divine and their connection to the physical word. They their life force and the resulting fear and /or depression deprive the artist of the their ability to act. For the artist, there is only a shadow life without art. Their life becomes about damming up the Divine creative wellspring instead being a channel for it to flow through. The artist loses their trust in the world, their ability to see and act for their own higher good. This ultimately drives them to make poor choices and poor choices bring danger.

If the artist does their work, they form as Beckmann puts it, a bridge, a deep connection between heaven and earth. This happens in the present moment, a mystical space which is always here for us to tap into:

O living always, always dying!
O the burials of me past and present,
O me while I stride ahead, material, visible, imperious as ever;
O me, what I was for years, now dead, (I lament not, I am content;)
O to disengage myself from those corpses of me, which I turn and
look at where I cast them,
To pass on, (O living! always living!) and leave the corpses behind.
Walt Whitman

This is the state where art is created, sacred space and in which we are connected to our true Home. A sense of trust and goodness permeates us. All is right with the world. Connection to this state allows us to make clear decisions for our own highest good. It allow us to travel uncharted paths safely and this the artist true job: to chart the uncharted. Although it may feel more dangerous actually leads us out of danger.

Beautiful Video

Joy: Shifting to Meet the Unshiftable

One day seven years ago I found myself saying to myself — I can’t live where I want to — I can’t go where I want to go–I can’t do what I want to — I can’t even say what I want to –….I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to.
-Georgia O’Keeffe

I haven’t posted this week because I’ve been feeling at a bit of a loss. I’ve finished a major cycle in my life. I have a wonderful trip coming up, but for these 2 weeks, I’m stuck in my home. Basically, I can’t go out because it’s so cold. It’s felt like a prison and I’ve been fed up like I’ve had enough. I’m turning 40 later this year and my life is nothing like what I imagined it would be.

Then I realized that I’m expecting my external world to change and make it all better. I’ve spent about 18 years of my life moving every year or two, always searching for a new situation that would make things better for me. It took illness to knock me flat on my back and stop me from running. I was forced to engage my interior world and I saw that my problems stayed the same in each move, only their faces changed. But my illness could not be changed by running, so I had to shift myself to meet it otherwise I could not have gone on with my life. I know I would have died years ago.

Now I’m back in the same place: the fact of winter, at least for now, can not be changed. I’m here with two precious weeks and all I can think of is getting away from the cold. I’ve stopped painting and writing and lost sight of the fact that this is Divine will; this time is a Divine gift. I must turn inward to mine for the gold. By shifting within myself, I can find the joy here even in what feels like a (temporary) prison.

I haven’t made any art since my operation so tonight I’m picking up my pen again. Tomorrow I’ll post a photo of my work. Who knows what it will be? See I’ve already found some adventure in my own home…. I live for adventure. It is my joy.

Work cures everything.
-Matisse

——————————————————–
A new practice: I will end each post with 3 things I am grateful for on this day:

1) My husband
2) It was a sunny day
3) I finally saw the Divine message in my situation

Matthew Fox Explains Eckhart and the Artist

With all the excitement of the holidays, I haven’t had much time to make art. I haven’t been sleeping well- a sure sign that I’ve abandoned my body for my head. I’ve been working hard on putting together my “Earth” page, which will hopefully be up by the weekend. It’s taking me so long because it is endlessly fascinating. One theme that seems to run though most of the writers, that people are disconnected from their bodies and one path to true connection with God is through connection to the Earth, creation.

It really is hard to maintain that connection between body and spirit in our culture. I grew up in LA, a soulless city if there ever was one! But LA had the ocean which I visited at least 3 or 4 times a week. I didn’t swim or play volleyball or get tanned; I just sat and stared at the ocean. The beauty of those moments would fill me and allow me to be still. Being still allowed my mind to quiet and my spirit to enter back into my body. Contemporary life is so busy. There is no time for stillness unless that time is made either by being sick or by choice. My illness has many complex spiritual reasons, but I’m sure keeping me still is no small part of it.

It took me a long time to learn to listen to the Divine. But now I understand that if I don’t do it now, the Divine will force me to do it later and it will be harder. So there is really no point in fighting. Yesterday & today I’ve made time to be still so I can reconnect my body and spirit. Oh the resistance! But when I finally was still, I felt myself come back. I felt more present and more centered. I was connected again and I felt the Divine enter into me because I made space. In that moment everything shifted for me. You cannot connect with the Divine without experiencing change. Hildegard of Bingen calls it “greening”. She says that “the word is all verdant greening, all creativity.”

This place of stillness which allows change is the same place I connect with when I create art. I discovered this amazing youtube video about this exact thing. In it, Matthew Fox explains Meister Eckhart’s views on artists:

He said a few things that really struck me:

    1) I copied this while he was speaking:

    Eckhart compares the work of the artist with the Annunciation scene. The spirit that comes over Mary and begets the Christ in Mary. He says this is the same spirit that comes over the artist and begets the Christ. So this is the Cosmic Christ being born in you. And of course it’s Eckhart who says, “What good is it if Mary gave birth to the son of God 1400 years ago and I don’t give birth to the son of God in my own person in my own work,” that’s art. What you give birth to is the Christ, or the Shekinah the wisdom, or the Buddha nature. You are giving birth to it just like Mary.

    He is basically saying by creating we are bringing the Divine more fully into the world. Fox is talking about the Macrocosm/microcosm, as above so below, when he talks about the artist giving birth to Jesus in their soul. The artist’s work is but a pale shadow of the Creator’s work, pale but significant. Just as Jesus shows us the perfection of matter, so the artist seeks to perfect matter, to infuse it with Spirit during the act of creation.

    2) Eckhart believed that sins of omission are greater that sins of pride. If you hide your joy, Eckhart says you are not spiritual…. Wow is that amazing. By hiding our joy, we dam up the fecund river of Divinity. We stop the Divine from entering the world. Artists are experts at hiding their work! Fox talks about art though out this video, but he does mean just painting. He means whatever is your joy, your job, caring for your family, hiking, etc.

    3) Fox feels that the creative nature of the Divine has been ignored in much of Christian theology, that there is too much emphasis on sin and redemption. Because we have forgotten God’s creative nature, we have lost our connection to creation itself. This is, in Fox’s opinion the cause of the destruction of our planet. (Interestingly, Fox doesn’t believe in original sin. He believes in original creativity. I’ll have a post about this interesting concept coming up.)

    4) Fox asks, “How can you know god the creator except by loving creation?” A poignant question.

    5) Jesus was an artist, a story teller.

I love most of what Fox says, but his use of the term “co-creator” makes me a little uncomfortable. As an artist, I don’t feel I am a co-creator with God exactly. Certainly I am there. I show up but I feel my job is to be present but empty so that the Divine can flow through me. The term co-creator gives the impression of control. Certainly it is true that that my work reflects me and each artist’s work bears their own distinct mark. The artist is like a filter through which the Divine stream flows. The more I am present in the act of creation, the more space there is for the Divine to fill. The less I control the creative process, the less I filter out of Divine presence.

I recently came across the artist statement of Canadian Heidi Thompson. She describes it like this:

While painting, I become immersed in the experience of the image changing, dissolving, reappearing, solidifying, then separating again. The emerging images often have characteristics which I had never imagined. I apply transparent layers of colour trying to create illusions of atmosphere – gas, liquid, smoke, dust, steam or changing surfaces of water, corrosion, ice and chemicals. Right before my eyes, the heavy solid nature of paint and paper seem to dissolve into impressions of finer substances. These finer substances then become subtler as they stimulate my sensations and provoke my imagination. The painting inspires thoughts, impressions, memories, and feelings – all finer qualities of the mind. What was once solid matter has now transformed into mind-energy. If painting is indeed such a vehicle, which can transform matter into fine substances and, then, into even subtler mind-substances, then it may be possible for the mind-experiences to transcend into something even finer – a sense of spirituality.

If I have succeeded even a small step toward my artistic goal, my paintings would show these levels of our nature – matter, energy, mind, and help the viewer feel something of his or her own spirit-soul. I know that painting aids the experience of these levels of my being. It allows me to experience how matter, energy, mind and spirit play together, guided by some invisible intelligence. And somehow, all these manifestations of existence seem to emanate from a greater intelligence – perhaps God or the Absolute. Sometimes when one of my paintings resonates a beautiful harmony and energy, I feel that a tiny part of the mystery of who I am is being unveiled and I am filled with great pleasure and love.

Healing the Earth: The Calling of the Spiritual Artist?

Earth from Space
Yesterday I spoke at length about the importance of a spiritual artist merging the physical and spiritual worlds in the act of creation. All art springs from the fecund stream of Divine creativity. I also spoke of the sacred principle “as above, so below.” This principle basically means that everything is an echo of the Divine.
Jesus IconIn the figure of Jesus, God as revealed many things, not the least that Divinity and physicality can be merged. Whether you believe in Jesus or not, the symbol is a potent one. I am not suggesting that an artist can bring full Divinity into their work, but I am suggesting that Jesus is the macrocosm and art is the paler, yet important, microcosm, the echo for integrating the physical & spiritual.

This is why the Earth becomes so important. As long as we fool ourselves into thinking that anything we do is separate from the Earth, was cannot bring God here. If artists see the ideas in their work as more important than their physical execution, God is lost. This is why, in my opinion conceptual art fails so radically.

DirtIn our society we have forgotten that everything we use is a fruit of the Earth. Perhaps it is easy to grasp that eggs come from chickens, but what of paint in tubes, plastic boots, or children’s toys? Let’s stay with the artist. How many artists know the source of their own paint? Does anyone realize that watercolor paint sticks to the page because of tree sap or that true ultramarine blue come from crushed stones? (More on this here.)

An artist must fully accept and embrace physicality. This is almost an impossibly hard task because by doing so we become confronted with the brokenness of our planet. To bring God into physicality through the act of creation is an act of healing. It is no more or less significant than any act of healing. It is only our egos which put a value judgment on it: “It’s only a painting, what can it possibly matter?” Each piece of art is but a grain of healed sand, but sand can pile up as anyone who lives near the beach can tell you. An artist must be content to labor at thier Divinely given task. To be an agent of healing requires nothing less than complete abandonment of self will and trust in the Divine steam of creativity which flows through us. As artists, we are called to heal the Earth.

My next post will be about how some mystics view of the earth and healing. In the meantime checkout these amazing posts on Earth & Spirituality:
Gartenfische (of course!)
Sound and Silence(This starts out about Halloween, but keep reading, it’s worth it)

Vijay Kumar: My Etching Teacher

Today was a great day in etching class mainly because I got so much help from my teacher Vijay Kumar. Making the plate is the easy part; printing is a whole other story. I understand it completely on an intellectual level but, as usual, my mind fools me into thinking I know what I’m doing when I really don’t. The physical is a whole different process from the mental. And I definitely haven’t even begun to master it. Vijay is an excellent teacher and a wonderful artist. See his print below.

Vijay Kumar Print

It is such a blessing to have the eyes of other artists to push you further and more deeply into the creative process. I’ve worked in isolation for a long time and my interactions with the other students in the class and with Vijay are like honey. They are moments of sweet connection which allow me deeper access to the Divine well of creativity from which all art springs.

My Annunciation

I have been inspired by so many who have shared their own mystical experiences, Hildegard of Bingen, Alex Grey, Meinrad Craighead, & Gartenfische to name a few, to share my own. I share this experience because it has everything to do with why and how I make my art and live my life.

Bernardo Daddi MadonnaIn college, I had the good fortune to study in Florence. I was inundated, saturated with the energy of the Divine which is captured in those works of art & churches. I had never experienced such intensity before. I became particularly enamored of a Madonna & Child painting in a small shrine made in a former grain market, called Orsanmichele. The building was constructed around an open-air grain market where several healings had taken place which were attributed to the Virgin Mary. I visited this painting of Mary almost everyday for months and when I returned home I continued to pray to her.

One day when I was visiting my family, I had pulled the binds down in my old room and lain down on the bed to pray. I was holding a Mary medal which I used to wear around my neck and facing my old bookcase. I prayed for a long time running my fingers across the medal’s ridged surface when suddenly felt I was being watched. I opened my eyes and there was Mary’s head suspended over my stomach (my womb). I knew I was her without doubt. She was dark skinned and mysterious, the earth mother. I gasped and heard a loud pop. Mary disappeared and at the same moment I was filled utterly with a flash of blue light.

When the flash passed, my eyes were swimming like they do when exposed to something too bright. I noticed floating in my field of vision, a short dark column. It was the same experience as staring into a light bulb and upon looking away seeing dark dots float before you. I thought it was strange, such a distinct shape. So I got up and went to where the light had seemed to come from & where the shape also seemed to be coming from in my old bookcase which I hadn’t really looked through in years. There, wedged between two larger books and pushed slightly back so it was out of sight was a small (about 4”x 2.5”) black leather New Testament with gilt edges. Its spine was the exact shape and size of the dark mark floating around in front of my eyes. I knew with complete certainty this was where Light had come from. I had had no religious training at all. The only time I had every opened this Bible was when my Dad gave it to me at least 10 years earlier. At that time, I had opened it randomly and read just St. Luke’s description of the Annunciation.
Annunciation

It took me a long time to put together the fact that I had experience an annunciation of sorts although I only painted annunciation scenes for years after that. In my paintings, I always showed Mary as experiencing incredible fear. (See my early wood cut above. Sorry for the poor quality picture!) On the day I received the Light, the blue Light of creativity, I was given the job of being a vessel for this Light to enter into the world. This is a fearful task and I wasn’t up to it. I believe that is why I have been gifted with my illness, scleroderma- to prepare me for this sacred task. Having scleroderma has cleansed me of anger, bitterness & depression. Having scleroderma has taught me to be empty and surrender, although there is still much more to learn on that front! I pray to my Source everyday that I might be able to be a true vessel for the Light. Now my depictions of annunciations are no longer filled with fear.

This blue Light within is like a baby, it needs to be nurtured and cared for, protected and fed. This is the job of artists. Perhaps some might think artists are selfish or self-centered. Really they have turned inward to nurture this Light so that it may be infused into the world.

Alex Grey

Alex Grey PaintingSo I started & finished Alex Grey’s The Mission of Art today. I was very impressed. He really understands art as a spiritual path and articulates well the mystical experience inherent is creation. In fact I have been completely converted to Grey’s work as an artist.

Islamic Illuminated PageGrey’s work is so luminous it’s almost difficult for me to look at sometimes. Strangely, I’ve always considered him as part of the school of realism. His work has that quality even though he depicts the spiritual body and in his book he often references Michelangelo as inspiration. I’m not too fond of realism although I appreciate the skill needed to do it. But I’ve misjudged. Grey’s work is more like the Islamic Illuminated borders I’ve worked on (See image on left- an authentic 18th cent. Arabic illuminated page). It embodies sacred geometry. When the mind engages with sacred geometry it is elevated and expanded in a particular way. It engages us without going through the feeling body. Much of western art is about emotion and the heart. It is a more Eastern approach to spirituality to travel to God through the Divine mind. Grey’s work engages us in a mystical experience even if our emotions miss it our spiritual body does not.

I must say I am wowed by the possibility Grey’s book & work present of healing and transforming humanity through art. This has always been my own desire and unspoken goal. I think it takes great courage to articulate such a lofty goal. I’ll have more posts coming up about this book once I’ve digested it a bit more…

Reading up on Spiritual Artists

Alex Grey paintingI’ve decided to expand my reading list. I’m never going to abandon the succor of the medieval mystics, but I just ordered a dozen books by and on modern & contemporary spiritual artists. The first to arrive is Alex Grey’s The Mission of Art. Grey is an interesting artist who charts the spiritual energies of the human body in a very technical way (see image on right). His work has value and power, but much of it seems very cerebral and controlled. I don’t believe God can be controlled so I am excited to see what he has to say. I’ll report promptly, but for now, he begins his book with this amazing quote from Beethoven:

There is no loftier mission than to approach the Godhead nearer than other people, and to disseminate the divine rays among humanity.

Beethoven’s work is so clearly suffused with the Divine. However, I’ve always questioned the metaphor of traveling nearer to the Godhead. The early Kabbalists used this idea interestingly. They meditated on the chariot of Ezekiel to make the mystical ascent to God. I guess because I suffer from over thinking this metaphor, beautiful as it is, engages my brain too much. I would rather say removing the veils or polishing the mirror to reflect the Divine more clearly. How’s that for cheek- arguing with a genius!

The Moonlight Sonata

Airport Security & the Artist

Red Pigment Powder
Red Pigment Powder

Airport security has severally cramped my artistic style. I remember the days when I commuted between LA & New York for college. I would wear my entire hat collection (15 or 16 hats mostly of a 1940’s style) at once; one piled on top of the other. I carried my raw powdered pigments in plastic baggies, all piled into a giant black garbage bag. Once when I was doing this, I guess I must have had 20 large bags of colored pigments. On this occasion, the security guard actually bothered to look into the garbage bag after it had gone through the x-ray machine. Of course, he reached in and pulled out a bag of titanium white. It looked exactly like a bag of drugs. But, I explained to him what it was, how it was used to make paints & he believed me. Maybe it was the hats that convinced him I was really an artist. Anyway, that would NEVER happen today!