Archive for ceramics
Hi everyone! Please come out this Sunday June 2nd from 11am-5pm and enjoy the South Orange and Maplewood Studio Tour! With over 70 artists (including me) participating it’s going to be an awesome day!
I’ll have my sculptures, a new series of paintings called “Holy Bones”, illuminations, etchings and a new series of abstract landscapes. There will art for sale in every price range, but no purchase necessary. (See samples of older work at the end of the post, my newer work needs photographing 🙂
I’ll be showing with:
Wendy Bellermann and her fabulous black and white paintings
and Thea Clark an amazing jeweler and artist. You will NEVER see jewelry like hers. It’s completely awesome and not to be missed.
Maps will be available for the rest of the tour here…
I hope you will come out and enjoy a glass of wine or juice, some good conversation and some beautiful art with me!
Below is a new video interview about the meaning behind my work. I hope you enjoy it. Blessings, Sybil
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pedestal 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
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,
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,
I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
–Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?
-Juan Ramon Jimenez (Trans. Robert Bly)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
I am earth, earth
Out of my grass heart
Rises the bobwhite.
Out of my nameless weeds
His foolish worship.
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!
I finally got this one fired:
Next post from the tropics!
I got a lot done in ceramics today. I glazed the second in my series of woman cracked open like eggs and finished the sculpting on the third. It felt great. The teacher in the class asked me what my plan was. I answered her with complete honesty that I had no plan. I am letting the work flow through me. I’m working on letting go of control. I think she thought I was a bit cracked… maybe like my sculptures! (See here for the first finished piece.)
As I was leaving for the ceramics studio, everything was covered in ice. It was tremendous. Here are some pictures of my front garden:
Ice-Coated Tree Berries
Red Twig Dogwood
Joyful for no reason,
I want to see beyond this existence.
You open your lips, laughing.
I think of a design for that opening.
-Rumi (trans Coleman Barks & John Moyne)
I love that poem.
Picture of my newest sculpture in progress…
My sculpture came out of the kiln today:
my life is mirrored in
a morning Glory.
–Arakida Moritake (1473-1549, member of the Shinto priesthood)
Making art is such an adventure. Yesterday at the etching studio I thought my plates were complete but when I printed I was surprised that the images needed so much more work (see draft print below). It’s hard to know until you print, like a mystery unfolding.
Today at the ceramics studio one of my pieces was out of the kiln and ready for glazing. Once you fire your glazed piece there is very little you can do to change it. It’s scary & I’ve heard many people say they always ruin their pieces in the glazing. Glazing requires a blind leap of faith. So much can happen over which artist has no control: Dripping, interesting or unpleasant interactions of color or texture.
This illustrates one of the ways in which art is a spiritual path. In glazing, the artist must face fear. If this is done with consciousness and the intention to grow, the act of glazing is an act of spiritual transformation. By facing fear, it is released and then there is more space within the artist to hold and transmit the Light.
Today I finished the sculpting of my first cracked woman. This picture doesn’t really capture the piece well- especially the cracks. And, of course, glazing & firing will change everything.
I had an extraordinary experience finishing it. I’ve been working for years on my own, most often in complete isolation. But to do ceramics, you must have a kiln, and I don’t. So I’m taking a class at the New Jersey Center of Visual Arts. They have really nice facilities and it feels like real artist’s studios, not just suburban moms with nothing to do which is what you find a lot of out here in NJ.
So, I was finishing up and I didn’t feel quite right about how the neck was working. I asked my classmate who had great insight into what I was doing and consulted the teacher as well. My piece is significantly better than I would have been because of these conversations. I’d forgotten the magic that happens between artists. It was a very meaningful experience for me and yet another reason for me not to hide my work away. These moments of deep connection are precious in life.
Since this blog is new, this is my first experience of writing about a piece while it is in progress. My entry of a couple days ago helped me clarify my intentions with this piece in a very different way than I’m used to. I believe writing about it was akin to cleaning debris out of a pipe. My creative flow came more quickly and with increased intensity.
I’m working on a new series of sculptures: here’s a photo in process:
I’m planning to do a series of women in different poses and then crack them open like eggs. I will fill their insides with cobalt blue, mimicking in coarse material form, the Divine light of creativity. It’s going to be a lot of fun to work on.
The next sculpture is going to be a pregnant woman laying on her back….