Archive for Sculpture
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
This is a poem I wrote last year when recovering from losing so much blood. I felt great deal of despair and I found solace and hope in the example of St. Francis. I know I’ve posted a lot about St. Francis in recent months, but I promise this will be my last post on him for at least a few more!
St. Francis, Mid-Way, Speaks
As the warmth spreads softly through your hands
You cannot realize how much it will burn
For years it will burn
Brighter and dimmer in rhythm with a secret cycle
but always aflame
bringing the spirit to boil
I am the pot for a sacred recipe I will never know.
My side cries the blood-red tears of a mother for her Son.
I will never forget.
My feet produce a holy smudge as I walk
Each step is a sacred stab
Painting soil, rooting me,
My palette: blood mixed with the trod upon earth,
Earth and man are one.
On Internal Boiling
I keep these ever bleeding wounds hidden as best I can
My secret shame that I should be singled out for God’s mark.
Many times I feel I cannot bear it.
Many times I wonder if I can go on.
But I do
There are moments when the pain and anguish subside, like the brief parting of clouds during a grey winter’s day
Then I am flooded with Your Light
I forget to wonder
I forget embarrassment
There is only You
Then the clouds close and blood fills my eyes.
I am here on earth again.
And the best I can do is bask deliciously in the echo of that moment.
Putting one wounded foot in front of the other,
Trusting that the pigmented marks I leave, my sacred painting, serves a purpose.
What the Ordinary Person Says of their Wounds
I am wounded to the core and my fever burns unceasingly.
I keep these ever-aching wounds hidden as best I can
My secret shame that I should be singled out, that I am different.
Is this God’s mark?
Lord, let my expectations and my mark be one.
Grant that my unfulfilled and broken plans
Dissolve in your sacred boiling pot.
I have endured all manor of physical pain.
But nothing compares to the suffering of lost dreams.
I throw myself on your mercy.
Let this small, circumscribed life have meaning.
Dear Francis, show me the way.
– Sybil Archibald 2012
Opening to Love by Sybil Archibald
I was alone
the visible dark
was Your target
O Lord of Caves.
by Allama Prabhu
English version by A. K. Ramanujan
Original Language Kannada
My esophagus and I have had a lovers spat. But after 3 months on a liquid diet I am happily eating solid food again. What a trying time. Some days it took more than 2 hours to drink a single cup of fluid because it simply didn’t want to go down. Each time I go through a difficult spell with my health, I know that there is divine purpose. I always come through healed in mind and soul as well as body.
Though my esophageal quarrel was extremely difficult, I made it through because of painting. Painting allowed me to connect to the deep well of creativity that regenerated me even as I felt my body slipping away. Painting became my anchor to life and each time I lifted my brush I felt I was reeling myself into safe harbor. This time made crystal clear the personal value of making art and also made clear why art is so important to the world.
Anyone who has read this blog will know I believe art and healing are deeply connected. As an artist is healed by the process of their work, that energy is captured. This energy resonates within their piece where it has the potential to heal its viewer. This is my highest goal, to create work that heals. I also think that is what art does at it’s best. Art can do other things: educate, shock, bring beauty. But all these fall aside when measured against the sacred calling to heal and transform.
This may seem a lofty goal that is not often reached but it is important to set lofty goals as Henry Moore says:
The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do.
I would change that quote slightly from something you cannot do to something it seems you cannot do. It is too easy to limit what we can do by dismissing goals as unattainable.
Art has the ability to change people on a very deep level and therefore artists have a great responsibility. Some might say they have a responsibility to themselves or to their vision, but I would disagree. Instead, artists have a responsibility to the Light / Creativity that they shepherd into the world. It is a flickering flame that must be cradled and cherished that it may heal and guide us forward.
Unfortunately, the art world and many artists have forgotten the sacred nature of their charge. Many are trapped and blinded by history’s model of the bohemian artist shocking the world. This model began in 1863 when Le déjeuner sur l’herbe by Manet was first shown, it shocked audiences by placing a nude woman with a pair of clothed men in a landscape. At that time, the strict prescriptions of the 19th century salon were stagnating art and needed to be shattered. Younger artists liberated by Manet’s courage were inspired into a sort of 19th century “Fight the Power”. Manet’s model of shock eventually led to the great movements of 20th century art like cubism and abstract expressionism.
Le déjeuner sur l’herbe by Manet
Each of these movements sought to shock the art world and bring something completely new. For example, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso, generally recognized as the first cubist painting, was incredibly controversial. At first it was considered immoral and scandalous and later revolutionary.
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso
This became the pattern for success is the art world. Shock your audience by reacting to the art currently in vogue. Be the bohemian outsider attacking the collective notions of what is acceptable in our society. And this model worked well for a long time and gave us a lot of great art. However, now, this model is failing both the art world and society as a whole.
Today, it is almost impossible to shock anyone. We have all seen countless murders and even really war causalities on TV. We are even jaded to the point of numbness.
Yet artists still doggedly cling to this notion of shocking the establishment. No longer able to shock the public at large, artists have settled for shocking the artworld with increasingly self-reflexive works that are no longer accessible or meaningful to the average person. Works that paradoxically become more and more cerebral the less they mean. Works that deconstruct and criticize what has come before and call attention to everything that is wrong in this world.
It seems to me that as a society all we can see the darkness: the murder and crime, the wars, the destruction of our environment.
When I said artist’s have a responsibility to the Light it meant it. We need to start carving a path of Light out of the darkness we are mired in. Artists have a unique opportunity to praise what is good and beautiful in the world and to point the way to healing ourselves and our earth.
I don’t mean artists need to become Pollyannas. Showing only Light is just the other side of the coin showing only darkness. We must acknowledge the darkness and transform it, hold the world’s darkness on our canvases along with it’s Light, the pain and the joy in a way that allows the release of the pain and the movement toward joy. By praising rather than complaining we add to the Light in the world, we add to a movement of healing that will in time reach a tipping pointing where darkness and Light can rebalance in a healthier way.
Where does this leave artists who deal with dark subjects? I say that if an artist is authentically engaging their own pain and not just making an intellectual statement they are healing themselves and adding to the Light. It does not do to deny the dark, day needs night, as summer needs winter. What is important is the intention of finding the path of Light for it is there for those who search. And the world so desperately needs us to search. So artists, I say, be brave, be ever so brave and enter your own darkness to find your path to Light. The world is depending on us.
The Healing Stigmata of St. Francis Altar 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.
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
Don’t Make Lists
Every day a new flower rises
from your body’s fresh soil.
Don’t go around looking
for fallen petals
in a fairy tale, when you’ve
got the golden plant
right here, now,
shooting forth in light from your eyes,
your awakening crown.
Don’t make lists,
or explore ancient accounts.
Forget everything you know
-by Dorothy Walters
For many years, I have resisted showing my artwork and being public. I know I write this blog and the world can see it, but to me it seems more like a journal or a private conversation with friends. Somehow meeting people face to face, having to explain each time that I can’t shake hands and seeing their reaction seemed too much. But now it doesn’t.
My latest heart issues, stripped all that away. Now it’s hard to imagine why I crawled into myself like that for so many years. That time was like being in a monk’s cell. A time to face down my inner demons and connect to the sacred fountain of creativity, to find my artistic voice.
But now I am leaving the monastery and stepping out by showing my Earthen Vessel Series in process at the South Orange Maplewood Studio Tour on Sunday June 3rd. I also gave and interview to Patch:
Here are the details of the Studio Tour:
The Baird Center
5 Mead Street
South Orange, NJ 07079
11am to 5pm
Sunday June 3rd
If you are in the area, I’d love to meet you.
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,
Form in Void
The tree is stripped,
All color, fragrance gone,
Yet already on the bough,
Ikkyu Sojun 15th century
Three years ago, my family and I moved from the Northeastern United States to Florida. This summer we returned to the north- a circle complete, a spiritual trial survived.
We headed south seeking warmer weather and improvement in my health. My husband’s business closed so we sold our home and moved to paradise with a smile, happy to leave the busy northern pace and the weight of our possessions. More than anything, we sought a simplified life with deeper connections to one another and less stress.
I undertook this journey with an open heart. I was happy to begin a new adventure, but was blindsided by what happened. Within a month of moving I contracted shingles on my left eye and for 3 years my health related challenges never settled down. For example, my esophagus stopped working and I had a long period where I had to be on a liquid diet. These various issues kept me pretty much in bed. Under the circumstances, I found it difficult to meet people and became removed from the flow of life around me.
My life was literally stripped of everything but my family and my art. Friends, my house, my garden, life as I knew it had evaporated and I had no ability to replace it. It was definitely not what I expected upon moving to paradise and you won’t be surprised to hear that I experienced many dark days and nights.
At the time it seemed unfair and unbearable. Now, however, I see the reason. After meditating on the early desert fathers of Christianity, it is clear why I needed to be separated from my active life. The desert fathers believed that social interaction interfered with spiritual growth. They escaped into solitude deep in the desert. In In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (Treasures of the World’s Religions), John Chryssavgis writes:
“Desert” (eremos) literally means “abandonment”; it is the term from which we derive the word “hermit”.…The desert signified death: nothing grows in the desert. Your very existence is, therefore, threatened. In the desert you will find no one and no thing. In the desert, you can only face up to yourself and to every aspect of your self, to your temptations, and to your reality. You confront your own heart, and your heart’s deepest desires, without any scapegoat, without any hiding place.…After all, you cannot hide in the desert; there is no room for lying or deceit there. Your very self is reflected in the dry desert, and you are obliged to face up to this self.…The desert is a place of spiritual revolution, not of personal retreat. It is a place of inner protest, not outward peace. It is a place of deep encounter, not of superficial escape. It is a place of repentance, not recuperation. Living in the desert does not mean living without people; it means living for God. Antony and the other desert dwellers never forgot this.
The desert fathers forced themselves to face who they truly were, to wrestle and triumph over their demons. I was not so brave. I didn’t willingly undertake the loss of everything as they did, but none the less, this is what happened. I was left with myself alone. Everything that I ran to escape, the anxieties, the pain, the loss was there to greet me.
For many years this blog charted not only my spiritual journey, but my struggle to make art. When I lived up north, the pain of making art was hard to bear. It brought up my internal struggles, grief and anger: all these years in bed while careers were made and lives lived. In Florida, after about a year of being forced to sit with all of these feelings, they began to trickle away. Even my fear of being immersed in the creative process began to melt. I finally surrendered and art became my lifeline as it was in the beginning and always should have been.
I would rest up for days and then drag myself into the studio. Gradually it happened, I began to hit my stride again. This feeling I hadn’t had in 15 years of illness began to creep over me. I was in the process of becoming the vessel I always longed to be. I felt the creativity surge through me. I felt life begin again inside.
Now that I’m back in the Northeast, I’ve left the desert and returned to the true land of paradise; here where my association to others is strong and my friends are happy to see me. My material possessions- my garden and house are gone but my connection to life is restored. I have to be grateful for the difficulties and pain I experienced in Florida, because in journeying through I found myself again. The desert ends up being a beautiful place. I have unearthed that space within that acts as a door between heaven and earth. It is an entrance for creativity to flow from the Divine into the material world. I am only one of many, many doors, but it gives me heart to go on. My job is to protect that space from the busyness of everyday life; to grow it like the garden I once had, a desert transformed.
Here are some examples of what I’m currently working on:
St. Francis of Assisi (Dimension: 55″x 18″) / The Pregnant Virgin Mary ( Dimensions: 55″x 18″ )
Click the images for more views and closeups.
St. Teresa of Avila
For more of my new work check my online gallery.
Verse for the Virgin
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:
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 #2
Act of Creation #3
Act of Creation #7
Act of Creation #8
Act of Creation #9
Act of Creation Group Shot
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:
For video of this sculpture check here.
Hildgard of Bingen
For video of this sculpture check here.
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.
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
I recut the video of my pregnant Virgin Mary sculpture. I think it’s a lot better, much more informative. it also includes some of my etchings and woodcuts of the Annunciation. I hope you like it!
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.
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
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:”
“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.
Thanks for looking!
These pieces are made from clay. I’m working on a post about the meaning of clay. It should be up in a couple days.
I finally got this one fired:
Next post from the tropics!