Making mandalas has taught me that it is good to be centered and it is needful to have boundaries. Making mandalas has shown me how things grow. I have seen that
1. You must start from somewhere. Anywhere. Preferably the center. But anywhere. You must start.
2. It is perfect to be imperfect. Even more, it is beautiful.
3. What seems like not much in the beginning may add up to something good, even remarkable, in the end–if you persevere.
4. It is not helpful to judge until a piece is finished. And even then it is not good to judge too much. Or maybe I should just go all the way and do as Jesus said: “Judge not. . . .”
5. Repetition of the same simple thing may become beautiful.
6. When you work from the center the piece maintains a measure of wholeness at every stage. As the circle grows it becomes more complex and interesting it gains depth.
7. Things that seem not to go together can go together if you let them and help them. This is called integration. There is integrity in that.
8. Surprises stand out in the context of a consistent pattern.
9. Many pieces go through an unattractive adolescent period. Don’t give up. Sometimes the ugliest adolescence develops into the most beautiful and unique maturity.
10. Expectations and preconceptions are often unhelpful. To create a piece that is alive one must be open to what it is and what it is becoming, and then help it to become that.
11. Courage is essential to creation.
Here is a poem I found in a list of words I made out of letters of the word “refrigerator.”
To get fire: rare.
To free fire: rarer.
To err: oft.
Tiger at gate: go
Forge art or fear.
Great gift after grief.
I sometimes fear that too much struggle in the creation of a work will violate its purity and integrity. Time and experience have shown me, however, that each artwork has its own story and character, and that a piece born smoothly is not necessarily better than one over which I have worried. Sometimes it takes me a long time to learn to like a work simply because it is so different from my expectation, unlike anything else I have made. Rainer Maria Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet, writes “We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible in it. That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular, and the most inexplicable that we may encounter.
In Queen of the Heart, the struggle for art and love unite. I created the piece in 2009, near the end (of course I did not know that then!) of a four-year period of living alone without an intimate partner. During that time I encountered many individuals who were cynical about the possibility of loving relationships; I myself sometimes struggled to keep my faith. This mandala incorporates an earlier collage which I had to seriously refashion in order to create an aesthetic harmony in the piece. It also incorporates texts that encouraged me to trust love, even in its winter; those include a stream of consciousness meditation on excerpts of 1 Corinthians 13, part of an e. e. cummings poem:
love is the voice under all silences,/the hope which has no opposite in fear;/the strength so strong mere force is feebleness:/the truth more first than sun more last than star
and the important words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run With the Wolves, a book that has become like a bible to me. Wisely she writes: “Three things differentiate living from the soul versus living from ego only. They are: the ability to sense and learn new ways, the tenacity to ride a rough road, and the patience to learn deep love over time.”
Shortly after my partner, Steve O’Keefe, and I moved to Staunton, Virginia, in May, 2010, we discovered an abandoned cemetery behind a campus of old institutional brick buildings that once served as a state prison. The graves, set in straight rows, are each marked with upright concrete slabs. Over time the headstones have assumed various angles of repose, and are textured with moss and erosion. Remarkably they carry no other distinguishing symbol–not a name, not a number.
Although I would probably not have wished to associate with any of these souls in life, I nonetheless felt a “nagging compassion” for them in their oblivion. Several years ago, in an exchange of e-mails with a friend, I wrote, “It is interesting and mysterious to me, even strange, that we seem to have duties to the dead, and that in performing them something in ourselves may be completed and put at rest.”
Recently I returned to the cemetery with my friend, Lisa Ayres, a Louisiana artist, and we photographed the site. This small mandala, Benedictus, incorporates pieces of my photo of a section of the burial ground. The artwork embodies my consideration of human beings anonymously buried, as was Mozart, and the constancy of nature, in particular the trees standing over the forgotten ones in their rest.
“GigaLuna” (“Giga” is Italian for “jig.”) 12″ x 8″ altered book, wallpiece. Paper collage applied to discarded books, finished with polyurethane varnish. Hanger fixed on back. $185.00.
For a complete, up-to-date listing of my show schedule, click on the page entry “F. Upcoming Shows and Exhibits.”
“The Gracious Circle.” Exhibit of mandalas in the Side Gallery of the Jung Center, Houston, Texas, January 5 – 29, 2011. Opening reception Saturday, January 8, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. Jung Center, 5200 Montrose Blvd., Houston, TX 77006. http://www.junghouston.org; 713-524-8253.
American Craft Council 2011 Baltimore Show, AltCraft Section. February 24 – 27, 2011, Baltimore, Maryland. For more information visit: http://insidecharmcity.com/2011/01/05/local-artists-participating-in-american-craft-council-show/
Virginia Festival of the Book, Annual Vendors Book Fair. Saturday, March 19, 2011, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Omni Charlottesville Hotel Atrium and Meeting Rooms, 235 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, Charlottesville, VA 22902. For more information visit http://www.vabook.org.
Group show at Gallery 549, Lafayette, Louisiana. April 2011. 549 Jefferson Street, Lafayette, Louisiana. Open weekdays, 1:00 – 4:00 p.m., by appointment, and monthly during Second Saturday Artwalk (second Saturday of each month, from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.) For more information, and precise gallery hours, call 337-593-0796.
United Bank Bloomin’ Wine Fest, Winchester, Virginia, April 15, 16, 2011. www.thebloom.com.
Flint Art Fair, Flint, Michigan. June 11, 12, 2011. Presented by the Friends of Modern Art at the Flint Institute of Art. www.flintartfair.org.
Wyandotte Street Art Fair, July 13-16 (Wed – Sat), 2011, 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. daily near intersection of Biddle and Maple Avenues, Wyandotte, Michigan. For more information visit http://www.wyandottestreetartfair.org.
16th Annual Crafts at the Cathedral, New York City. December 2-4, 2011. Sponsored by the Congregation of St. Saviour, The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY. www.craftsatthecathedral.com.
My upbringing, along with a certain aspect of my nature, occasionally lead me to question why I do what I do, which is Make Art. On the face of it, a wood block with bits of paper glued to it seems useless, even to me. Certainly it would seem, although pretty, also pretty useless to the people who reared and educated me. Even now, some of the people who visit my booth at art shows must surely go away with that opinion when they pick up the block and discover that it does not even open; it is not a box. Although a box is not a complex technology, it does have a purpose–to hold things, to organize. If I were to make a box and make it large enough, it could hold an entire collection of useless things–even my collaged blocks–and that would make it useful, but with some futility to its usefulness.
And it’s not far, then, to the question, “If I make useless things, am I useful?”
I am going to abandon this line of questioning before I get mired in it because it is impractical in its practicality. Art, which masquerades as a materiality, is much more than that. So, frankly, are we humans, whether or not we are lovers or makers of art. The question “What’s the use?”, so delightfully musically elaborated upon in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, is too small for who we are. What we love is what we love, often for no good reason, or at least none that we
can articulate. Furthermore, what cheers and encourages us in life–even makes it worth living–can often be proved by some scheme of logic to be gratuitous. One could even say that life itself is gratuitous. But we are here anyway, and that is what we must deal with–practically. And here, also, is this collaged block.
Perhaps the puzzled visitors to my art booth, upon discovering the block does not open, are not really asking “What’s the use?” but “How shall I relate to this thing? How does it fit into my life.”
That is a personal question. I can’t answer that for another person, any more than I can tell them what their favorite color should be, or with whom they should fall in love. I like to see the art I make go home with people who have connected with it, even “fallen in love.” Personally, that is why I buy art. I can’t buy all the art I love, but I love the art I buy.
I cannot explain exactly how this works, but these apparently useless pieces I spend my days making do somehow, sometimes, in their abstractness and wordlessness, speak to people. I am always surprised when somebody seems to “get it” because I’m not certain I always get it myself. The thing I know is that I love to create and that there is nothing in the world I want to do more than what I am doing. Somehow, sometimes, that message seems to be communicated in the art.
The thing about handmade things, whether or not they have an apparent use, is that something of the spirit of their maker is invested in them, whether or not the maker or receiver are conscious of that being the case. Every now and then I look around at the walls and surfaces of my home and realize that the many pieces of art I own are somehow challenging and comforting me, and also nurturing my own creative spirit. Furthermore, they are giving me pleasure.
That is no small achievement for an inanimate object.
I am a great appreciator of the work of the British sculptor, Henry Moore, who died in 1986 at age 88. In a 1964 article published in a French journal, Moore is quoted. “I believe that art in itself is akin to religion,” he said. “Art is, in fact, another expression of the belief that life is worth living.”
If I may borrow a religious term, art is “sacramental.” It does not just sit there, it speaks, it conjures connections, stirs our feelings and imaginations, surprises, delights, and moves us, and reminds us of how wonderful it can be to be a human being. An artwork conveys something of its creator when that person is in his or her very best mind, which is the creative mind through which the artwork came to being. Furthermore, it is emblematic of some sort of striving and triumph, the completion of a tiny heroic quest undertaken in order to create the artwork. A work of art presents us, then, with a living experience, perhaps stirring to life some beauty sleeping within us. Now I am not saying that any of the art images I’ve posted here are necessarily doing that for you, but I am saying that there is art that can speak to you like a friend, and that is personal and valuable. Maybe even, in the grand scheme of things, useful.
The combined materials in this mandala present a reconciliation of sorts, a peaceful coming to terms with the crosscurrents of life. The dried roses at the center are from a former husband (or, as I wrote on the box into which I packed them for the movers, “Dead roses from my ex-husband”). They were beautiful to me, nonetheless, and since both he and I gained much from our association with one another, it seemed good to keep them, and then use them (along with pieces of stems from those flowers) in this collage. When a very special man appeared on the scene more than four years after the last roses, he loved to bring me tulips. I have learned that if one drops one’s preconceptions about what constitutes a lovely flower, the tulip possesses an individual winsomeness in every stage of its flowering and withering. Therefore I used dried petals saved from flowers Steve brought me to form the middle circle of flowers, bringing flowers from the past and flowers from the present together. I also incorporated the base of garlic stems (those whiteish discs surrounding the rose centerpiece) and pieces of broken glass (I think of it as “naturally” faceted glass, and often find it both interesting and beautiful) into the center of the collage.
Radiating to the outer rim of the piece are the 31 lines of a poem I created for the work:
1 Why any flower may be
2 being but a day
3 a week
4 to die too soon.
5 But in the life of dying
6 quickly saying
7 what may be
12 softening edges
13 of the earth
14 to tell the wisdom:
15 ALL MUST CHANGE.
16 All changes,
17 all rolling to
18 Death rolling to
19 Life rolling on:
20 YOU, PAY ATTENTION!
21 In the dying
22 is beauty also
23 if you see.
24 Flower of the world
25 never bloom or fade
26 far from the rooms
27 where I, as you
28 go swiftly, softly
29 as we are
30 and will be and always
31 to never be taken back.
“Makarios,” is an ancient Greek word for happiness, connoting in particular the happiness of God. This mandala is somehow, in my mind, emblematic of divine cheer, the revelling of a creator in his or her creation.
Deborah Norsworthy: Artist Statement
First I am a writer. My creation of mandalas, altered books, and mixed media assemblages grew out of that profession, and out of my practice of mosaic collage which has been evolving for more than a decade. Practically speaking, materials and my enjoyment of experimentation inspire me to pursue particular projects.
More profoundly, I am compelled by consistent conflicting energies in my personality, by my deep respect for the act of creation as a holy endeavor, and by the feeling of completeness and inner strength that come to me through the making of art. I am a fierce champion and great appreciator of the handmade. To personally create a piece that possesses its own original honesty and beauty takes me beyond the ephemeral experience of fun (indeed, the work is often tiring and tedious) to a more durable state of joy.
I work with materials salvaged and collected from nature, the street, demolition sites, thrift stores, and with papers I have salvaged or bought. These materials include old art calendars and catalogues, used books, rusted metal, pressed flowers and leaves, roots, bark, sticks, beads, and unidentified interesting small objects. My tools are scissors, pencil, eraser, art pens, ruler, tweezers, exacto knife, sewing needle, punching tool, knitting needles, pliers, screwdrivers, and a large heavy-duty stapler. I also use a fair amount of white glue, PVA, craft glue, and polyurethane varnish. The main part of my collage process involves a sophisticated development of the scissors-and-paste method I learned in kindergarten.
I work at my dining room table which itself is a piece I collaged with small squares cut from art calendars, then gave five coats of polyurethane. It is washable.
It seems miraculous to me when I suddenly see something (or someone) common to me in a new way. This happened to me last year when I was preparing one of my favorite dishes for my friend, Judith, who was coming to lunch. What I saw suddenly differently was an inedible byproduct of my food production I was about to throw in the trash. I saw its natural beauty, both sides. It is now incorporated (or one like it) into the mandala pictured above, which I have given the musical title, “Rondo.” A rondo, incidentally, is an instrumental musical composition in which the leading theme is repeated alternately with other themes. And of course the Italian word rondo does somewhat suggest the notion of roundness.
The regular concentricity of the “Rondo” mandala, combined with the slight variations in the materials, highlight for me how commodities manufactured from natural materials–here, various papers–may through time, use, and exposure, gradually return to nature. Much of the paper in “Rondo” had a musical use. One readily recognizes the sheet music embellishing the scalloped border. Less obvious is the origin of the paper used in the dark outer ring–paper salvaged from disintegrating sheaths that once protected vinyl 78 records in an album. The paper, worn soft, was extremely absorbent of the varnish I applied at the end; I did not anticipate how much it would darken, but I liked the effect it created. I also incorporated paper from an old, unused photo album, from a copy of The Oresteia by Aeschylus I found in a dumpster (I already had the play), and from a discarded menu from the restaurant Chino Latino in Minneapolis.
The almost-finished collage, however, seemed to call for something more at its center. I studied it a long time, considering various possibilities–freshwater pearls? a piece of glass? a flat rusty bottle cap from my collection?
In the detail of Rondo (left), one may see what I settled upon–a centerpiece that blends without getting lost, that stands out as unique without being ostentatious, that is sufficiently–but not slavishly– symmetrical, and that appears, above all, natural. That’s because it is.
But what is it? you may wonder. Or do you know?
What I saved as a byproduct of food preparation, and have been saving ever since, was what remained of the stem of a knob of garlic. Not all stems look like this one. Some are smooth. I find the other side, where the cloves of garlic attach, equally beautiful.
The recipe, for Roasted Garlic au Gratin, is good too–if you like garlic (and maybe even if you don’t). My friend Judith, for whom I have made the recipe maybe 10 or 12 times (every time she comes to lunch) once responded to my query that perhaps she would like me to make something different, with a sad-sounding, “What? No garlic?” Below is the recipe, which is VERY amenable to experimentation. Creativity is not just for art and artists, but for all of us, and all of life.
Roasted Garlic au Gratin
Use a small (6″ to 8″ in diameter) ceramic or glass oven-proof dish. Pour in white or red wine and a little olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of the dish.
Lay down a layer or two of fresh, whole, peeled garlic cloves. (I’ve used cloves from 4 or 5 or more full knobs of garlic. As you ready the garlic, be sure to appreciate the beauty of the stems, regardless if you save or discard them.) Then pour on more wine, maybe some half-and-half, and a little more olive oil. If you want.
Mix with that pecans or slivered almonds, or other nuts you like. Or forget the nuts if you don’t like nuts. Sprinkle that with fresh or dried basil and/or a pinch of some other herb (oregano, dill, rosemary, marjoram, etc.), and a little brown sugar. Top that with as much parmesan cheese as suits you. If you want to sprinkle on anything more–parmesan, wine, brown sugar, basil–go ahead. I’ve also put in golden raisins on occasion. Once I put in figs. A few times I’ve added diced fresh tomatoes.
Cover with foil or a lid and bake at 350 degrees for 45 or 50 minutes, even an hour. This isn’t rocket science; it isn’t even cake chemistry. Use your judgment and sense of your own taste (i.e., do you like your cheese dark and crispy, or do you want the whole thing to be pale and juicy?) When it’s done the garlic cloves should be soft enough to spread. This dish goes very well with roasted garlic and onion jam. Serve with bread, pita, or crackers, or whatever else suits you.