The British sculptor, Henry Moore, stopped halfway through the first chapter of Erich Neumann’s book, The Archetypal World of Henry Moore (1959) because, as he later said, “I did not want to know about these things. . . . I did not want such aspects of my work to become henceforth self-conscious. I feel they should remain subconscious and the work should remain intuitive.”
I don’t know whether it was a sign of strength or weakness, but I was halfway through the creation of this large collage, The Marriage of Sol and Luna, before I realized what I was making might be symbolic of a lunar eclipse. Days after that I learned a lunar eclipse was soon to occur, in a rare coincidence with the day of the winter solstice. At that point I was within striking distance of finishing the work, which took me nearly a month of long days to complete. Thus it was with conscious intention that I laid down the last of what seemed like a million (probably closer to 10,000) tiny collage pieces within one hour of the occurrence of the solstice, on December 21, 2010.
The dark lines which curve throughout the piece, dividing it into many smaller sections, are in fact a single line which I made at the outset, never picking up the pen until the line, through its labyrinthine twists, turns, and undulations, was finished. I established the area of the inner white circle by tracing a 78 vinyl record. The template for the larger white circle was an enormous quilting hoop that once belonged to the grandmother of my college roommate.
In his notes for the 1937 article, “The Sculptor Speaks,” Henry Moore wrote this: “The subconscious plays a great part in art, that is to say that in conceiving & realising a work a great deal happens which cannot be logically explained–the mind jumps from one stage to another much further on without there being traceable steps shown between–preferences for one shape over another which cannot be explained–sudden solutions which cannot be followed step by step–in a word–inspiration.”
Part of the ongoing, and sometimes difficult task of the artist, is to cooperate with this process, rather than imposing one’s self in a way that occludes or subverts it.
“Queen of the Heart.” 16″ diameter mandala wallpiece. Paper collage on assemblage of compact discs, finished with polyurethane varnish. Hanger fixed on back. $375.00
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.”
“Benedictus.” 7″x9″ (approx.) mandala. Paper collage on vinyl record, set on collaged cedar, with text: “Wild grasses hold you in their arms; the trees sing over your sleep.” $75.00. SOLD
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.
Photo of headstones taken November, 2010, Staunton, Virginia.
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.
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.