Visual Arts

Book Review: Quantum Creativity

There’s an annual tradition I hold as a year closes. I find something to read that I think will set a meaningful frame for my personal transition into the next year. This time I found that in Amit Goswami’s Quantum Creativity.

Quantum Creativity Image

You may remember this author as one of the researchers and physicists featured in the documentary What the Bleep Do We Know? Dr. Goswami was also a senior scholar in residence at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and has taught at Pacifica, Philosophical Research University and elsewhere as well as written a number of books for the layperson on quantum physics related to consciousness.

If you’ve ever had the experience…

…of teaching and suddenly find that something has overtaken your vocal chords and words are being delivered at a depth you wondered afterward where they came from…

…or you’re writing a book and find it all laid out in front of you as though you’re watching a movie and realize your job is to merely scramble and write it all down as fast as it’s happening…

…maybe you’re painting and enter a space where the subject matter itself seems to be directing your brushstrokes and effect of the colors you use…

…then you realize this is one of the great wonders of the Universe.

The experiences I mention are mine. But most of us have had such things happen to varying degrees. And it brings a sense of true reverence and awe to the creative space. When it happens to me I know I’m touching something much larger than myself. That I’m somehow communing with the Collective Unconscious. I define these occurrences as one of the Great Mysteries. And I want to fine-tune my capabilities to open that portal more so.

I don’t know that it’s possible to call upon such a gift by will. But I am sure we can all develop ourselves to be in a state of readiness for when it does insert itself.

In Quantum Creativity Goswami goes a long way in explaining the quantum physics that informs the creative process.

…when subtle energies engage with consciousness, then creativity is possible, even likely. In their quantum aspects both the brain and the mind consist of possibilities from which consciousness can create the endlessly new…The presence of consciousness in itself does not cause potentiality to actualize. Collapse [manifestation] occurs when an observer with a brain is present as well, with the intention to look…

 He also confirms that having a consistent intention to look is like exercising a muscle. It develops strength to support the endeavor. It supports the wisdom of ritual. You have to religiously show up with your readiness. It’s not a sporadic thing, not something for dabblers.

There’s also the argument for daydreaming, mind wandering⏤something many of us were probably chastised for in school.  And for time in nature or meditation. Creativity shows up in the space between the thoughts.

Consider the composer Richard Wagner’s account of his discovery of the overture to Das Rheingold. Wagner came home after taking a walk and went to bed, but could not sleep for a while. His mind wandered through various musical themes and eventually he dozed. Suddenly, he awoke and the overture of his famous Rheingold came to him in a creative outpouring.

 As much as this book is a primer for quantum physics in general it also offers the relevance to the creative process specifically and how to set yourself up to receive it. If you want to enhance your own process, then this is a book to assist your development. Of course, you still have to do the work involved yourself. The first step is showing up for that exhilarating ride.

Quantum Creativity is widely available in print and ebook. Here it is on Amazon. Highly recommend if you’re interested in self-development of any kind.

 

 

 

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Sacred Reciprocity, The Writing Life, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Film Review: The Alma Drawings

You may have heard of the psychic phenomenon automatic writing. But what about automatic drawing?

In her later years Alma Rumball felt the urge to pick up a pen, and her hand began to move on its own. She said, “My hand started to move and I started to draw.” In that moment these creations took over her life and home. Eventually when paper wasn’t enough, her walls, floors and even bathroom fixtures became crowded with repetitive motifs.

Alma Rumball

Automatic drawing by Alma Rumball.

As I watched the film I became fascinated by the remarkable similarity of the symbols and figures in Alma’s work to those in Maya, Tibetan and other world religions. I also noted some resemblance to the technique called automatism introduced by the Surrealists meant to give the subconscious mind free range.

But those don’t appear to be the influences here. Alma was raised a devout Christian and had always led an isolated life in a rural area of Northern Ontario, with very little exposure to the outside world. She never studied art and took no ownership of what she produced. She allowed, “The Hand did them.” And sometimes there were spirits that lived near the ceiling who gave her messages. The Hand—being in charge—would let her know when she was done with a piece when it ceased to move. When The Hand came into her life at the age of 50, she withdrew even more so and claimed to know nothing of religions elsewhere in the world.

Filmmaker Jeremiah Munce covers Alma’s origins, later life and artwork, much through her own words thanks to a recorded interview. The question it puts forth—as ascribed to a number of artists—was Alma’s work directed by a higher consciousness…or the result of mental illness?

Alma Rumball passed in 1980 but left a rich collection of work. Go to the official website to view her art and read articles.

View The Alma Drawings in its entirety on You Tube. Highly recommend not merely as a curiosity but also as a question regarding the creative portal. Released 2005 in Canada, 46 minutes.

 

 

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Book Review – Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe

GeorgiaI’ve read biographies on Georgia O’Keeffe. But this is different. You might think because this is a novel it’s a poof piece. It’s not. The author portrays the relationship between O’Keeffe and her patron-photographer-husband Alfred Stieglitz from the first enchantment to its lingering disintegration. It’s written from the painter’s perspective. While no one can ever get completely inside someone else’s head, it’s evident that Dawn Tripp has done the extensive research necessary that makes the book plausible. Believable. This is essentially a book about the precise care and manipulation Stieglitz gave to the creation of O’Keeffe’s public persona from the point she was moldable to when she was not. It’s a story laid against the backdrop of their great talents and marriage—the play between Steiglitz’s control and O’Keeffe’s internal conflict. It’s about the position women were historically placed and their treatment … and how this woman claimed her rightful recognition as one of the greatest American artists. Perhaps there’s an argument that O’Keeffe wouldn’t have made it there without Stieglitz. But I don’t find merit in it. She was a force all her own.

As an artist myself I appreciate the way the author wrote from an artist’s sensitivities on the form. That, too, made the book believable.

…It occurs to me now that art is exactly this: making what’s unseen but all around, visible. Having that sort of faith…

And it pained me to read what she wrote of O’Keeffe going blind. She enlists the gardener’s help:

…to lead my left hand onto the first sheet of paper… He leaves and I’m alone. I paint shapes—a wave, a circle—the circle slides like grace over the page. I make forms that echo those early abstract forms I made when I was no one, and it occurs to me that art is a separate country, outside the body, outside time, like death or desire, an element beyond our physical selves we are traveling toward…

 

Available on Amazon and elsewhere.

 

Categories: Book Review, Creativity Strategies, Visual Arts | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

The Dialogue of Creative Intelligence

Ann Hamilton describes herself as a “maker” rather than artist, and characterizes the start of her projects this way: I just try to listen for what something needs to become. Michelangelo relayed a similar process so long ago: I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

Delivery doesn’t come in an instant but evolves in a process ⏤ bit by bit. It’s about being patient with the unfolding. It takes a dialogue with what wants to emerge, creating space for the communication. Sitting with it.

If what emerges has depth then it isn’t formulaic. For me, it’s about synthesis. In what form does this communication want to be held? Two-dimensional? Three-dimensional? Oil? Mixed media? Or written form? I introduce options to the conversation and question the best fit ⏤ and am open to changing directions in mid-stream because it’s suddenly called for.

I’m not a person who has one way of doing things. That would bore me to tears, limit flexibility and impede problem-solving. I enjoy stockpiling choices at my fingertips. It fuels my creative energy. Ongoing learning, adding this and that to my repertoire, inspires me. I believe this strategy sparks a type of creative intelligence. I wouldn’t fit on an assembly line and abhor restrictions. It sucks the life right out of me.

I’ve written before about the expectations establishment galleries and publishers hold. Recording companies, too. They want what they call ‘consistency’ which translates to limitation of subject matter and form. Of course, they’re invested in bottom line dollars. But what they’re doing in the process is obstructing artistic growth. The artists I revere most are those who deviate.

Shawn Phillips is a case in point:

…The mere fact that he was a musician as much as a singer and songwriter made him stand out, and helped him attract a dedicated following. His refusal to shape his music — which crosses between folk-rock, jazz, progressive, pop, and classical — to anyone else’s expectations allows him to hold onto a large and dedicated cult following, without ever achieving the stardom that his talent seemed to merit…He never courted an obvious commercial sound, preferring to write songs that, as he put it, “make you feel different from the way you felt before you started listening”…

My respect for Picasso grew exponentially when I was in Paris last year and went to the Picasso Museum, which houses representations of all the journeys he’d taken. I’d known him mostly as a Cubist, and for his Rose and Blue Periods. I discovered he was not only a painter of many diverging techniques, but also a sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright.

 

PicassoGoat

She-Goat. Picasso, 1950. Constructed of found objects then bronze cast.

Picasso’s ability to produce works in an astonishing range of styles made him well respected during his own lifetime. After his death in 1973 his value as an artist and inspiration to other artists has only grown. He is without a doubt destined to permanently etch himself into the fabric of humanity as one of the greatest artists of all time.

There’s something to be said for being unorthodox. Especially if you don’t care about mainstream success. Although it may come unexpectedly…precisely because you deviate.

In this round-about way I’m now introducing my latest venture. For a while I’d felt the pull to move into more three-dimensional artwork and had been casting about to see what drew me. Then I discovered the separate works of Jan Huling and Nancy Josephson…unlike anything I’d seen before…which spoke to my unconventional soul. They’ve both had their artwork featured in a multitude of galleries, museums, newspapers and magazines. I decided to go study with them for a week in April in Puerto Vallarta at Hacienda Mosaico and came away with a treasure trove of new knowledge from their generous teachings. And they’re good people.  No affected airs there despite all their accomplishments.

Das Bug

Das Bug. 8′ long. Jan Huling. Currently showing at the Duane Reed Gallery in St. Louis and slated for the Art Market + Design Fair in Bridgehampton, July 7-10. Photo used with permission.

In her artist statement Jan says:

In a recent review, the New York Times dubbed my work “oddball assemblages,” and aptly so. My three-dimensional collages combine found objects with surface design, sometimes touching on narrative themes. I’m also drawn to religious and political icons, inspired by a continuing fascination with indigenous or popular culture and world religions…Czech seed beads adorn objects in colorful patterns, camouflaging their original circumstance, allowing us to see them as pure form without their usual connotations. The process is slow and meticulous, Zen-like, with the choice of forms motivating color schemes and iconography.

Bird Goddess

Erzulie Kouvez, Bird Goddess. 10′ tall x 6′ diameter. Nancy Josephson. Exhibiting at the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore until September 4. Photo used with permission.

Erzulie Kouvez

Erzulie Kouvez, detail. Photo used with permission.

Musician, artist, Vodou priestess…Nancy shares this:

I started in music. I only wanted to do ‘real’ music…rootsy, soulful and elemental. I wanted to get to the core of what music is in the way it lifts the spirit from the inside…Then I started using my hands instead of my voice. Visual art gave me a more solitary way to explore how to surround myself in physical beauty and meaning. Trial and Error was my alma mater…Then I went to Haiti…My first trip opened up questions about physical home, one’s spiritual ‘home’, how one ‘gets by’, what one must risk during the creative process, what IS the creative process. With every trip I found more questions as well as a few answers.

Here’s the piece I’ve thus far created since returning home. A plethora of ideas hover in the ether nagging at me. I believe most of them will get their turn over time. I’ll integrate what I’ve learned into both two and three-dimensional pieces, an extension of my meditation practice. Indeed, I’d been describing the process as Zen-like before I read the same in Jan’s artist statement. But then there’s a bit of obsessive quality to it, too…

Rain God Front

The Rain God. Carla Woody. Mixed media: Czech glass beads, resin clay, found object, acrylics. 7.5″ tall x 14″ diameter.*

The Rain God

The Rain God, side view.

On another note, I’ve been asked about my artwork: How can you let them go?

When there’s a dialogue of great depth I find that I do need to keep them on the easel or table for a while, maybe even a few months, to see what else we may have to say to each other ⏤ to make sure the conversation has come to a close. When there’s a sense of finality then I can release it with the intent the piece itself will take the dialogue to others.

Sometimes that happens in surprising ways. A few years ago I painted an oil I called My Magdalen Heart which was displayed at The Gallery in Williams. On a day I was there, a French Canadian man approached me with an incredulous look saying the piece had spoken to him. It’s a blessing for me when I hear how the dialogue continues. A few days later the Magdalen went to live in New Mexico with a woman who’d had a relationship with her since childhood.

It’s important to put our expressions out into the world, in whatever way we do, without conforming to others’ rules, and then sending them on their way…so they can take on a life of their own. There may be someone just waiting to engage in the dialogue ⏤ with an anticipation they didn’t know they had.

♦︎♦︎♦︎

*The Rain God is currently available through The Gallery in Williams or inquire by email through this blog.

Categories: Arts, Creativity Strategies, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

The Fierce Quiet Place

We give a gift to ourselves when we allow connection with our innermost being. This is the one untouched by circumstances but fierce in its inviolate sanctity. The silence in this place is so loud you can hear it, so palpable you can feel it. And yet there’s no adequate way to express the comfort and inspiration it brings. Comfort here meant as nurturing. Coupled with inspiration, it urges us on…through…and beyond…to what we can’t yet know. And the circumstances of our lives⏤the challenges⏤fall away. It doesn’t mean they’re not there but are approached differently. A state of grace through the chaos and surrounding confusion.

And that Fierce Quiet Place wants expression in any way we can. It creates a portal and finds its way into the material world through narrative art, music, poetry and prose, ceremony and ritual…a touch…complete presence we give to others. It’s funneled from non-ordinary reality that exists out-of-time to land here.

This is what I’ve recognized more and more. And knowing that when I give myself over to that Fierce Quiet Place the most beautiful things happen. I live from a deeper place. I meet people who hold similar expression. I want to introduce you to one of them through the way it happened.

In February I completed This Is My Walk in Life, an oil painting. Over the course of its creation, it came to life. The portal opened. A silent dialogue ensued and conveyed itself as best I could onto canvas. It was not a casual process.

This is my walk in life

Title: This Is My Walk in Life Oil on canvas, 20×24. ©2016 Carla Woody. All rights reserved.

This is the description I gave it.

We all have a walk in life, perhaps chosen before we set our feet on Mother Earth. And amidst hardships there’s unexpected joy. If we open our eyes to it, there’s magic in fleeting moments when we truly experience what life is. This painting is inspired by the Lacandón Maya women of the rainforest village of Nahá in Chiapas, Mexico.

Then at the end of March I met Laura Weaver. She came from Colorado to take part in the fire ceremony guided by Tat Apab’yan Tew during our Spirit Keepers Series. I didn’t know she’s an accomplished poet. I’m quite sure she didn’t know I’m an artist and writer.

Then a few weeks ago I saw a poem she wrote in March.

 A Way of Walking

There is a way of walking

from point A to point B

as if there is nothing

of significance in between.

 

We have been taught to move

in straight lines, to lay life out

along a grid of efficiencies.

But there is another way to navigate.

 

This way carves a serpentine road

full of mysterious meetings.

Along this path, the directives come

from the world itself speaking

 

through all of its voices. And because

something else is guiding us—because

we are listening—at the next crossroads

we turn left instead of right—

 

and find a never before seen village

where an old man harvests golden apples

he offers to those who pass by. And over

the silken hills, cowbells sound out

 

like ancient monk song, and the last

of the sunlight breaks through the rainclouds

so that everything is shimmering and awake.

And the oak tree that cracked in last

 

night’s storm is dripping with honeycomb

and bee hum. And as this moment swells

and blooms open with its own fullness,

suddenly the idea of Point A & Point B

 

makes no sense at all. For now

you have no idea who you are

or if you have arrived. You only know

that you are everywhere.

I couldn’t help but note the strong similarities in the titles of our respective works and common message. Then yesterday I read her poem Making Passage which reaches an even deeper platform. I urge you to read it. It will speak to your soul.

I don’t think I’m presuming. When the Fierce Quiet Place is fully expressed we all say the same thing. Only the variation in our medium is different.

Earlier I described Laura as an accomplished poet but that’s not quite sufficient. Her words have a way of gently, persistently making their way inside us on a path all their own and touches the universal. And—in my experience—I feel heard. Even held.

 ♦♦♦

♦︎ The reprint of A Way of Walking is used with permission. Subscribe to Soul Passages and receive Laura Weaver’s poetry as she publishes.

♦︎ My original oil This Is My Walk in Life is currently available. Inquire for more information. Archival prints are available here.

 

Categories: Arts, Creativity Strategies, Spiritual Evolution, The Writing Life, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

An Inspired Life: Xavier Quijas Yxayotl

In late 2013 Xavier Quijas Yxayotl—Huichol composer, musician and artist—shared his life story with me. It was a real privilege to hear of his origins, struggles and inspirations. The thing about Xavier is that you’d normally never know the details of his backstory. But maybe you would pick up there’s something deeper. He carries a sense of humility that typically only comes by having gone through hard times…survived…and having instilled great meaning in his life, touching others through his craft and presence.

Xavier Quijas Yxayotl

Portrait of Xavier Quijas Yxayotl with one of his handmade ancestral flutes. ©2015 Barry Wolf. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

With permission I turned his disclosures into a narrative that was picked up in 2014 by Still Point Arts Quarterly for their Fall 2015 issue. I thank editor Christine Cote for giving this important story space. I can now share the story in its entirety here as Xavier told it to me. I hope you are as inspired as I was.

 ***

 Through the Dark

 The boy fidgeted. He was in foreign territory, held prisoner by his mother’s hand on his arm. They sat side-by-side in matching chairs before the great divide of a massive desk. His mother’s voice rose and fell. Words tumbled over each other as though, if she didn’t get them out fast enough, the man considering them would summarily swat them out the door, no different than pesky insects.

An hour before, his mother pulled him along inner city streets into a massive building. They finally stopped in front of one door among several down the long hall. She smoothed her skirt and combed fingers through his black hair. With a deep breath, she opened the door. The secretary looked up.

“Please, I would like to see the director,” his mother said.

“Do you have an appointment?” The secretary appraised them, noting their dusky skin and worn clothing. When she shook her head, the secretary motioned them to a row of chairs against the wall and picked up the phone. They waited.

The man behind the desk was impeccably dressed in a gray suit matching the color shot through his dark hair and mustache. The lines in his face softened as he listened, shifting attention from the Indian woman before him to the boy, eyes downcast, clutching a notebook in his lap.

“Maestro Caracalla, I am Señora Isabel. This is my son Xavier. He’s different, a good artist. In school he always fights because no one understands him, not the teachers, not the other kids. He’s always thinking. Since he was old enough to hold a pencil, he always draws and writes about everything. He’s like an old person in a little boy’s body!”

The woman continued at length relating how, in the last two years, her son kept running away to live on the streets. Xavier slept in parks, skipped school, survived by selling newspapers and shoe shines. Terrified, she would search and drag him home, if she was fortunate to find him. But the next day he’d be gone again. He wouldn’t do what his father wanted: to set aside these silly pastimes, to work making shoes to help support the family.

“We have seven children. Xavier is the youngest boy. We are very poor. But he is so different and I’m afraid what might happen to him. Is there something you can do?” She finished softly.

Maestro Caracalla gestured to the boy’s notebook, “Is this your work?”

Xavier froze in his chair and prayed to disappear. He didn’t think the Maestro would hit him like his father did, but he dreaded the reprimand he knew would come. He whispered, “Yes.”

“Show it to me then.” The room was silent save the sound of Maestro Caracalla slowly turning pages after scrutinizing each one. Finally he closed the book. Looking over wire-rimmed glasses, his eyes seemed to bore into Xavier’s very soul. He gazed at Señora Isabel then back at the boy, whose reddened face was moist with sweat. “Señora, I don’t think you have any idea what a beautiful child you have. What ideas! His writing doesn’t match his age. He’s not a normal child. You have to do something with him. We have to help him!”

Maestro Caracalla told her to bring the boy back the following Monday, handing over a long list of art materials to buy. There’s not enough to eat! How can we buy art supplies? Guilt flooded Xavier’s mind. He was certain of a dead end. But at the appointed time his mother delivered him to the Maestro. She could only muster a clean new drawing tablet and 6B pencil, keeping even that small expenditure hidden from her husband. The secretary ordered a sandwich for Xavier, although he said he didn’t need anything.

“Ah, there you are,” the Maestro swept in from his office. He took Xavier by the hand and led him down the hall. They stopped in all the classrooms where he spoke to the teachers, “I want to introduce Xavier. He’s coming to take classes.”

That is how an eleven-year-old Huichol Indian boy from the streets came to attend Escuela des Artes Plásticas, the art school in Guadalajara, Mexico—the youngest pupil ever to sit alongside regular university students. They became his peers and friends. Maestro Caracalla continued as his benefactor for six years, making sure he had all the classes he needed: writing, painting, art history and more…

Xavier Painting 1

Painting by Xavier at the age of 18. Photo courtesy of Xavier Quijas Yxayotl. All rights reserved.

 

Xavier painting-2

Xavier with one of his painted pow wow drums. Photo courtesy of Xavier Quijas Yxayotl. All rights reserved.

Continue reading Xavier’s story here and find out how he returned to the Huichol roots denied him as a child, and went on to resurrect ancient instruments lost to time through visitations from his ancestors.

Categories: Indigenous Wisdom, Interview, Music Review, The Writing Life, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

New Art by Kayum Ma’ax Garcia

In a previous post I told the story of visiting artist Kayum Ma’ax Garcia in his home in the Lacandón Maya village of Nahá during our January 2015 Maya program. During that visit the online Allies Gallery was born. The entire journey was pure magic. The gallery was just one instance of something that evolved organically. As a result, Kayum is able to offer his art to a wider world and has sold some prints. I’m very happy about that, and Kayum and family are ecstatic.

Recently Kayum’s work was featured in Galería MUY located in San Cristóbal de Las Casas. The MUY, now part of our Kinship Circle, gives exposure to contemporary art of Indigenous artists of Chiapas. With their help, we’ve been able to bring more of Kayum’s artwork to you.

Birth

Title: Birth. Acrylic on canvas. ©2014 Kayum Ma’ax Garcia

The Heart of the World

Title: The Heart of the World. Acrylic on canvas. ©2015 Kayum Ma’ax Garcia.

To view more, go directly to the Allies Gallery. Kayum rarely leaves his isolated rainforest village. His art is unique. By purchasing through our online gallery, proceeds support this Indigenous artist document a way of life that is increasingly lost.

 

 

Categories: cultural interests, Lacandón Maya, Visual Arts | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The Energy That Finds Its Source

Sometimes it’s powerful to change things up in your geography, to experiment and see how you may further engage creativity…and The Muse. In the last several months, I’ve done just that—albeit unknowingly—and have been fairly astounded at what has unfolded.

I meditate first thing in the morning, usually before dawn. Over the last thirty years of doing so, it’s set the stage for my days and provided a consistent segue for insights, higher guidance. But I’d never considered using it as a tool for my artwork. It happened accidentally.

I would undertake my daily ritual in the back room, sitting cross-legged with straight back, always in the same spot for as long as I’d lived in this home, an anchor to the process. One morning for no apparent reason, I chose to meditate in the front room. Whenever I feel complete, I come back with “soft eyes”…slightly defocused…slowly returning, integrating the state with my day ahead. That morning my gaze came to rest on the easel and canvas I’d been painting for a while. And suddenly I experienced the piece in a whole new way. I saw things I hadn’t seen before. I felt a previously undetected presence, perhaps waiting until I’d opened a door and it could reach through and guide me. I’ve continued this change in geography while keeping my long-time meditation ritual. My artwork has more depth and meaning. I feel the intent of pieces is coming across in a way I’d just hoped for before. I had the beautiful feedback from a couple from Canada who approached me—after seeing My Magdalen Heart in person—saying they’d experienced the piece literally speaking to them.

The Inner Chamber

The Inner Chamber
Mixed media on canvas
©2014 Carla Woody

People have puzzled over the creative process for eons. Some ascribe to a belief that the source of creativity rests within the self absolutely, which places enormous pressure if you find not so much coming through. Others are certain it comes from another source, perhaps a higher power. Author Elizabeth Gilbert spoke eloquently on TED regarding this controversy.

I believe it’s a combination of the two. First, I have the choice to say “yes.” Then it’s a matter of showing up consistently, having faith that something will be delivered…and being patient with the process. I recognize that I’m a vehicle. I’ve chosen to develop certain skills. But, for me, there’s no mistaking when I’ve tapped into another realm entirely outside myself that moves beyond the mundane. My senses are heightened and the energy moves—whether through brush on canvas, fingers on keyboard…whatever the art form—to find ground. There’s a distinct collaboration…and it’s something else again when your subject matter starts communicating with you. Strange as it seems, that’s how it’s happening for me these days.

When I was writing Portals to the Vision Serpent my practice was to begin writing after meditation, at least five days a week for at least three hours at a time. Again, I didn’t realize at the time I was accessing my craft through an altered state of being. It was as though I watched a movie and wrote down what unfolded in front of me. One day I reached a point in the book where I needed to get a main character down to the rainforest of Chiapas, Mexico but had no idea how. Within a few days, a completely new character stepped forward to introduce himself from the shadows where he’d been hidden. It turned out that he provided the way; the novel moved on.

The poet Mary Oliver said, “…The part of the psyche that works in concert with consciousness and supplies a necessary part of the poem—the heart of the star as opposed to the shape of a star, let us say—exists in a mysterious, unmapped zone…Say you promise to be at your desk in the evenings, from seven to nine. It waits, it watches. If you are reliably there, it begins to show itself—soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly, or it will not appear at all…”

If it hasn’t yet happened for you in the way you desire, I believe it can. It means opening yourself up, stepping outside your comfort zone, changing up your geography. It’s an agreement you make…an intent you hold…and then let go.

Such an energy finds its reciprocal Source.

Categories: Arts, Creativity Strategies, Meditation, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution, The Writing Life, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Film Review: Séraphine

SeraphineTreeofLife

Tree of Life ­­- Séraphine Louis, 1928

Séraphine Louis, also known as Séraphine de Senlis, is the subject of this intense biopic—both inspirational and tragic—of a relatively unknown but brilliant artist who teetered between one reality and another. Her paintings were the product of creative and spiritual rapture, induced by spirits, and her love for nature. She was employed as a housekeeper doing the most menial labor and thought by the people around her to be quite odd and slow. But at night she disappeared into another world and turned out extraordinary works using pigments she made herself from unusual sources.

Her break came when Wilhelm Uhde, German art dealer and critic, saw a painting at his neighbor’s home and was astounded to discover that it had been done by his cleaning lady. At a time when avant garde artists such as Picasso and Rousseau were coming on the scene, Uhde became Séraphine’s sponsor encouraging her and finally including her in a show that he organized of the Sacred Heart Painters. Sadly, his patronage would come to an end with the advent of World War II. Séraphine became increasingly isolated and was finally committed to a hospital for the mentally ill. She passed in 1942.

Few of her paintings survive but some may be viewed here. This is the story of a woman who found deep meaning in life and was unusually resourceful, even in the face of periodic ridicule and little support, save one person who proved to be her angel.

This haunting film was a sleeper when it came out in 2009 but later won seven French Academy Awards. Streaming on Amazon. In French with subtitles. Yolande Moreau stars as Séraphine. Film directed by Martin Provost and co-written with Marc Abdelnour.

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Acts of Creation

A few years ago, I was in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and copied these words from a plaque on the wall in one of the many rooms that contained art works from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s.

A young painter asked Gaugin for advice and he answered, ‘Do not paint too much from nature. Art is an abstraction; extract it from nature while dreaming in front of it and pay more attention to the act of creation than to the result.’ 

Reminders

Cézanne's refuge on Ste. Victoire mountain.

Cézanne’s refuge on Ste. Victoire mountain.

Paul Gaugin’s words punctuated, for me, similar reminders coming over the course of travels in Provence with my group, which then culminated in Paris. As always, those things that stand out to us are what we’re there to encounter. This theme was mine to hear and one that is still prevalent in pockets of France, especially Provence.

Mont Ste. Victoire is a hulking giant of a mountain dominating the Provençal landscape. Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne was fascinated with it. Painting it numerous times, he even had a refuge near the top, to the point we hiked and picnicked having our own luncheon on the grass painters Manet and Picasso might have found acceptable.*

Near Ste. Victoire’s base sits Mas de Cadenet, a winery that has been in the same family since 1813 producing exquisite examples of Côtes de Provence. We stopped by and Matthieu Négrel was waiting for us.

For such a young man, Matthieu was quite the inspiration. Only 25 at that time, he was set to take on a large role when his father retires. Indeed, he had already stepped into sharing many of the important decisions about cultivation of the vineyard and wine-making. We even had a discussion about what it was like to have such a family legacy and the expectations that may come with it, whether it was a harness or a sort of freedom. For Matthieu, it was obvious that he had found his passion early on—and it rested in the land, rhythms of nature, things tended with care, patience. He seemed to contain a distinct knowledge of his place in the world, rare for someone his age. With unabashed charm and a lot of gesturing typical of the region, he exuberantly related fact and philosophy about grapes and wine-making. We were not bored and much of what he relayed was done through metaphor. Matthieu and his family produce wine from vines that range from 35 to 50 years old.

Photo: Making Christmas Wine

Matthieu Négrel making Christmas wine in the old way.

Standing in the vineyard, with Ste. Victoire as the backdrop, he told us about his life. How it was to plant a vine and wait—to harvest only after 5 years. Pointing out a vine planted when his grandfather was a young man and then another planted when he himself was a child, he laughed and said, “Things are very s-l-o-o-o-w here in Provence.”

Then he went on, “In Provence they say, when the vine is young it produces much. But the quality is medium. When older it produces less but the quality is much better. Ahhhh…but when it is the oldest it’s very wise and it holds it all inside and it gives out very little!”

On another day we traveled through the beautiful countryside on winding roads, climbing in elevation and finally came to a Religious House with lavender fields surrounding it. Tucked away in the Alpes de Haute Provence region, discreetly out of sight, three sisters of the Soeurs Coopératrices Maison St Joseph live in an old farmhouse. They are known for cultivating lavandan, a prized type of lavender only grown at this particular altitude, producing the highest medicinal quality essential oil, in the old way, mostly by hand and not technology. Sister Marie Michelle, who greeted us, had a similar glow about her as the one Matthieu had, but many, many more years.

Sister Marie Michelle

Sister Marie Michelle

She showed us their fields and, even though it was late in the season, we could smell lavender faintly in the air. She talked about how they carefully harvested and let the blossoms lay in the sun a certain amount of time so that the oils they made would be at the best strength for all the ways they could be used. She bemoaned the fact that other lavender farmers used machinery that cut the stalks in such a way as to lessen the quality and then didn’t allow them to “strengthen” in the sun after harvest as needed. It was all done quickly, cut and dried—so to speak. And she was quite clear that what sold as lavender essential oils in the world market was lavandin, having much lesser properties, and not lavandan. I was curious how three elderly sisters managed all the fields and harvest until she told us that people from the local community helped. When the sisters are gone, will this art become lost?

Lavender farm photo.

Lavender farm at
Soeurs Coopératrices Maison St Joseph.

Creek Chincultik

Creek Chincultik
©2010 Carla Woody
First oil painting after a 12-year hiatus.

Honoring the Process

I’m going to come full circle and talk a little about painting. I’m an artist, using mostly oils as my medium. During my lifetime, I periodically took a hiatus from that art form for various reasons. The last rationale was because I moved cross country and no longer had a studio—or so I told myself. I took up black and white photography for several years, but found it not as tactilely satisfying. For a long time, my friend and spiritual mentor Don Américo Yábar had been urging me to paint again and said it would be quite different than what I’d done before. I thought he meant that my subject matter and style would be esoteric based on my experiences in the last number of years. In the fall of 2009, after a 12-year pause, I began to paint again. It just seemed right somehow, without Don Américo ever mentioning it at all when I had been in Peru that summer. And I discovered what he may have meant—however else my canvases may eventually develop. When I was much younger I painted fast and furious, always with a goal in mind, turning out a completed work typically in somewhere between 4-8 hours. Now I’m painting on the same canvas for weeks, sometimes longer. Quite content in the process, I’m allowing the colors to emerge and what expression is more deeply inside me. Perhaps I’m becoming like the older vine Matthieu talked about. Not quite the elder and I’m not yet holding it all inside. Too much to discover still!

But I think what I’ve learned over the years, that is coming out in my painting, and what was echoed through the people we engaged with in Provence, is this. There’s great value to immersion in the integrity of a process. Then the quality of the outcome is naturally delivered. I’ve been taught patience for things to come to fruition. Some things need to happen for others to evolve. When you know this at a visceral level, it brings that joie de vivre written so plainly on the faces of those who live through that understanding like Sister Marie Michelle and Matthieu. It also takes faith—and sometimes more than a little stamina.

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*Édouard Manet turned the French art world upside down with his controversial painting Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. Pablo Picasso later did his own versions of Luncheon on the Grass.

View information about our October 2013 “La Source de Provence” program here. Limited to 7 travelers.

Categories: Creativity Strategies, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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