Wishing all a fragrant, happy New Year, filled with diversity, color, creativity and love. May you draw nourishment from all the resources around you, both seen and hidden, send your roots down into the deep rich mucky muck of Mother Earth, breathe in the unconditional love that surrounds you in the very air itself. Sending wishes for all good things.
(Scent note: Enjoying the first day of 2015 in sweet and spicy Fleurs d’oranger by Monsieur Serge Lutens over the warm cedar and tea notes of Bulletproof creme by Margot Elena of Tokyo Milk)
Intention: I savor the experience of drawing and relax into it.
Witness: Little foxes, there you are again!
I continue to explore the fox symbolism from my dream images , no longer in a snowy venue… Dad’s birthday was November 3rd, he would have been 94. It will be two years since my sister’s death this November 15th. One remembers these anniversaries and takes note of these milestone moments. Drawing helps me slow down and honor the feelings and the memories in the midst of this busy fall season.
This mask was started in Open Studio Process with the intention of opening up my heart and awareness to the strength and beauty of my Mom. We began with plaster strips soaked in water, placed over a premade base, using other materials like foil to build up desired features. One interesting part of the process, was in fashioning the hands, which were aluminum foil cast offs that I found in the studio and then repositioned and stabilized by wrapping with masking tape. The mask’s right hand (to the viewer’s left) gave me a lot of trouble. I had to rework it more than several times; the more I tried to make it anatomically correct, the more this mask seemed to demand that I give it two left hands. So be it. Upon reflection, I like this double leftie set up. For me, it became a statement about trusting my intuiton, my right brained perceptions and conclusions. A definite gift from Mom.The touch of a hand is a powerful memory. Gnarled and warm, Mom’s hands were gentle and practical in all things domestic. One hand holds jewels, there for the taking, the other a broken fragment of pottery, to embrace and include that which is less than perfect.Another significant element is the theme of nature. My perhaps clumsy attempts to render the sacred mountain range of Taos where the eyes should be, and to have the red earth below, by the mouth, for sustenance, and the blue sky fading over the forehead into the starred night sky, was my means to include the universal mother archetype of nature in this mask. There was much that was hard to “see” when Mom was suffering. Somehow the mountains and their patient wisdom make it easier.Finally, the blue feather dripping from the mouth by a string. Inspired by dream catchers that we made that weekend in Evanston, the blue feather is about remembering to consider whether or not speaking my personal truth is a kindness, an agent of healing, or if it is more of a kindness to be silent. Truth is truth, spoken or not, and finds its way to awareness.Notes for my fragonista friends: Fragrances worn while working on this mask included Chanel no. 19, my soul scent of green and rose, Bois de Paradis, a fruity floral with a warm sandalwood base, and white florals like Fracas and Tuberose Criminelle, reminiscent of everyday beauty that surrounded Mom and her cohorts working their way through life in Chicago in the late 1940’s.
My Two Left Hands: Plaster, aluminum foil, masking tape, oil paint, thread, ceramic, beads, feather
Call me 19. No. 19. Since the 70’s this has been my favorite Chanel. In 2006, 19 was my gateway fragrance to enter the world of first exploring, and then collecting fragrances. I traipsed through the House of Caron, traditional, white gloved and proper, was seduced by that scoundrel Serge Lutens, with his rich, indolent potions, and was captivated by the sometimes cerebral, sometimes not too serious Frederic Malle offerings. In eight years I have sampled literally hundreds of fragrances, from unique, boutique formulations of New Orleans’ Bourbon French Parfums to the creations of talented artisans like Ayala Moriel, Laurie Erickson of Sonoma Scent Studios and the underated Serena Ava Franco of Ava Luxe Parfums, to vintage incarnations of classics like Shalimar, Bandit and Opium. I’ve even had a number of one night stands with Angel. She’s so gorgeous on others; our encounters invariably end badly.
I keep returning home to the bitter and sweet juice of Chanel no. 19. That first bracing hit of green that pads softly, over long hours to a creamy sweet velvet mantle holds a subtle complexity that never bores and a solid familiarity that keeps me coming back for more. Often described as austere, aloof, cold or calculating, to me, 19 is none of these things: she just needs your time and patience to experience the unfolding of her beauty. If Angel slips into your lap, flinging her arms about your neck without introduction, 19 has a slower approach, she engages your brain and then your heart, in that order.
But this post was not meant to tout the praises of Chanel no. 19, but rather to nudge me out of the scent monogamy I find myself sinking into of late. I tend to enjoy the numbered Chanels: No. 5, especially in its parfum and eau de toilette versions, No. 22, which is sheer beauty in a bottle, No. 19, my decades spanning soulmate, and more recently, No. 18, the weird bird of the bunch.No. 18’s herbaceous top notes say “wood” , but not the dark ancient wood of a forest, nor the aged, aromatic wood of a spice casket. Instead, I get the impression of a vibrant bush with it’s branches reaching out into the sunlight. After about five minutes, a sweet, intense note emerges and I am reminded of white tea, lightly sweetened with honey. This contrast of dry herbs, foliage and sweet intensity relates No. 18 to the split personality of her cousin No. 19, but they are not otherwise similar. If No. 19 is green, No. 18 is a soft toasty gold, or the color of straw. The overall impression hearkens back to the days of the natural look, when girls went braless, wore lip gloss and straightened their hair with the household iron.
No. 18 imparts a feel of easy intimacy when, after about 30 minutes, I get an imaginary whiff of baked bread dressed in creamy butter with a dash of salt. I think that No. 18 is wonderful for both casual, everyday wear or out to a classical music performance. This fragrance offers you a sunlit golden ambiance without intrusive sillage. Why don’t I have a bottle in my collection? (yet) It seems, after all these years, that I find myself married, and nearly ( or currently?) monogamous to Chanel no. 19.
Images: my own from Asheville Botanical Gardens and High Line Park in NYC
My West Coast Wild Librarian friend has put together a booklet of first lines from 36 of her favorite books. A delightful guide, you can find it here, along with volumes of her beautiful, life affirming poetry.
When I returned from Evanstan in May, bursting with enthusiasm to share my experiences with intentional art making, Marga T. asked for a list of books that might serve as inspirational resources for this practice. As I blatantly borrow Wild Librarian’s way of offering a tantalizing taste of her beloved books, here is a short list of dog eared volumes that I reach for often. Following the directly quoted first lines of the books, are my own brief impressions.
Art is a Way of Knowing, by Pat B. Allen. “ Images take me apart; images put me back together again, new, enlarged, with breathing room. For twenty years I have kept a record of my inner life in images, paintings, drawings and words- sometimes haphazardly, sometimes more diligently, but continuously throughout my days as an art student, art therapist, teacher, wife, mother and artist.” This book is a surprisingly practical guide with tips on how to approach various visual art media such as drawing, painting, sculpture and collage. The emphasis is on exploring the sensuality of the materials, and the resulting intuitive process unique to each of them. The writer frees the reader from pre conceived notions and places the authority for creative license firmly into the reader’s hands, releasing the tendency to judge results. This book has become an artistic bible of sorts for me and emphasizes one’s unique art making as a way to self knowledge. What is my own authentic personal imagery, and what can it tell me? As Carl Jung stated, “Understand yourself and you will be sufficiently understood.”
Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky. “ Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated.” This book is tiny and dense, filled with the artist’s philosophical reflections on the meaning of image, color, shape and design. This is a somewhat heady book that read like nectar to me. Following a trail to Kandinsky via my interest in Georgia O’Keefe, this book came into my hands at time when I could make space for inner exploration of symbols that were rich with personal meaning. Kandinsky gave me a vivid insight to the concept of abstraction, which had previously eluded me. What does it take to strip down my notions that are fed by society, media, and even art history, and to express something that is an essential and unique creation? Here is one of my resulting images from my In Reverence of Water series:Wisdom of the Psyche, Depth Pscyhology after Neuroscience by Ginette Paris. “Only once are we born and once do we die. Psychologically, howeer, we die a thousand deaths and are reborn at least that many times.” This book was written by a clinical psychologist who suffered from a traumatic brain injury and discovered that her near death experience opened up new discoveries for her in a way that psychotherapy could not. Her book explores the death principle or destructive forces that individuals may encounter over a lifespan and the impulses that can lead to depression, or broken relationships, anxiety or despair. She then reminds us that death is a part of a circle: As winter is followed by spring in the natural world, the psychological blights we may suffer can be followed by one’s own psychological spring, or period of reinvention, if we allows the process to unfold. My take away was about the value of being in life without resistance, through its ups and downs, and with appreciation for even the dark cycles. More fodder for the creative life!
Trust the Process, An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go by Shaun McNiff. “ We are living in an era when people hunger for personal relationships with the creative spirit. …There is a pervasive sense in our culture that creative expression is restricted to an anointed group.” For me the take away of this wonderful book is distilled within its title. Every artist knows that art making is messy, sometimes chaotic and can be filled with uncertainty. There can be moments of not knowing what comes next that require settling into that void and finding your feet beneath you when you cannot see the ground. Life is much the same way. This is a key reason why I find that the more I engage in the art process, the more comfortable in life itself do I feel. Yes it’s a metaphor. But it’s also the same thing. Life and art. Trust the process can be applied to anything, and to everything.Women Who Run With the Wolves, Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. “ We are all filled with a longing for the wild. There are few culturally sanctioned antidotes for this yearning. We were taught to feel shame for such a desire.” This book is chock full of myths and legends that shine light on the inner complexities of the feminine experience. Tales like The Little Match Girl, Blue Beard and The Red Shoes discuss the need for nurturance and support, self awareness, self trust and self knowledge that serves a woman as she moves through stages of maturation. What are the unique and juicy gifts that a woman brings to this earth? How have these gifts been violated, exploited, chased into near extinction or had to go underground for sheer survivial? How has the contribution of women been tamed, diluted and controlled in cultures throughout the world? These are questions that arise for discussion here. Themes include embodied existence, sacred sexuality, finding your tribe, trusting oneself and living a creative life. I could say this is a must read for all women, but my husband read it with interest – his comment: I’m a Man Who Loves a Woman Who Runs With the Wolves – this book is for me, too.
Spirituality and Art Therapy, Living the Connection edited by Mimi Farrelly-Hansen. “Compiling this anthology required a delicate balance between the eye of the eagle and the eye of the mouse. How to combine the broad panorama of truth or meaning with the reality of life on the ground, in the narrow passageweya of a thousand hospital corridors, mental health agencies, community art studios, nursing homes and prisons where art therapists seek to alleviate suffering throught the use of imagination and media? “ This was a textbook for a class on Spirtuality and Art Therapy that I registered for but was cancelled. I found the text so compelling that I read it for summer reading. The fact that it came into my hands not long after the deaths of my mother, father and sister, is, in my opinion, just one more example of serendipity. This book is a collection of writings presented from a variety of spiritual perspectives. Each essay asserts the belief that respectful awareness of spiritual life is an essential component when working with people, particularly in a counseling or therapeutic capacity. This book contains descriptions of actual sessions and art based interventions by practicing art therapists working in the aforementioned milieus.
Studio Art Therapy, Cultivating the Artist Identity in the Art Therapist by Catherine Hyland Moon. “ This is a time of the interdisciplinary. Boundaries of each of the sciences and arts have become permeable as it becomes clear there are fruitful insights that can come from working with two or more fields together.” This book fascinated me as it introduces a concept of aesthetics that is based on relationship or connection. Instead of merely focusing on formal elements within a piece of art, what about the piece enables me to connect with the other? Moon gives us a glimpse into her life with the dual identities of artist and art therapist, along with anectdotes from the field. One poignant story relates to how she was able to overlap her clinical view of a troubled boy she was working with a poetic understanding of his acting out behaviors. This shift in perspective led to a positive breakthrough in the therapeutic relationship. What difference would it make in my life and work if I can stop and consider how each person is like a living poem? A work of art? Can I have the eye of appreciation for the daily rituals of a coworker or family member? The point of view opens up a telescopic lens to life and relationships if you let it. Written for art therapists and those who seek to use art based techniques, this is a book that may be of interest and application for one’s own art making.
Existential Art Therapy, The Canvas Mirrror by Bruce L. Moon. “ According to Highwater (1994): Art doesn’t want to be familiar. It wants to astonish us. It wants to move us. To touch us. Not accommodate us, not make us comfortable.” (p.9). The title of this book is an expression of my desire to link the practice of art therapy to the ultimate concerns of life, as expressed in existential philosophy and therapy.” If I were to identify with a particular theoretical framework as an art therapist, it would be Existential Therapy. Finding meaning in one’s life is a central concern to one’s existence, and on a very personal note, art has been a life long companion for me as a way of navigating through the journey. Art has served me long before I had any conscious awareness of its ability to nurture me. Bruce Moon’s book enlightens the reader to his life work of bearing witness to the suffering of others and how he provides sacred space in the art studio for individuals to process through the challenges of life. Integral to this practice is Moon’s own life as an artist and I love how he has found a way to make art alongside his clients in a safe, respectful and collegial manner. The Golden Rule put to practice amidst the paint and canvas. The art therapist is not an authority, but rather, a helpful fellow traveler, who has walked a similar path.Images, my own. Pastel, multi media.