Continuing the insights from the previous post, ‘Enchanted Vessel’, I am always struck by the universal principles that seem to run through all arts.  The deeper you go into disparate arts like painting, calligraphy, singing and Tai chi the closer they come to one another in their essence.

In Tai Chi beginning students usually get caught up in the fancy arm movements without realizing these are grounded in combat sport. If you watch a Tai Chi master execute the form (a ritualized series of movements) , it is filled with power and a controlled tension, as well as a fluid grace. If you try to just imitate the graceful arm movements you get only empty decoration. But if the movements originate from your center, they begin to contain power.

In singing, novices try to create volume and resonace by ‘doing ‘ something with their throat or mouth. But true resonant sound comes from deep within the center of the body and from the connection between  resonant membranes in the entire body. It can’t be forced or faked.  

In painting, beginning and even experienced painters can get caught up in imitating a certain style.  But usually , a style is a set of techniques combined with a visual vocabulary that an artist has evolved over years of consistent work. The power of an artwork is intimately linked with the artist’s passion and dedication. Imitating a style will give a trendy quick fix with no depth or staying power.

Calligraphy and tai Chi are very similar. When we start, we want to be able to make all the fancy letters and swirls, but without grounding in good letterforms and consistent spacing, these will look weak and unconvincing. The power in a piece of calligraphy comes from mastery of form, then comes the freedom to improvise within that form.

In all of these disciplines I constantly learn that periods of effort give way to letting go and letting it happen. Trusting the body, to make a sound, a stroke, a movement. Sidestepping the ego’s sense of, ‘Aren’t I doing this well’  to being in service of the art. To put in enough hours with humility, that maybe one percent of the time, excellence can emerge unbidden and effortlessly.  And even more important that excellence is simply, truth. That I may make true tai chi movements, sing true notes, draw true letters and use true colours.

And when you give up all sense of needing recognition, or returns or a sense of being special, all of a sudden,whatever the art form it becomes one’s own totally unique expression,  who I really am is recognizable in that form.

Enchanted vessels

November 29, 2008


Enchanted vessels 1, mixed media

Yesterday during the first singing lesson I’ve had in months, my art, singing and Tai chi came together in a beautiful resonating whole.

My teacher was speaking about letting the sound move up my spine, and I connected this to the chi energy we work with in Tai chi. When I sang as if I were doing the slow meditative movements of my tai chi, I entered the same centered flow that sometimes happens in doing the form.

When my teacher then asked me to imagine the sound coming from the bowl of my pelvis, everything came together .  In Tai chi the movements originate from the tan tien, the body’s center of gravity just under the navel. Making the sound from there was very powerful and created a bell like resonance that moved all through my body.

And the next piece of the puzzle was the realization that in most of the art I’ve done in the last years the bowl form or vessel as been central theme.  Bowl, center, container, woman, pelvis, womb, earth, receiving, singing bowl, garden bowl 10 garden bowls filled with music…..enchantment, interiority.

And ‘Water, Fire, Love’, where the bowl symbol was linked with fire and light, was a gift to a particular young doctor whose specialty happens to be focused on the pelvic area of women.  
But I hadn’t made this connection when I chose the piece for him- or rather when the piece seemed to choose itself.

She only flew

November 26, 2008


I’ve kept an old America Style magazine from 1996. One of the works of art which touched me most was by Brian Andreas . It was a little assemblage with the words,’for a long time she flew only when she thought no one else was watching’. The words have stayed with me for these past 12 years and the oil pastel collage above is a little tribute to Andreas’ piece.  I hadn’t seen his artwork for years, and when I looked it up this evening, I noticed that even after all this time, some of his visual language had crept into my piece.  It made me smile.

I remember in my Dutch class, we had to write a short story. Mine was about a woman who flew at dawn, when she thought no one was watching.  After a long and lonely period, she eventually became aware of others like herself, hidden angels.  When I had to read the story aloud in class tears came to my eyes. I still don’t know why. Do we all have a dream to fly?

ps Since writing this post, I’ve discovered Brian’s ‘storypeople’ site. I had run across it months ago without making the connection, but now I know why I had such a good feeling about it. Makes me want to get on the next plane to Iowa. Check it out!

Cross with woodburned letters

November 24, 2008


I took these pictures one morning in a flush of well being at having materials in my hands again. Despite the sadness of the commission ( a beloved family member of acquaintances of ours had passed away), having clear-cut craft work to do always lifts my spirits. There were tracings spread out all around the studio, I had my pens and inks out, and the smell of wood smoke (from burning the letters into the wood) let me fantasize for a short moment that I had a fireplace!

This cross is an example of one of our joint projects. Rende made the cross from iroko and I designed and burned the letters.

I had never burned letters into wood. The tool used for this is called a pyrograph, and Rende ordered one for me especially for this job. He gave me a large block of wood to practice on, and after several hours, the technique started to come naturally.

Iroko was chosen as an alternative to teak because it is forested in an ecologically  responsible way as opposed to teak, and it weathers well.  

It has a lot of little pits and grooves in the grain which made it difficult to letter on, but for some people this actually adds to the appeal of the burned letters. 

According to the family’s wishes, the quiet design and plain letters were very much in character with their mother and wife.
It was a satisfying job for us to do,  and I hope the family and friends of Mrs. B will derive some comfort from it when they visit the grave from time to time.

Anchor piece for B

November 22, 2008


B asked me what it was that made ‘Water, fire, love’ the anchor piece for the new series. 

One answer is the way that the design, color and totality work in this piece.  I also love its power, it achieves another level the others reach for but don’t quite get to.  It is an entryway to something new. This doesn’t negate its predecessors, that level is also valid. I love all those previous pieces, but for me they led up to  this one. And the ones that came after refer back to it.

If, out of a series of 18 pieces, one soars, that will be the one closest to the artist’s heart.  You already get a taste of it when you are working, you enter ‘flow’ where your own intentions are still present but they get taken over by a larger wave of creative energy. You know exactly what to do with out questioning it and the piece births itself somehow.

When you stand back after it is done, the feeling is one of surprise, gratitude and grace. I see in front of me something I never could have planned for. I never knew I had it in me and I don’t know where it came from but I recognize it down to the depths of my soul.

And once, once in a very long while, someone else recognizes it at the same level. This is the greatest gift an artist can receive, in my experience.

So B, thanks for everything, but thanks most of all for that.