It’s impossible to ignore the impact of the recent CoVID-19 pandemic on our lives and the way we interact with the people we are used to having around us. As an artist, I am finding it equally difficult to ignore the impact of our current situation on my art and creative process.
Even though my full time job and my artistic life and creative process intertwine, it still feels strange and uncomfortable not “going in to work”. Spending time in the studio creating, researching the larger questions around the role of art in our culture, or what it means to be an artist, still feels like something that I should be spending some small part of my “work week” on, not the entirety of my productive output for the day.
But, with this isolation which has overwhelmed us, the lock-down of our society and the introduction of language like, “sheltering at home”, I am finding now that this is the way I spend my time. It’s certainly more productive than endlessly scrolling through my Facebook or Instagram feeds!
But, in the middle of this, there is still the endless drumbeat of, “do something, be productive, don’t waste your time, have something to show for all these hours and days and weeks slipping through your fingers.”
As a Christ-follower, there is the added angle of somehow transforming this time into some sort of spiritual experience. What am I learning from this time? How am I stepping into transformation? How will I, and the community of Christ following people emerge from the other side of this experience, somehow stronger and more aware of our place in God’s Kingdom? It’s a two edged sword — the questions are certainly valuable and worth asking, but again, there is the buzzing pressure to be “spiritually” productive with the time, to not simply let it walk past me.
I created this particular sculpture, “Quiet”, shortly before the world all went crazy. A pottery friend had just given me a 50lb batch of a new kind of clay, Onyx Crunch, to experiment with. It was very similar to the Black Raven clay which I have used before, but with a higher level of grog (the “crunch”). I created this piece largely as an experiment with the new clay, trying some new techniques. I was delighted with the results, especially the the glistening surface finish I liked so much in the Black Raven clay. However, I also ran into some technical difficulties, in particular, in some severe cracking in the body and legs of the figure.
I have found an interesting way of “redeeming” these cracks when they have shown up in some of my work. I have a bright, gold colored resin which I work into the cracks. Much like the ancient Japanese tradition of Kintsukuroi (or Kintsugi), it takes something which has been broken, and transforms it into something more beautiful than before. For this figure, the crack is not something to hide, but to acknowledge as a precious part of who she is.
As is often the case, I have struggled with finding the right name for this piece. I created it out of a more guttural sense of the form, flow, tension and feel of the pose, rather than having an explicit sense of the “meaning”. However, as we now walk in the middle of the insanity, darkness, and uncertainty of these times of pandemic and fear, the sense this figure gives me is of “quiet”. She doesn’t even necessarily have a sense of “peace”, for there is little of that around. Rather, she is sitting still, allowing the quiet to flow over her.
That is what I am trying to see, to walk into, to let myself dwell in — quiet. Taking time to consciously step off of the treadmill of doing “useful” things. Stilling the noise and buzz of what is going on — things that I cannot deny and cannot stop — and allowing myself to simply hear the still, small sound of the Father, breathing.
(For a fascinating talk around the tradition of Kintsukuroi and the way it parallels our lives, see this TED Talk.)