Friday, November 27, 2009

Another Circle of Hands

While surfing for "environmental art", I found another Circle of Hands, this beautiful photograph created by participants in an environmental arts festival in Iran, in 2007. For information, visit the story by Iranian Radio. The story and images are also to be found at the Green Museum. I found this image so striking I wanted to share it, and the story of these students creating this festival against the desert (kavir) landscape. That it took place in Iran, all the more so. I take the liberty of copying text and images from the post here.

For information on environmental art, also visit the Green Museum's Blog. Below, I list more great links to Earth Arts websites and blogs.

Nov 16, 2007

Color, Leaf, and Kavir:
Environmental Art Festival of Kerman unveiled the freshness of Kavir


"The festival began in Vahdat Hall at Shahid Bahonar University in Kerman, with speeches and discussions on the concept of environmental arts.

On the third day of the festival artists gathered in Shahdad Kavir a
nd presented their works in a kavir (desert) background. This area is one of the most attractive outlooks of Kavir because of its statue-like walls called "clot." 200 young artists and art teachers of Kerman Province joined the festival.
On th e last day of the festival the art works were reviewed and discussed. The participants were mainly from Kerman province coming from various universities. The initiative was taken by the scientific association of the painting course of the Saba Arts and Architecture School of Shahid Bahonar University. Environmental art festivals have been held during the last few years in various parts of the country. The Pardiss international center has created seven festivals. " (

Other environmental arts related sites : (
ecoartspace blog
Environmental arts (Orion Magazine)


Art + Environment
CSPA Connect
Deep Craft
Ear to the Earth
Earth Artists NetworkSEEDS
The Art of Engagement

"As if to help us change our perspective on war, discoveries within quantum physics suggest the belief that we can achieve a position of dominance in relation to nature, life or each other is, ultimately, an illusion. Each of us is an expression of a vast sea or field of consciousness - invisible, and as yet barely recognised by us. We are all connected to each other through our participation in a great living web of life. It would seem that we are, literally, "our brother's keeper".

Anne Baring,
"The Web of Life"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Daniel Dancer's Circles

"If we surrendered to Earth's Intelligence,
We could rise up rooted like trees."
....Rainier Maria Rilke

I felt like sharing the environmental art of Daniel Dancer, who has organized thousands of people with his "Zero" circles, and "sky art" projects. His primary medium is human beings. I've seen clear cut forests: it is something you never forget. For more information visit his website, or read his important article on the Interspecies Arts website. I'm delighted to discover this's so good to read about so many "conversations with the Earth".

Bear Witness Circle , by Daniel Dancer:

"Twelve Children and eight adults gathered in an immense clear cut near Homer to complete this circle. At the center of the circle was a life-size bear mounded from living moss and lichen. Clear cuts, like this one near Homer, take an exceptionally long time to heal.

Catalog Circle

Dancer's comments about the logging of forests to produce paper pulp to fund schools in Washington state was an especially poignant irony. How can we educate the future with the proceeds of wasted forests, destroyed landscapes, ravaged soil, by cutting down the very breath of the planet?

"This circle was constructed from catalogs sent to one home in the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Years. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources manage thousands of acres of forest trust lands with a mandate to fund the construction of schools. The time has come to question this practice. Does it really make sense to log valuable forest habitats to fund schools? ............Does it really make sense to log nearly half of America's forest to make paper pulp? Direct mailers gobble sixty-eight million trees per year. Half the received envelopes are never opened. "
I also appreciated the simplicity of his comment about "art", from the "Zero Circles" project site, wherein he invites participants to become co-creative artists. As a professional artist, I'm always amazed by the ways people are intimidated by the notion of "art".

"First of all, don't be intimidated by the word "artist." In an earlier time, art was not something others did for us to view, or purchase to display on the walls and tables of our homes. Instead, doing art was a part of life. It empowered us. It gave meaning to our lives and connected us to the whole. Rediscover the connection art once provided and build a circle in a national forest near you."

"Raising the Dove" --- Portland, Oregon peace advocates demonstrate support for a U.S. Department of Peace. (Photo and artwork concept by Danial Dancer)

Circles are many things, but most of all, Circles are inclusive. They contain, like the spherical shape of our Revered Earth, the whole of life. Circles have no end.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Weavers" Sculpture

“What might we see, how might we act,
if we saw with a webbed vision?

Catherine Keller, "From a Broken Web"

"What is the new mythology to be, the mythology
of this
unified earth as of one harmonious being?"

Joseph Campbell

I'm almost finished with my "Weaver's" sculpture, which will be installed in the staircase entryway at Wesley when some details are completed. The sculpture, mixed media and terra cotta clay, was formed from casts of Wesley staff and students.

All arts, like dreams, have different layers of meaning. As I worked, the "story" of this progression of hands became clearer to me. It is dedicated to the ongoing collaboration of the community here at the Luce Center. For me, it's also a new “telling” of my exploration of the story of the Spider Woman. Spider Woman is the weaver deity found throughout Native American mythology.

It’s said that all stories originate in the mind of Spider Woman.

The "Hand and Eye" is the hand of the Divine, from which all inspirations come. This piece is about the evolution of an idea, and so the first pair of hands, "The Weaver", belong to Cathy Kapikian, who retired this year from the arts program she founded. Without her vision the Luce Center would not exist.

The third panel, "The Seed Planter" seemed a fitting progression: all inceptions need visionary collaborators, people who find the means to "ground it into the soil."

I made tiles based on stories told me by the people who volunteered to have their hands cast. For example, Mr.Tortorici told me that his family came from a village famous for growing olives, and so I made him an olive branch. Ms. Oden, who is the Dean, told me she missed the wild storms of her homeland, Oklahoma....and so I had fun inscribing a storm scene on her panel.

Dr. Hopkins is an archaeologist, thus his panel had pottery shards on it.

Mr. Soulen is a banjo player, and also a bee keeper, which is why I put a flower on the neck of his instrument.

Doug Purnell is a painter, the other resident artist with me this term. Olaf, who is from Iceland, makes her art from fabric and is a gifted seamstress. And Amy Gray brought the Gardener's graceful hands, offering the metaphor of the flowering of an idea and co-creation.

Finally, I included the hands of Colleen Nelson, who has been a community activist and advocate all of her life.

Next to last, those of Deborah Sokolove, the new Director of the Luce Center. Deborah says of her own artwork that they are "prayers made visible", and so I titled her panel (she made her own tile) the "Iconographer". Because that is what an Icon, to me, is.

( I have to add that Deborah was once a professional weaver; and the backgrounds to all of her paintings include a woven motif. A nice continuity of "webbed vision" here!)

"Planetary consciousness is knowing as well as feeling the vital interdependence and essential oneness of humankind and the conscious adoption of the ethic and the ethos that this entails. Its evolution is the basic survival on this planet."

Ervin Lazlo, Macroshift

Here is the structure:

“The Divine Hand”

“The Weaver” - “The Seed Planter”
(because inceptions need visionary collaborators, people who can "ground it into the soil.")

“The Orcharder” “The Archaeologist”
One to tend growing trees, to insure they will be fruitful.
And nothing can be woven true without understanding the past.

“The Artist” - “The Administrator”
(Art brings aesthetics. And administrators weather storms.)

“The Musician” - “The Gardener”

Music brings harmony and sweetness, bees and gardens collaborate to flower.

“The Advocate” - “The Seamstress”

A seamstress is one who fine tunes the fabric, mending tears, while activists bring justice, attending to threads that are broken.

“The Iconographer” - “Hands of the Future”

I grew up with a Native American painting that belonged to my father that fascinated me. It showed a herd of horses running across a desert. One of the horses, my favorite one, was turquoise blue. When I assembled my panels, I found I had an "extra hand" from the cast of a child. I remembered that painting. The artist used the blue horse to show the presence of Spirit. And so the last panel is for those who are young, who will carry on and weave anew the threads we weave. And for those who are not yet born.

The thread has no beginning, and no end.

"It seems as if we have been placed in an alchemical retort, forced to live through the fire of transformation, for the most part, unconsciously.........The new myth coming into being through the triple influence of quantum physics, depth psychology and the ecological movement suggests that we are participants in a great cosmic web of life, each one of us indissolubly connected with all others through that invisible field. It is the most insidious of illusions to think that we can achieve a position of dominance in relation to nature, life or each other. In our essence, we are one."

Anne Baring

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Icons for the Earth

She will rust us with blossom
She will seal us with Her seed.

Robin Williamson

Study for "Numina"

I can't believe that in a month I'll be heading west again, back to Tucson. I wish I could remain on the East Coast, see the snows and the spring come. I left my heart in the East a long time ago, and can't seem to drag it into the arid lands.

My sculpture Weavers is laid out on the floor of the studio, and will soon be finished and mounted at Wesley. I was amazed to see that after I assembled it (it's about 9 feet tall) it had a cohesive story within its structure. Of course, I had to lay it out to see that! More later, when I have some photos.

more "Numina"
The first deities of Rome, before they became an empire or had adopted Greek mythologies, they called "numen", roughly translated, "spirits of place", the "mind of place". These early deities included Pomona, goddess of the Orchards, and many other local deities concerned with the well being of trees, springs, deer, etc. As I think about creating my personal Icons, I return to the intelligence of nature, the "numinous".

Sometimes I see that the Deity I felt in the woods as a child, the conversations I had with beaches and stones and butterflies, are not entirely lost to me. There are still places I can go, where those friendly and mysterious voices still invite me to join the conversation. The divine is beneath our feet, in the roots, the cracks, the dragon trails of wind and rain moving across the expressive faces of the day. I like this image, I think the eyes mean to me that immanent presence, that intelligence I feel in nature.

16 million tons of rain
are falling every second
on the planet,
an ocean
perpetually falling
and every drop
is your body
every motion, every feather, every thought

is your body
time is your body


every leaf, every river,
every animal,
your body
every creature trapped in the gears
of corporate nightmares
every species made extinct
was once
your body


you are the dark

that holds the stars
in intimate


Drew Dellinger

Friday, November 13, 2009

Icons - the Black Madonna

Black Madonna of Guadalupe, Spain

"Older Yet, and Lovelier far,

this Mystery, and I will not forget."

Robin Williamson

I can't write about icons without revisiting the mysterious "Black Madonnas" found in shrines, churches and cathedrals all over Europe - France alone has over 300. These icons have been the focus of millions of pilgrimages since the early days of the church, and probably rest upon sites that were pilgrimage sites long before the advent of Christianity.
Why were these effigies so beloved that pilgrims travelled many miles to seek healing and guidance? Why, in an ancient world where European peasants were unlikely to see a dark skinned person was the Madonna black? Some of the effigy statues are made of materials that are true, ebony black. And why are there so many myths that connect the effigies with trees, or caves, or special wells?

In 2005, during a residency on the 150 acres of IPark, the land spoke to me, and I had time and space to speak back, to engage in a conversation, and my own Black Madonna arose from that numinous time.

Many suggest that the origins of the Madonna with Child originated in images of Isis with her child Horus (the reborn Sun God). Isis was a significant religious figure in the later days of Rome, and continued to be worshipped in the early days of Christianity. In general, when Isis arrived in Rome she adopted Roman dress and complexion, and was sometimes merged with other deities, such as Venus. The images of Isis that survived the fall of Rome were perhaps the origin of later Virgin and Child icons - temples devoted to Isis continued well into the third century. "Paris" derives from the name of Isis (par Isis).

fresco from the Temple of Isis at Pompeii

Mother Earth

Whether originally derived from Isis or not, most of these images are connected in place and myth to healing springs, power sites, and holy caves. The Black Madonna is the Earth Mother, in the form of Catholic Mary, and yet not entirely disguised. She is black like the Earth is black, fertile (and often shown pregnant) like the Earth is fertile, dark because she is embodied and immanent, as nature is embodied and immanent.

I did not realize until recently that there are many pilgrimages in Europe to Black Madonnas. The Cathedral of Santiago at Compostella is the endpoint of "The Camino", the long pilgrimage still made by thousands today across Spain.

Pilgrimage routes to Compostela

The Camino is also the title of a book by Shirley Maclaine, who undertook the journey in 2000. It's believed that the earliest pilgrimages were made to the "Black Madonna of Compostella", a very ancient effigy housed in the church. Compostella comes from the same root word as "compost". Compost is the fertile soil created from rotting organic matter, the "Black Matter". The alchemical soup to which everything living returns, and is continually resurrected by the processes of nature into new life, new form. Mater. Mother.

"From this compost -- life and light will emerge. When the pilgrims came to the Cathedral at Compostella they were being 'composted' in a sense. After emergence from the dark confines of the cathedral and the spirit -- they were ready to flower, they were ready to return home with their spirits lightened."

~~ Jay Weidner

[Digitized image of Our Lady of Montserrat]

There are many legends and miracles associated with Black Madonna icons. The icon at Guadalupe, Spain, is said to have been carved by St. Luke in Jerusalem, although this is highly unlikely. It doesn't ultimately matter how old the icon actually is. The question is, what does it embody that strikes a deep chord, that speaks to those who come to contemplate the icon? And what does the icon emanate? Can it actually have healing powers, or is the site itself a "place of power", it's energies renewed by millenia of worship and pilgrimage? What resonance does it attune those who come there to? And how significant is the act of making the pilgrimage itself, the long effort to come to a sacred place, a sacred image?

In the Middle Ages when the majority of the Black Madonna statues were created there was still a strong undercurrent and mingling of the old ways. Black Madonnas were discovered hidden in trees in France as late as the seventeenth century, suggesting these were representations of pagan goddesses who were still worshipped in groves. Black Madonnas are also found close to caves (the womb/tomb of the Earth Mother). In churches the statues were sometimes kept in a subterranean part of a church, or near a sacred spring or well.

"Again and again a statue is found in a forest or a bush or discovered when ploughing animals refuse to pass a certain spot. The statue is taken to the parish church, only to return miraculously by night to her own place, where a chapel is then built in her honour. Almost invariably associated with natural phenomena, especially healing waters or striking geographical features" Ean Begg
Black Madonnas, not surprisingly, are also associated with the Grail legends. The Grail or Chalice may represent the mingling of Celtic mythology. Cerridwen's cauldron was an important myth about the womb of the Earth Mother, from which life is continually renewed, nourished, born, and reborn.

The extent to which people make pilgrimages to these sites is amazing. For example, the Black Madonna of Montserrat, near Barcelona, receives up to a million pilgrims a year, travelling to visit the 'miracle- working' statue known as La Moreneta, the dark little one.

So why am I writing all of this? Well, because it's important to know that the ancient "Journey to the Earth Mother", which exists in all cultures and times, never ended. It just transformed again. And, as an artist, these reflections on the meaning and function of Icons give me impetus to explore what kinds of contemporary Icons I might make, Icons that reflect my own source of wonder, reverence, and pilgrimage.

Black Madonna of Czestochowskad (Poland)

Procession to the Black Madonna, Poland


The Cult of the Black Virgin (1985) by Ean Begg;

Miraculous Images of Our Lady (1993) by Joan Carroll Cruz;

The Virgin Goddess: Studies in the Pagan and Christian Roots of Mariology (1993) by Stephen Benko.

Martin Gray: Sacred Sites (

Thursday, November 12, 2009


"Sophia" by Betsy Walker

There is a show at the Dadian Gallery here at Wesley, Icons in the American Style with artists Peter Pearson and Thomas Xenakis (October 28 - December 18). Last week they had an opening, and a lecture about orthodox Christian icon painting.

Thomas Xenakis said in his artists statement, "The contemplative time during the painting of the icon is most important for me. I do not allow the product to overwhelm and pressure the process of the making.......the comfort and peace I glean in the writing of an icon transcends definition."

Mr. Xenakis is a contemporary contemplative, whose traditional icons are for him a way of praying. In quoting him, I put my own emphasis on "product" and "process". The word "product" encapsulates, for me, something so intrinsic to our economic and value system that it can quickly overwhelm and overshadow any form of authentic expression. We're bent on production, at ways to keep generating objects and means, at quotas and, under it all, commercial value (do I sound a bit world weary here?)......all of this can "de-soul" a work of its vital essence in no time at all. The vital essence is the process and intention immanent within its creation, and more subtly, the energies that become focused and generated as the "object" manifests in some kind of material form. Does that make sense?

Peter Pearson, in his artist's statement, says: "Ultimately, the best icons do not draw attention to themselves, but to God.........So the work of a faithful iconographer is not about anything other than creating an image that will invite and facilitate that movement."

In my studies of indigenous masks ( like the sacred mask traditions of Bali), my fascination with Navajo and Pueblo weaving, and traditional Icon arts, I see my own life-long quest for a spiritual meaning, and vitality, I have never found within the modern art world. A longing to discover the "holy" roots of art. I use parentheses for that word because I don't mean it in any denominational sense, but I do mean it in the mystical sense.

"Anima/Animus Icon" (2003)

A sacred mask, in traditional Balinese society, "belongs to the gods", is kept in the Temple except when used for ritual theatre, and were maintained, and protected, as "vessels for the divine". That inspired my 10 year project of making masks for the Goddess, my own devotional offering to the Divine. I think of the Navajo tradition of leaving some small piece of a rug flawed - because only Spider Woman is a perfect weaver.

Gold is the most highly valued metal in the world. When an icon is painted on a backdrop of gold, when a halo is created with gold leaf, and especially when an icon is framed in gold, using alchemical metaphor, the icon is saying that this vision is taking place against an ineffable background, infinitely precious and purified of "dross". To surround an icon with gold was to sanctify it, creating a window or portal into a sacred vision, a sacred space.

A sacred work of art can be a potent receptacle for energy. This was exactly why sacred masks in Bali were kept in the temples, and performers were anointed with holy water before and after using them. It's also why icons are often associated with special places of geomantic potency, such as sacred wells or caves.

Here's a wonderful commentary by Martin Gray, in his truly epic book, Sacred Earth: Places of Peace and Power. He is writing about the Black Madonna of Guadalupe, Spain, the object of a millenia of pilgrimages.

"It is important to consider the legendary description of the icon as having miraculous healing powers. How are these powers to be explained? The current author theorizes that the healing powers of certain icons, statues and images derive in part from their capacity to somehow function as both receptacles and conduits for some manner of spiritual or healing energy.

To grasp the implications of this concept, consider the matter of how physical objects, upon being exposed to various types of energy, may actually build up a charge of that energy and then radiate the energy back into the environment. For example, a stone after being removed from a fire continues to give off radiant heat, and a battery having been charged with electric energy thereafter has the capacity to conduct that energy into an electrical appliance. Perhaps, in some currently unexplained manner, sacred sites and sacred objects are able to gather, store, concentrate and radiate energy in a similar way."
He continues with,

"It seems possible that the so-called 'miraculous' healing icons somehow function as storage batteries for the prayer-transmitted spiritual energy of the millions of pilgrims who visit the sacred shrines. These ‘battery-icons,’ continuously charged over hundreds and often thousands of years, act as conduits and radiant sources of the energies they have stored, and it is these energies that are partially responsible for the 'miracles' of healing so often reported at the sacred sites." *

I love the author's use of the term "storage batteries" and receptacles, which affirms my own sense about the creation of sacred art for many years. As someone who used to make amulets for people with crystals, "charging" the crystals with intent as well as chosing the crystals, stones, colors and symbols to fit the needs of a particular client..............why should an icon, a sacred mask, a revered reliquary, not function as a crystal as well, "crystallizing" and recording psychic, geomantic, and emotional input?**

I am not saying in this entry that "all art" has to be sacred, all art has to have contemplative or spiritual intention. We would have a very dull world, with universal scapegoating and projection, if there was no room for the secular and profane. Heretics would be much in demand. But its no secret that modernism has gone way, way too far in the other direction.

We live in an increasingly de-sacralized world, a disposable world, to our collective sorrow and immediate peril. There are times when I feel overwhelmed with it, overwhelmed with the numbness and indifference, the "sound of silence."

"Tree of Life", Icon, 2005

Martin Gray
PO 4111
Sedona, AZ 86340

** I hate the hard edged cynicism people give to the "new age" explorations of the '80's. Yeah, there were certainly excesses, exploitations, and lots of naivete, but is there any public investigation that doesn't have these frailties? I have held many a crystal, and many a "talisman", in the palm of my hand and felt it change my affect and energy system. Radios and computers are basically utilizing crystals - "Silicon Valley"?

Monday, November 2, 2009

A few new works

"Seeing in the Dark"

I've been busy lately, spending a lot of time (and very gratefully) in the studio, just playing and exploring to see what emerges, having rare indeed time to dialogue with art process. I've produced a couple of black ground paintings (one is above) that I honestly don't know what to think about, except that I kind of like them. The photos here are more yellow than the actual paintings. Are they "illustration" versus "real art"? Who knows. I suppose, being one who has always been interested in mythic time and the dream time, they are only a further step in that conversation, as well as tentative efforts to find my hand with paint again.........

How do we "see in the dark"? What happens when things are obscured, hidden, not illuminated with predictable means? What other kinds of vision, what "night vision" do we need to cultivate?

Icon #7

More hands with eyes...........

"La Mariposa"

Here's my not quite yet finished "Butterfly Woman". I really like her, she makes me smile. For one thing, I love the Hopi notion of the Butterfly Dancer as a mature woman with the strength of experience necessary to do the work of pollinating the future. This is a job that requires weight, depth, good humor, and "las ovarias" (as Clarissa Estes would say). And I also enjoy stepping on three art world taboos in this painting. (this residency has put me through the wringer, as far as "art world identity" goes).

One, it's an old woman instead of yet another pretty woman (usually naked). And that's not how I see the Goddess either. As a woman of 60 now, I'm feeling completely inspired to paint women and men who are lit up from within by age and experience, the external shell beautiful and withering.

Two, she's smiling. It's almost de rigor, as I remember from those endless art critiques of long ago, not to mention perusing art magazines, to portray serious, if not angst ridden, be-pained faces.

Third, the thing has butterflies. That's because it relates to the Hopi legend, and also I've been thinking of the short story I wrote in 1997, "La Mariposa".


This is an assemblage study for the big "Weaver's Hands" piece I'm going to do. I like the way it turned out. I wish I had a kiln here, so I could do some more clay work.

"There's a crack in everything"

This, of course, was one of those happy accidents that became a visual poem based on a poem by Leonard Cohen.

"Forget your perfect offering.
There's a crack
in everything
that's how the light gets in."

I have some photos of myself that I am thinking of doing some black ground self portraits with. They aren't flattering. I have in my mind the image of opening the heart chakra, opening the chest cavity, to "let the light in". Or not, just the act of opening is good enough.

Or, to let the curling, twining, vegetative green heart out, like roots, the tendrils of vines, the pollen that needs to pollinate. Or, like a tree unfurling, emerging from the inner life, flowering.