Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Where Inspiration Grows

I was reading one of my favorite blogs by Donna Watson, a post called The Search For Meaning: Self Awareness. The title alone called out to the mystic, the artist and the art therapist in me. As I read, I came to this question:

I eventually realized that there is more to a work of art. I wanted to find meaning in my work... I started making lists as I went deeper and identified my likes, my interests, and my strengths...Have you figured out your list? 

As I read and looked at her images, it struck me that images themselves are a form of sanctuary for many of us--not only the creating of images, but the consequent viewing of our own and those of other artists.

Donna's words spoke to me. I've made plenty of To Do lists, mapping out my day, but never an accounting of where I find visual meaning.  I wanted my list to include things that have inspired me through the years, things that fuel my work and which, I've discovered, help form my own inner strengths.

To that end, I'm making my list. I invite you to make your own and share it with us.
1. Quilts:

How I start to make a quilt, all I do is start sewing and it just comes to me. My daughter asked me the other day what I was making, and I said, "I don't know yet; I'm just sewing pieces together," and the quilt looked pretty good. No pattern. I usually don't use a pattern, only my mind.  Lorraine Pettway, quilter

Dancing Rings, ©2007, Hannah Hunter, 48" x 60," Cloth
2. Sheer, unbridaled color:

All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites. Mark Chagall

3. Mandalas:

When I began drawing the mandalas, however, I saw that everything, all the paths I had been following, all the steps I had taken, were leading back to a single point-namely, to the midpoint...It is the path to the center, to individuation.  C. G. Jung from Memories, Dreams and Reflections

Thangka painting of Vajradhatu Mandala

4. Tree of Life:

Oh, I who long to grow
I look outside myself, and the tree
inside me grows.  Ranier Marie Rilke

5. Indian gouache paintings:

The Goddess Shakti taking the form of a triangle brings forth the three worlds. Jnarnava, Chapter X

Rajasthan, c. 17th century, Gouache on paper

6. Ancient Manuscripts:

Without traditional wisdom, the language would be but a skeleton without flesh, a body without a soul.   Zulu proverb from South Africa

Hebrew manuscript from the Bodleian Library, Oxford University

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Finding Sanctuary

Where I Live, ©2000, H. Hunter, 15" x 18", Acrylic, Caran d'ache on paper

Where do you find sanctuary?

I began to ask myself this question after a Trauma Informed Art Therapy Course I took last week in San Francisco.

When working with trauma victims, creating a sense of safety, or in other words, a sanctuary, becomes your top priority.

But how to do that? How to find safety in the midst of physical and/or emotional pain?

There are tried and true art therapy activities, but I wanted to go a bit deeper. The word "sanctuary" made me think of the Jewish practice of Shabbat. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a 20th century theologian, wrote about Shabbat as "a cathedral in time"--a "place" in time rather than space in which a person could could learn to rest.

In other words, sanctuary could be a state of mind rather than an actual place. I began to ask people how they find sanctuary. Some of their answers:

"Sanctuary is being with my family, watching Dad make spaghetti and then sitting around the table eating it together." 
"Sanctuary is when my whole family is home and I can close the blinds and we are together and the rest of the world is outside."
"Sanctuary is running." 
"Sanctuary is my new kitten."

I took advantage of the art groups I facilitated and asked people to make collages of their sanctuaries and the guardians of these places. What emerged surprised me:

A gorilla with wise eyes staring out of the picture surrounded by bits of colorful pieces of quilts.
The eye of a tiger surrounded by spring green fronds of leaves.
The plain of a desert with two yucca plants in bloom.
A home built on the foundation of chocolate chip cookies.

In almost all the images, nature played a central role. It didn't seem to matter whether someone had ready access to nature, it was the time spent imagining and creating the image of a place that evoked a sense of restfulness.

It seems that with the ever increasing pace and pressures of modern life, this kind of sanctuary is more important than ever--a pause we take that allows us to touch base with something more primal and tangible. I'm curious how many of you use art as a refuge?  If not, how do you find sanctuary?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Plant and Painting Share Common Roots

Amaranth, ©2011, Hannah Hunter, Collage (paper, fabric and watercolor on panel)
Amaranth. I was walking up the stairs to my studio, trying to come up with a name for a panel I'd just finished and this name came into my head. Curious to see what it meant, I looked it up.

Here's what I found: Amaranthus, collectively known as amaranth, is a wide ranging genus of herbs. The root of the word comes from the Greek, "amarantos," or "unfading" and it combined, sometime in the word's history, with the the Greek work for flower, "anthos."

 A small purple flower, Amaranth provides a sturdy source of nutrition and serves to support sustainable land care in Africa. 

Unfading flower. I like that. At in this time in the world, when so much seems unsure in so many countries, the world, at least my world, needs some reassurance about those things that do not fade.

Amaranth, the flower
I think about the children with whom I work. Day after day this week, I ran my eyes down the census to see if anything had changed; a chance for a miracle cure. No, there were still too many children whose diagnoses were grim. (Isn't one too many?) I wanted to push against this--to create a moment of fun, a small space for healing. Although I am not a doctor or a nurse, I am an artist and the healing I can offer is moments of relief, spaces for joy, a dose of hope.

Into this space comes what does not fade: art, prayer, laughter and love. Amaranth.

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Leaf on Life

This little panel is going on view next week at one of my favorite local art spots,  The Artery. I've been experimenting with collage on hardboard panels, creating rectangles of stacked horizontal strips of paper juxtaposed with rectangles of various shapes and sizes.

These short stacks are reminiscent of books, books that I pile by my nightstand in hopes of making my way through them, one by one, before I fall asleep at night.
Arbor Vitae, ©2011, Hannah K. Hunter, 8" x 8," Collage (paper, leaf, watercolor)

The title, Arbor Vitae, or tree of life,  refers to my obsession with the Tree of Life and also makes an allusion to the way in which Jews refer to the Torah as "Etz Chaim,"  the tree of life.

I've noticed that with the advent of Facebook and blogs, it's harder and harder to sustain my attention on a single book. I'm working on that, focusing more on the books surrounding my bed and a little less with the omnipresent white rectangle on my kitchen table. Books: sweet trees of life.