I love my colored pencils, but lately I’ve been consumed with love for beeswax (encaustic) collage and assemblages. I took these to the Readers Studio in New York and sold almost all the ones I brought. I’m taking orders for similar pieces through May 31st. If you’re interested, please take a look!
While I was away from home over the last few weeks, I found myself pondering the difference between working in colored pencil (as I did in the Gaian Tarot and other pieces), and in my new love, beeswax (encaustic) collage and assemblage, and how both are examples of talismanic, or magical, art. The following Artist’s Statement came pouring out of me, and it strikes me now that it’s a kind of manifesto for transformative art. I hope you like it.
Artist’s Statement ~ Joanna Powell Colbert
In every work of art that I create, whether it is a colored pencil painting or a mixed media collage, I weave in mantras, blessings, spells, and prayers. The music I listen to while making art winds its way into the fabric of the finished piece, as well as the phase of the moon, the season, and the hour of the day. I am conscious of tending the web of life as I play with color, texture, shape, and form.
I most often visit the themes of the Sacred Feminine in myth and folklore, seasonal cycles in nature and in human life, and our beloved Northwest earth and sea. I am fascinated by the rich, archetypal symbolism of the Seeker’s Journey that is found in tarot cards. I brought my love of the natural world to tarot tradition when I created the Gaian Tarot.
When I work with colored pencils, I lay down creamy, waxy layers of rich, transparent color. I inhale the scent of wood shavings from the pencil sharpener, and listen to the picking of acoustic guitar overlaid with sweet harmonies of roots music. I hear the tapping of a woodpecker and the cry of gulls. Pleasure and satisfaction comes in meditative pencil strokes, in the placement of this color against that one, and of small hidden details that delight those who notice them.
Mixed media is messier, quicker, and in some ways even more sensual than drawing with colored pencils. The roughness of clay and recycled sari ribbon, the scent of melted beeswax, the glimmer of gold leaf and iridescent threads, the stain of walnut ink, the weight of stones, driftwood, seed pods, and sea glass picked up on my walks around the island — all these are woven into the piece as I twist and twine them together. Into the making goes the stillness of heron, the scent of wild roses, the hoot of owl, and the muttering of mantras as knots are tied and bundles are wrapped: “May all beings be happy. May all beings be blessed …”
My art is both an offering and a talisman, a touchstone for prayer, possibility, and blessing. Like an ancient icon, it can be a portal to a realm of dream and memory; of half-forgotten, half-remembered glimpses of our true nature.
Art heals. Art opens a door.
For every act of creation is an act of magic.
I left for a Northwest Soul Quest retreat on the Gifts of Shadow last Wednesday, my mind and emotions in turmoil over the actions being taken by the new man in the White House. I carried with me the question of how I can stay centered and grounded in the midst of such chaos. Even more: How I can be an effective sacred activist without burning myself out? We held council on this topic at the retreat, and also had conversation about it with the other-than-humans. At the retreat, we went into deep immersion on shadow and polarity, in our personal lives as well as in the collective. We stayed present to the process and offline for almost all of the retreat.
When I returned on Sunday, it felt like I was returning to a world even crazier than it had been before I left.
Here’s what I am certain of: Spiritual practice and self-care are essential to getting through the next four years without living in constant anxiety, fear, and outrage. We must step away from time to time to regenerate ourselves. Stepping away at regular intervals ensures that we will not burn ourselves out, and more than that, it means we will never get used to the new consensus reality being dictated to us by the man in the White House. (I deeply appreciate this article by Mirah Curzer: “How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind.”
During the retreat, I was reminded of the teachings of our beloved elder Joanna Macy, who speaks of the Great Turning. We are in the death throes of the industrial growth society and are shifting into a life-sustaining era (yes, believe it!).
Joanna Macy teaches that there are three dimensions of the Great Turning. As I filter her message through my own experience, I see the three dimensions this way:
- Center yourself and maintain a deep, strong, connection to Spirit, in whatever way works for you. Have a spiritual practice that you do every day. This leads to the vitally important shift in consciousness spoken of by Macy.
- Create structures for the new culture, the new life-affirming paradigm. My entire life is about creating the new culture, and I suspect it is the same for most of my readers. This runs the gamut from practicing permaculture to honoring the Divine Feminine to gathering in small circles to hold hard conversations about race and privilege — and everything in between.
- Take direct action. These actions are the marches, the petitions, the phone calls, the rising up and saying NO! We must pray for the wisdom and discernment to know when, what, and how many direct actions to take.
Remember that hope is something you do, not something you have.
One of the guides at the retreat I just attended, Sheila Belanger, has been my astrologer for nearly twenty years. She gave a astrological overview talk that helps to put the current crisis in perspective by highlighting the link between these tumultuous times and the end of an astrology cycle that started 200 years ago around the birth of the Industrial Revolution. Very briefly, the transpersonal planets Jupiter (principle of expansion) and Saturn (principle of contraction) are conjunct (close together) every 20 years. They will be conjunct in the sign of Aquarius (rapid social progress, new consciousness, significant intellectual development) in the year 2020. Sheila speaks of this in great detail in a 90-minute lecture that you can download for free here. But here’s the gist of it: We are now in the death throes of the old way, the life-denying industrial growth society (as Joanna Macy puts it). It’s a hard death, with the old guard kicking and screaming every inch of the way. As we head toward 2020 and beyond, a new era of egalitarianism and progressive values will come in. The man in the White House is not likely to win a second term.
But while he is there, we must do all we can to:
Center. Create. Activate. Repeat.
Today, and every day: In between your daily tasks and the resistance actions you choose to take, make time to go talk to the trees in your neighborhood, and listen to their voices in return.
Please note: I am someone who does not like to talk on the phone. I much prefer communication by email. But we are being told from many sources that phone calls are much more effective for social change than signing online petitions or sending emails, or even sending mail. I found this article, “How to Call Your Reps When You Have Social Anxiety,” to be extremely helpful. And Five Calls helps me choose who and when to call. I hope those links are helpful for you too.
Blessed Solstice to you & yours.
On this shortest day of the year, we celebrate the ancient rhythm: Dawn is born from the womb of the darkest night. On this day, so the legends tell us, the Great Mother gives birth to the Child of Wonder.
Many of us are experiencing despair, depression, and fear over the current political scene. We may be troubled as well by events in our personal lives. This past week, I’ve been listening to audio books and podcasts as I sit at my drawing table working on new pieces of art. I often return to a talk on the Fourfold Way that cross-cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien gave about fifteen years ago.
“Whenever you’re disheartened or dispirited or depressed in indigenous cultures,” Dr. Arrien says, “they may ask you one of four questions:
When in your life did you stop singing?
When in your life did you stop dancing?
When in your life did you stop being enchanted by stories,
particularly your own life story?
When in your life did you start being uncomfortable
with the sweet territory of silence?”
She goes on to say in her classic book The Fourfold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary that “it has long been recognized that these healing salves [singing, dancing, story, silence] reawaken and sustain the divine child within us and return to us the qualities of wonder, hope, and awe.”
Let’s not reduce these wise words to a pretty graphic meme to post on social media.
Let’s live these words.
On this day, let us sing, dance, tell our stories, and sit comfortably in sweet silence.
On this day, let us turn the Wheel once again toward hope.