I initially met Phyllis Elizabeth Wright (a.k.a. Liz) nearly 6 years ago and she has become a dear friend and creative Muse. She and I are part of a group of women who meet annually for a Goddess Retreat at which we honor the Divine Feminine. At the retreats, she has guided us in co-creating a group mandala and has led classes in body casting (making a mold of various body parts that we would allow to dry and then decorate.) Her work is ever evolving and inspiring.
How do you live your bliss?
I teach students to love their own creativity for one thing. I am an artist as well. I can relate to the feelings of frustration and ineptitude. I know being an artist is a process not a destination. I hope I model that for my students. I also live my bliss by creating, exhibiting and selling my work. Being an artist is never boring. There is always something to make, design, or share with someone.
What led you to become an artist?
I feel I was born an artist. I just said yes at an early age when I accepted the CALL. I have never looked back to be honest. I Am an artist. It is who I am.
Who have your influences been?
Well. I recall my art teacher in elementary school who used his weimaraner “Smoky” as a model. I remember a relaxed setting where drawing was central. My favorite artists are numerous but standouts are Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Cezanne, Joseph Albers, Jennifer Bartlett, Hokusai, and Mark Tobey.
There are legions of artists who are unknown yet represent the art of ancient, native cultures. I love the works of Aboriginal people in Australia. The Buddhist mandalas of Tibet and China, the fabric of Japan, Nigeria and Indonesia. I am never at a loss for inspiration.
As an art teacher, how would you suggest that people who feel that they have no talent, get past that?
I have a favorite phrase that I feel encompasses my philosophy on creative blocks. “When in Doubt, Doodle!” Just begin to jot down visual notes. Draw from your own experience. Good drawing is really good hand/eye coordination. This is what I teach in my foundation classes. I teach students how to really see what they are looking at.
What is your creative process?
Believe it or not I rely on my doodles. I often begin with a square, a red square often, and I work with warm and cool colors and patterns and textures. I look for a balanced composition, and follow my instincts, training and intuition. I am not usually looking for a specific end result. I trust myself. I surrender.
Do you have a favorite style or medium that calls to you?
I love to draw, paint and use printmaking mediums. I love mixed media and working in clay. I feel it is important to choose the medium that best expresses the concept I am working with. For a long time I have considered myself a printmaker because this was the “instrument” with which I feel most expressed. Work flows through me while I am printing.
Can you share about your exquisite mandala work and what their significance is?
According to the scholar Joseph Campbell the mandala is a means to align our personal center or circle with the universal circle. In the process of making a mandala, you become one with it, becoming more centered and achieving a sense of unification.1
My relationship with the mandala began around 1990 while investigating geometric forms as a point of departure in my prints. Working with geometric forms lead me to sacred geometry and the mandala. Ever since I have found great pleasure and joy working with the mandala, circle, or cosmic wheel as a starting point for my printmaking and painting. It is meditative and contemplative.
I feel as if I am finding my roots, participating in a ritual many cultures have participated in over millennium. Drawing a circle and beginning to design, draw, or paint is as much a spiritual practice as an aesthetic journey for me. At times I do not know where the “doodling” meditation will take me and much like when taking a Sunday drive, I enjoy the scenery and new discoveries while feeling as if I have my hands on the wheel (pun intended).
The discovery process that nourishes the mandala making has allowed me to spend a weekend observing and participating in a healing Sand Mandala constructed by Tibetan Monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery. This mandala was created over two weeks at the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
The pieces of work in this exhibit are particularly similar to each other because I started an image and made subtle changes to create new threads to the original idea or theme. This way of working is experimental and very convenient. As a printmaker, I am accustomed to making editions of prints: the same image printed multiple times by hand from a matrix such as a woodblock, linoleum, etching plate, or silkscreen. While printing an edition I may “pull out” a few on which to paint or draw as experiments. This process of retaining prints in various stages of development lends itself to suites of images with a common thread.