The drive to create can be described as an almost primal need within the individual who seeks to connect with a greater power outside one’s Self. Spiritual art takes on many forms of creative expression – through word, dance, music, and painting, to name a few. Via the alchemical process of creation, the artist embarks upon a journey of self-discovery through which he or she can explore the meaning of life and the relationship between nature, people, and things.
In this way, an artist’s work is a private expression of her inner landscape – the window to her soul that serves both as the face and the mirror reflecting her emotions and her personal experience of life itself. It is the physical manifestation of his true spirit, which is revealed and shared with the outside world in the physical form of light, colors, words, shapes, and textures. His art is a gift for the viewer to enjoy, as well as a channel for communicating knowledge and wisdom. Through the synergistic interweaving of symbols, images, and themes, art thus becomes a sacred language that carries the essence of the artist’s living Spirit and helps expand our consciousness beyond linear thinking.
By relying on intuition and acting as a spiritual conduit to bring the invisible and intangible into the corporeal realm of the senses, the artist’s work serves as a powerful mode of translation that transcends cultural and linguistic barriers to communicate some universal truth and put us in touch with the world. The sensory experience of art allows us to step outside the restrictive confines of our minds and experience a profound connection with the deeper, divine aspects of one’s Self.
The ancient poet Rumi once said:
Until you’ve found pain, you won’t reach the cure Until you’ve given up on life, you won’t unite with the supreme soul Until you’ve found fire inside yourself like the Friend, You won’t reach the spring of life…
Throughout time, the mandala – a sacred circle – has been viewed by many as a symbol providing “safe refuge of inner reconciliation and wholeness” (Carl G. Jung). It can serve as a vehicle for transformation and healing, enabling both the artist and the viewer to get closer to their center.
At the Life Force Arts Center’s latest art show, “Sacred Geometry: Art of the Mandala,” we are treated to a wonderful exhibit showcasing a variety of approaches to this mystical symbol whose Sanskrit word means “containing essence.” I recently had the distinct pleasure of interviewing one of the featured artists, Laurel Izard, regarding her pieces.
A high school art teacher with a background in anthropology, Izard began making mandalas as a way to blend the spiritual into her artwork. It wasn’t until the age of 41, after attending a women’s initiation weekend that opened up her spiritual self, when she quit making art for a while and focused exclusively on creating sacred objects and tools. During this time, her awareness blossomed as she began to acknowledge the living spirit that exists in all things and materials and to view herself as part of sacred creation.
For the show, Izard submitted two pieces: “The Fire Inside” (shown above) and “You Will Endure Forever.” Through a rich, multi-dimensional collage of handmade rice papers on canvas that incorporate ancient, spiritual texts, early Greek and Arabic phonetic symbols, as well as a colorful array of images from nature and the animal kingdom, Izard’s innovative pieces bring forth the essential teachings of perennial wisdom that seek to awaken one’s knowledge of the divine presence in our lives.
Upon viewing her works, one is struck with the feeling of having stumbled upon a mystical artifact of divination left behind by the sages – an intricate, cryptic labyrinth of sacred codes and symbols that one must decipher like a cryptographer in the DaVinci Code in order to access the universal truth hidden beneath its many layers. Unlike the traditional, geometric proportions characteristic of the mandala, Izard’s pieces defy the conventional form in favor of a softer version where the focus is on the mosaic as a whole.
As a spiritual being, Izard understands how communication operates on a spiritual level and explains how an artist can use one’s spiritual intention and energy to meaningfully affect others through their work. In effect, spiritual art creates a circle of communication that represents the spiritual interaction between the artist, the content of the work, and the viewer. With its marvelous images and patterns emerging as if from the great void – creating a rich tapestry of elements woven together and spraying out from the center like the Sun’s rays of light – the mandala (or “Circle of Life”) is a particularly powerful symbol that reveals this interconnectedness of life.
In creating these collages, Izard was inspired by a serendipitous discovery following a trip down to Brazil where she saw John of God. During her trip, she kept a diary on rice paper with drawings on one side and written notes on the back. When she later sold the drawings, she noticed the words showing through the copies, as if transposed over the images, and became fascinated with the idea of merging the two in her artwork.
Subsequently, Izard began collecting handmade rice paper, on which she painted or drew pastels, and later ripped the sketches apart, attaching the pieces onto the canvas. The original layers began with a prehistoric text or quote from various spiritual writers. Using these quotes as a starting point, she then researched primitive scripts, drawing upon both proto-Arabic and ancient Greek in order to assign a letter value symbol that would translate the quotes onto her pieces. (Izard mused that this was a spiritual experiment of sorts, oftentimes wondering whether people would even pick up on the cryptic content assembled within the pieces, which, much to her surprised delight, they did.)
In choosing the selected texts, intuition led the way: “Things just unfolded via a natural, intuitive process, as certain ones just spoke loudly to me.” However, Izard is careful to point out that, while there’s a definite relationship between the images and the words, it’s not a linear, one-to-one relationship; in fact, it’s all very intuitive.
With its enchanting palette of lush, oceanic blues and shimmering, green hues, Izard’s piece, “You Will Endure Forever,” is based on an excerpt from the Tao Te Ching. For Izard’s other piece in the exhibit, “The Fire Within,” she chose a quote from a poem by the famous Christian mystic, St. John of the Cross, who coined the term “dark night of the soul”:
In the luck of night, in secret places, no one to observe me, no sign for me to mark, no other light or guide, save that which burned within my heart.
This quote resonated powerfully with Izard in that it made her think about the fire inside each one of us, and how we can endure almost anything if we can just focus on that inner fire and trust that it will guide us on our paths.
The poem itself describes the soul’s journey home to God. The “dark night of the soul” represents the suffering and challenges that one must encounter as we undergo the process of detachment, which will ultimately lead us to purification, illumination, and union with the divine source. St. John portrays this mystical process as “an inflowing of God into the soul, which purges it from its ignorances and imperfections, habitual, natural, and spiritual…” It’s an intensely painful experience, which culminates in a moment of complete hopelessness and utter desolation before the soul is cleansed and illuminated by the alchemical fire of divine love burning inside one’s heart.
This particular stanza highlights the spiritual darkness that obscures all the faculties of one’s senses in order to free the soul. It is only by stripping away all fear, attachment to ego, or any exterior guide, that Source can teach us to rely upon the light within our hearts to guide us and lift us up from the darkened abyss of the intellect; through faith alone, we can return to our divine essence.
Like the “dark night of the soul,” Izard’s evocative piece represents the spiritual pathway of the soul: at first glance, the intricate, foreign symbols and archetypal images provoke a similar egoic desire to engage our intellects in order to make sense of the unknown. Given our illusive notions of separation, our limited, conditioned response is to try and derive meaning via artificially imposed rules and categorizations. In fact, while writing this piece, I could see the metaphorical analogy taking place in my own being: as I struggled to decipher the pieces of the puzzle before me, I was in danger of overlooking the very lesson that Izard sought to convey through her work.
Walking up to the piece, my “eyes” saw a consortium of bold, red-orange colors and sketches of the sun, fire, frogs, spiders, and an owl, as well as what appeared to be hieroglyphic, cave-like drawings strewn throughout. Unlike the expansive, concentric circles containing repetitive images that radiate out from the center, this mandala seemed to deviate from the precisely configured, radial symmetry commonly associated with this art form.
At the outset, this apparent disregard for “order” taunted my ego: my mind was ablaze with thoughts darting to and fro as I tried to frantically dismantle each piece and capture its essence one by one. I was a prisoner to expectation and structure, as I initially failed to look beyond the surface in order to see through (and not with) my eyes, where my soul resides. Were I like the artist, who, in trusting her intuitive voice, allowed her creative energy and spirit to flow freely through her work, I could have cleared my mental cobwebs and shed my worldly attachments much sooner, thus making room in my own spirit to truly experience the mandala’s hidden wisdom.
Like the transmuting fire of love in the poem, this mandala’s essence points to that same fire inside of us that guides and lights the way back to our own center. Once I opened my heart, I no longer saw the myriad images as disparate pieces; instead, each part represented its own unique cosmos – a chapter in a story that was part of the greater Universe. The whole was truly the sum of all its parts fused together in a dazzling display of spirit.
Through this act of surrendering to the unknown, art has the ability to touch, to heal, and to transform us: experiencing this creative process is akin to the spiritual, transformative process of rebirth that one experiences during the dark night of the soul.
Similarly, Izard’s creative process – taking individual pieces, breaking them down, and combining them – is a symbolic representation of the artist’s own process of purification and transformation. Through the creative process, something new is born, and, out of the depths of her soul, springs forth an illuminating piece with the power to inspire, mystify, open, and teach us to trust and embrace the loving light and wisdom within our own souls.
“Love is that flame which, when it blazes up, burns away everything except the Beloved.”
About the artist: Laurel Izard, M.F.A., has shown her artwork in Paris and in galleries and museums throughout the country. She is an intuitive medium and a pipe carrier in the Blackfoot tradition and has spent years studying Native American medicine work and performing shamanic healings. Laurel and several like-minded people have founded the Spirtualist Circle of Light church in New Troy, Michigan. She also teaches high school art and leads workshops that encourage participants to tap their creativity and intuition.
Shantal is a creativity and transformational life consultant, event and program manager, Reiki Master practitioner, Raindrop Technique facilitator, and holistic marketing consultant for individuals and organizations. Her passion is to empower individuals to transform their lives and nourish their creative dream-making process by providing creative and holistic “soul-lutions” for personal growth and healing. To learn more about Shantal, please visit her website: www.evoyoution.com.