“What I am seeking is not the real And not the unreal but rather the unconscious, the mystery of the instinctive in the human race.” ~Amedeo Modigliani
My art is a metaphysical journey of self -discovery. Ever since childhood I have been fascinated with the liminal —- the neither here nor there, the betwixt or the in-between. I found the in-between to be a realm of pure possibility. During my eighteenth year, an event occurred that was paramount to my exploration. I was visiting friends and family in Wisconsin, the place where I was born, and I was involved in a serious car accident. I was knocked unconscious for around ten minutes.
During that period of time, I floated far above myself. I gazed down at the scene peacefully and with curiosity. Through this passageway, I felt expansive. I instantly realized that I was not really unconscious, but that my being was occupying another realm. I felt the space I had entered was timeless and eternal. It was only when I witnessed two paramedics placing a halo around my head that my essence quickly shot back into my body and I slowly regained consciousness. Later, after speaking to my Mom, I realized that I had an out-ofbody experience. In the emergency room, I found out that part of my skull had been cracked, but that I would be ok. The doctors told me my life signs had begun to normalize. I eventually made a full recovery, but something inside me was awakened and my life would never be the same.
My experience transformed me by concretizing my belief that consciousness is not limited to our physical being and that various liminal realities exist simultaneously in this incredible universe. The Bushmen of Southern Africa call this transformation the “Great Hunger.” This is not physical hunger, but a haunting hunger for meaning in one’s life. Isoon developed a craving for mystical experiences within my own inner reality.My art transformed from being a mode of expressing my inner demons to an avenueof transformation, transcendence, and healing. I became deeply interested in the subjective and transformative powers I felt in the “in between” or altered states of consciousness. I discovered that my art and dreams were portals into my own self-exploration of the unknown. My ancestors, the ancient Celts, called this state “Caol ‘ait” (thin places) where the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds merge. Akin to the neo-shamanistic world of creativity as ritual and transformation I found that through my creative process I could pass through a type of threshold that allowed me to enter into a state of consciousness, where I could explore the interflow between time, space, and the eternal.
As I continued to mature as an artist and a seeker, I developed a deep desire to travel to sacred sites and to study ancient cultures whose shamanistic worldviews encompassed a belief in a magical “other world” or “in between.” I was amazed at the archeological record, which showed that the ancients intuitively constructed places for ritual and worship that amplified the Earth’s energy. These “thin places” were potent portals into other realms of consciousness. In the book Overlay, art critic Lucy Lippard explores the relationship between contemporary art and prehistoric art. She states, “the ancient sites and images are talismans, aids to memory, outlets for the imagination, that cannot be owned–something seems to flow back to us through these places. The symbols in these sites are a synthesis of changing and multiple realities—both vehicles of several levels of reality and of several levels of communal need. The towering standing stone in the landscape seems not to dominate its surroundings but to coexist sensuously with them. It confirms the human need to touch, to hold, to make, in relationship to natural forces and phenomena.” (Lippard, 1983, pg 8.)
Having visited many sacred sites around the globe, from Stonehenge to Machu Pucchi to Katmandu, it became very obvious to me that these sites are powerful manifestations of the symbiotic connection between nature and the inner realms of the ancients. As I gained more direct experience with these power spots around the Earth I became driven to use art to foster my own personal relationship to nature and the mysteries that reside within.
My art and process are inseparable from life. I began drawing at a very early age. I instantly become immersed in the fantastic worlds I could create and the feelings I could express through my art. I intuitively took up automatic drawing and was intrigued when my hand would seem to move by itself. Later, I began to draw my dreams and I was amazed by what the drawings revealed. My work continued to develop with my travels and studies. I became very comfortable just being a conduit and having creativity flow through me. I have come to believe that I am merely a channel for something greater than me that manifests through my art. As Paul Klee wrote, “the artist does nothing other than gather and pass on what comes to him from the depths. He neither serves nor rules —- He transmits…. he is merely a channel.”
“Lisa’s sacred intentions are painted multi-dimensionally, making marks on canvases with ancient symbols, and then layering over with an image the viewer finally sees. The presence of the Earth Mother herself is felt sweeping to and fro on a ground of archaic ecstasy. “ -JJ Levine
Evocative, and elemental in force, my portals or my visionary abstract paintings evoke notions of the Earth, blood, fire, and the Void (the Buddhist term Sunyata, meaning the emptiness of creation where all form ar ises). My work offers a glimpse into the slippery windowsill between stages of becoming and dissolving. It speaks of the sensual as well as the luminous darkness that is revealed in immutable mysteries. Through my art and its process I find myself in a continuous journey of discovery into both the sacred and shadowy realms of existence. When I paint, I feel like I am invoking the ancients who painted in caves and ritual chambers. I begin each painting with an intention. I embed an archetypal symbol such as a Nordic Cross or Hindi Deity into my work. I do this either through drawing the symbol or focusing on a photo of the archetype. Sometimes I begin my paintings with some of the students I teach. My intention for them is healing. I let several students create the foundation of the painting with a color field. At times, I create to the rhythm of nature’s cycles, or to the full moon or lunar eclipses. Music is imperative and intrinsic to my creative process. I often engage my sense of scent through incense and I create ambient light through candles.
I create a visual language using acrylics and mixed media. I build up layers of transparency through color and gel mediums. I usually start with a color field. Then I use the chance element of water to create flowing and dripping paint, so that patterns emerge organically from the interplay of mediums. At times, I may add materials from nature. I also integrate var ious primordial marks and layers of symbols. Mark-making comes from my spontaneous and intuitive impulses, which take on many forms. It is akin to the art form of Sumi or Chinese ink brush, where the paint that flows from the brush becomes an extension of my chi or energy. Like Jackson Pollock, who flung large f ields of drips and swirling paint, I have the intention of making energy visible, thus demonstrating the infinite patterns of connectedness. Mark-making is also like a form of archaeology, where I scratch away the surface excavating back through all that I have built, seeing what lies beneath. This desire to know what has been forgotten reveals itself through the portal of the mark. “ The ultimate unity which the ancients achieved has been lost. The ancients had combined within their plastic world the three all-important elements of human experience with in a single symbol. These three are sensualism, sensation, and objectivity.” (Rothko, 2004, pg92.) Through my creation of art, I seek to remember the wisdom of the ancients and what we have forgotten. At some point in the creative process I incorporate Sacred Geometry. “Sacred Geometry is a philosophy and practice existing in ancient Egypt and Greece. Its implicit goal was to enable the mind to become a channel through which the earth; (the level of manifest form) could receive abstract cosmic life from heavens.” (Lawler, pg6.) I consciously separate the plane of the canvas by masking an area with a linear line or by creating a rectangle or square. To me, this symbolizes the in-between, as well as the relationships between space and time, chaos and order. It creates an edge or entry point for the viewer to explore deeper into the surface of the painting.
The work below is called Chaos and Order. To me, it resembles the birth of a star or galaxy. It is the animate nature of the formless coming into form. The black lightning- like patterns emerge. The solid line symbolizes the spatial order or the relationship of form to abstraction. Chaos and Order was inspired by two journeys to South America. The golden color is a reference to the luminosity and divinity of the worldviews of Mesoamerican ancient cultures. The first journey involved two trips to Peru; the realm of the children of the sun. There, I met a shaman who performed a ritual and led us through the Inca experience. He guided us into the ancient ruins and we directly experienced the transcendent power of that place. In Peru I felt like I had visited the womb of creation. The second journey involved a visit to Iguaçu Falls, one of the seven wonders of the natural world. The panorama of the falls filled me with fascination and a respect for the power and perfection of nature. I had a spiritual experience gazing down into “the devils throat.” I was also intrigued by the strange patterns that occurred in nature, like lichen growing on the boulders below the falls. I felt an affinity with the place because in many of my automatic paintings similar patterns often appear unintentionally.
My latest canvases are a series of mysterious and explosive triptychs that ascend dynamically into space. These works are the intersection of my studies with my interest in Shamanism. In this work there is a quality of the “event” and a sense of both my immersion and retreat from this state of being. This work was inspired by my travels to the petroglyphs of Pu’uloa, Hawaii and the sacred sites of Knowth, NewGrange, the Hill of Tara and the Giants Causeway in my ancestral land of Ireland. I work on all three canvases simultaneously on the floor. My intention is to breakthrough and connect physically and metaphysically to all three worlds of my consciousness —- the lower, middle, and upper worlds (the subconscious, conscious, and superconsciousness). Through my process, I feel a sense of immersion into and through these states of being, as the work occupies the darkness of the optical world and the lightness of the inner world. While creating I unify each canvas to the others through mono printing and/or an intuitive and automatic calligraphy. When the work is complete it is transferred from the Earth into the sky as it is hung vertically on a wall.
The totems become the tentacles of a sacred site. The work symbolizes the Axis Mundi, which is an ancient archetype in religion and mythology. A representation of the Axis Mundi is the world tree. The tree is considered to be the connection between heaven and Earth. The anthropologist Mircea Eliade describes the Axis Mundi as “the absolute reality; the center on which the world is founded.” (Citation?) I seek for my totems to help us remember what we have forgotten in this world and to become an outlet for the imagination.
Site Specific works
“ I stumbled upon a sacred moment. My nephew and I went walking on a wooded trail near our home. He is twelve years old and loves the woods. We are glad to be close. But even in the woods we were distracted. Thinking of other things, not particularly present with each other or where we were. We stumbled upon the shrine at Cascade Falls, and it awoke something inside us. What is this? We wondered. Look at these colors…around this beautiful tree, and resonant energy … this is where people have gathered to honor this place. And so we finally entered into a place where we were, and arrived, home at the falls.” Bennett Johnston
My earthworks are collaborative installations that pay homage to trees in and around the Bay Area that emanate power or have an absence of it. It began as a practice to rekindle my ancient relationship with trees. Evidence of human kind’s interconnection with trees traces back well over 6,ooo years. Humanity once had a deep spiritual relationship with trees. Indeed, the precursor to our dominant patriarchal religions was the tree. My work is a cross culture phenomenon inspired by the Kalaptura tree (wishing tree) of India and by various ancient and indigenous cultures around the globe that worshipped trees. While creating these works metaphysically, I activate my belief in animism —- the shamanistic worldview that bodies in nature have souls and consciousness.
Thus far I have created eleven earthworks, five being solar and six being lunar. Thesolar or circle shrines symbolize the archetype of the masculine. The crescent or lunar shrines symbolize the archetype of the feminine and must be created near a water source. I employ these two energies through the intuitive action of creating concentric circles around the trunk of a tree with pigments, spices, and food from Asia, India, and South America. The inner rings of the shrine seem to exteriorize and vibrate with energy through the vibrant and contrasting colors of the pigments. After each work is complete I meditate with the tree and document my experience.
An important aspect of this project is the witnessing and of the interaction of the work by another to activate its potential for the witness to remember something they have forgotten. My intention is for my shrines to evoke introspection and a sense of the sacred for those who stumble upon them in a forest or in a city.
One of my latest tree shrines was a solar shrine created at Lincoln Child Center, a mental health agency for abused children where I teach transformative art. It was a collaborative project with my students. The tree we chose was a neglected olive tree located on a small island of dirt surrounded by cement. We poured the pigments and contrasting hues to activate the solar energy in the concentric circles. Then we tore Sari cloth and ribbons and asked all the children to make wishes as they tied the ribbons to the tree. The children intuitively asked permission from the tree. One child wished for world peace. Another wished to go home. A third wished he would not be restrained anymore. The wind blew through the tree with the simplicity and majesty of Tibetan prayer flags, carrying my students’ wishes away.
My earthworks are expanding internationally. I have decided to create shrines around the globe. In March of 2008, I went to Copper Canyon in Mexico and I created a shrine in around a tree located in a place called “the valley of frogs.” From afar, I noticed several people looking at the shrine with curiosity. I hope my shrines will help build awareness of our spiritual connection with the environment, and that they will help foster reverence for all life.
My photography is a form of seeing as well a process of me becoming a witness —- a capturer of my own personal transcendent moments in time. With photography I harness moments in the sacred sites I have traveled to around the globe. In ordinary reality I photograph moments of light that exemplify the sublime, the beauty, and the magic of my perceived space in that time. My paintings, upon which I reflect on for hours on end, often become my subject matter as they transform and glow in the sunlight. Like my tree shrine photos, this process of documentary usually reveals something that was hidden or unknown to me.
The Hands of Creation series manifested from my teaching transformative art to vulnerable and emotionally troubled children at a mental health agency in the Bay Area. I was looking for a way to honor the creative powers of my amazing students. Because of privacy issues I was not allowed to photograph their faces. So I decided to take pictures of their creative tools —- their hands. Through the Hands of Creation project, I seek to honor that state of the soul where the artist/child experiences the ultimate liberation, which is the act of creation itself. It is my way of honoring the children’s essence and creativity, and counteracting apathy. My portraits are the revelation of the “other” to many viewers who know little about the struggles these children face. They bring to light the horrific plague of abuse that exists in our society. Through my practice and my teaching, I attempt to heal the wounded soul and to empower these magnificent and marginalized children.
We are made by magic. All of us in general are magicians. ~ Andre Pierre (Haitian artist)
I came to JFK University in the fall of 2003 with two perspectives: One being the visionary artist who was following my dreams and realizing my greatest potential; the other being my shadow. Previously, I had been doing f ine art sales in the gallery world and trying to find some redemption about being in the arena. I call it my six-year research project to see what the art world was all about and how I could infiltrate it. I became sickened by the ugliness of greed and the perverse paradox that we were selling “beauty.” Visionary and spiritual aspects of the artist were never mentioned and were denied for the sake of money. Artists become brand names and lingered in “rock star” status. We were not selling art, but image and status. I was heartbroken. Where had the essence of art gone? This worldview of art also resonated with my education. Having taken many art history courses, I noticed that the word, “spirituality,” was always left out. The “S word” was not accepted in the mainstream art world.
My personal quest is to reunite art and the spirit. Akin to the alchemist’s work, which is the transformation of gross material into spiritual substance, I see my art as artifacts of my ever-transforming consciousness. My art and its process represent a humble quest to resurrect divination in my personal journey and into the community at large. As an artist my work gives the viewer a personal glimpse of my internal revelations. While creating I become a shamanic cave painter, an archeologist, an alchemist, and sorceress. I speak of divination in its broadest sense, meaning that through my art and process I find myself in a continuum of discovering the unknown within myself and in the world that I live in. The motives and impulses behind my creative process are my shamanistic belief that through the process of creation, I align with dynamism and the divinity that is animated in all of life. Like Tibetan art, which symbolically describes levels of awareness, I intuitively explore the three levels of sacred art in my work: the outer, the inner, and the secret—-The outer being the physical object; the inner being the ritual that occurs during my art making; and the secret, where through the process of my creation and through my reflection on the finished work, the unknown becomes known.
Art is my personal ritual and teacher. My allure with “thin places” has also led me to explore transpersonal psychology and my own personal shadow through dream work and Jungian analysis. My art is a record of my deep interest in mysticism and the natural world, as well as a passageway into my own mythical inversion of reality. It is my deep exploration into non-ordinary reality and the mysteries of the unknown. While creating I employ my two mental allies, instinct and intuition, to create a composition of chaos and order.
My philosophy and worldview exist on the margins of our society. The mainstream philosophy is still part of the old paradigm. The Western World’s dominant philosophy consists of dogmatic materialism and acquisition. Spirituality is separate from the material. The dominant theologies in the world are patriarchal and oppress nature and the sacred Feminine. Countless lives are taken every day in the name of their god. Underlining patriarchal philosophy is the notion that there is only one truth.
Even in the art world, spirituality has been suppressed. The pioneers of abstraction, like Kandinsky and his belief that art was a spiritual revolution, have been hidden in institutional closets. The dominant philosophy is that the universe is not animistic. The Earth and its animals are for man to own, rape, and pillage. Animals are treated as objects that feel no pain and are tortured in horrific and unbelievable ways via factory farming and in the name of scientific research. The dominant philosophies are so unjust and overwhelming, that one could easily develop a fatalistic vision of the world.
There is hope though, as a new paradigm is emerging. Just like the life that bursts through the cracks in pavement, there are like-minded souls, who quest to revere life in itself. There are many teachers such as Krishnmurti, Jung, and Wilber who have challenged the materialistic culture. I can look to a somewhat hidden legacy of the great artists throughout history that have explored the transcendent through their art. The Spiritual in Abstract Painting from 1890-1985 offers a series of exposés illuminating the explorations by artists such as William Blake, Malchevich, and Mark Rothko into the mysterious realms of metaphysics and beyond. They all illuminate the potential of the universe and its symbiotic relationship with human nature. The new sciences are also revealing the mysteries of what the ancients knew through holistic systems and Quantum theory. Jung offers springs of hope to my ideal of being a visionary artist. “We see that [the visionary artist] has drawn upon the healing and redeeming forces of the collective psyche that underlies consciousness with its isolation and its painful errors: that she/he penetrated to that matrix of life in which all men/women are embedded, which imparts a common rhythm of human existence, and allows the individual to communicate his feeling and his striving to mankind as whole.” (Jung)
Each man/woman is a conduit for the infinite ocean of power that lies behind mankind. ~Malevic
I believe the core social issue that I am exploring in my painting, photography, site specific works, and my teaching is abuse, which plagues society and the planet Earth. My approach to this work is not criticism, but a gentle revelation of what was and what can be. In all my work I explore and reveal the shadow of humanity by facing it, bringing it to surface, and on a personal level, finding a way to transform it. In my work I foster the reverence of all life, the importance of one’s inner journey, the power of creativity and its intrinsic healing nature within all humans, my work rekindles our intrinsic and essential relationship with nature.
The Art of Transformation
As an art educator and healer I am drawn to the populations that are marginalized, like at risk-youth and emotionally disturbed children. Prior to graduate school I implemented a transformative art program for at-risk teens in Arkansas called “Teen Art Explosion.” The last project we completed was a dream art project. This work was a treasure. My work and the teens’ artwork became published in an international dream magazine. In 2006 I quested to teach again and I blindly took an art teaching job at a non-profit mental agency for traumatized and abused children. I was shocked by two things, the first being the absence of art for these children in their daily lives and the other being the rigid behavior ist model that the system had adopted for these traumatized children.
Maybe I was lucky that there was no art program because the vacuum enabled me to pioneer my own transformative art program at the center. One inspiration and model for my program came from the film Born into Brothels, which documented disadvantaged children in India who were given the opportunity to express themselves through art. One of the most powerful aspects of this film was that the children’s art was received in the public through exhibitions.
Using my background in art sales, I set up exhibitions for my students to show their work. My vision was to awaken the public to the plight of these marginalized youth, to see the beauty within them, and to build bridges between communities. Such initiatives, to my knowledge, are quite rare in the mental health community. During my two years at the center, I have developed ongoing public exhibitions for the children’s work. The most successful project is called “The Art of Transformation,” which is a gallery event showcasing the work of children from five mental health agencies. These exhibitions have fostered transformation
within my students and the communities they have shown in. The people who buy my students’ work are moved to their core. The art has awakened them to the beauty and the imagination of the perceived “other.” I mentor children to find their creative power and give voice to their fragmented beings. Bryanna, one of my beautiful students, has dubbed my art room “the calm room”.
Everyday that I work with these amazing and resilient children my belief that art is a healing force is affirmed.Within my work in society I attempt to expose abuse in the world. My art looks at it straight in its face and attempts to begin the process of healing through the art process and its reception. My work responds to social issues as it aspires to renew and resurrect the spirit in art. The spirit is not a dogmatic truth, but a universal truth.
Earlier this year, I attended The Missing Peace, an exhibition by curator Randy Rosenberg at the Yerba Buena Center for Art in San Francisco. The exhibition was about the Dali Lama and his archetype. It represented the greater ideals he stands for such as tolerance, unity, connection, and healing. It was inspiring to see that there were contemporary artists like myself who were also interested in similar issues and journeying into the inner realms. Rosenburg states, “One of the central roles of art and the artist is to encourage us to think about the forces that shape our lives. The transformative power of art invites us to reflect on our beliefs about those forces, and to make the shifts in our perception necessary to expand them (The Missing Peace, pg 8). Like The Missing Peace, my art also seeks to educate, inspire, transform, and engage, and heal.
This is the New Movement (Art is Moving) is a project challenging the old paradigm of art as an institution, unreachable by the masses. I, along with two other local artists, attend museums once a month and encourage audiences to express what they felt about the art they saw. We hope to instigate a dialogue. We leave our flyers with our website for people to find so they can log on and express their views online. We also create videos of each visit and post them on YouTube. Our movement integrates technology and new paradigm views to challenge the status quo of the art world and to entice the masses to engage in art in a visceral and challenging way.
I am also collaborating with artist and activist Janice Brewster to honor victims of abuse. We will be creating an installation this spring in companion with my student’s artwork Janice has collected thousands of hand tracings from around the world to break the silence that pervades this plague in all our societies. Next year we hope to organize a trip to Africa to collaborate with the Zulu tribe in breaking the silence of abuse and resurrecting the healing power of art.
As I conclude my studies at JFK I continue to be a prolific painter and I continue to be overwhelmed and amazed by my audience’s receptivity and understanding of my work. My coursework at JFK has been fruitful and has expanded my vision. I found that the sacred is a realm of the larger truths surrounding and conditioning our lives and dwelling within or in between: it is the realm of the hidden, and therefore, revelation. Art and teaching is my sacred purpose.
Review Portals Solo Exhibition at the Red Door Gallery and Collective in Oakland, CA by Cameron Thrash, 11/25/08 —
Lisa poured out The Thin Places for all to see. And in her hand the bending spree, in wistful, flowing, calming traumic interface, the witness be. Thinness of distinction. Thinness of discrepancy. The space between, the space unseen, the space where the twilight and the knowing sheen, find in each other the harmonic mean.
Spices emanating upward from the nestled mandala-savory-space, lubricating the nostrils with memories chased from deeper places sight unseen. Light and scent (!), we enter the scene, diving in towards the hidden seam. Paintings cast in measured care, with wildness constrained by just the bare mounts in the frames ringing evenly the room, holding in each a lingering tune, of the place where spirit and thisness meet.
A lozenge for the eyes and mind. Symmetries nestled in fun-filled calling mysteries bind. Pneuma. Anasazi. Darknesses, incomplete, faint, whistling memories that you barely taste again. The deeper reaches of the mind, trickling away in kind. Lingering whispers haunting so, bartered through the colors claimed in Ka and Bardo, the journey from each piece to another bringing with it a glancing blow. A living, feeling, beautiful, explosion inward away from the evening glow.
Linearity in Lil, shocking still, organized and regal. Containment stressed on that thinness undressed thoroughly saturating the acrylic finesse of boundary and order on yet another sinking beckoning regress. Moving me back and out and around, to touch and caress, the space, the place, my girl’s soft press. The art, for me, is a seeping, see, from hand and thought outward, and in to me. The expressions from you are a simple plea, for a return, a dance, some part of me.
Art that inspires, art that plants a seed, art that pushes and bleeds