The Basis of Life
The basis of life
lies in flowing red blood
earth that gleams like a knife,
breath extending from mud
Soft shadow and light
and open, cupped hands
dreaming trees of great height,
seeking to understand
Rare creatures in flight
round an elegant coil
rising through day and night
out of dark, deep, damp soil
Here's an explanation of the symbols in this new 3x4 foot painting called "The Basis of Life" in light of so many who have lost their lives recently to both systemic violence and COVID-19. It is part of a seven piece series that explores aspects of human existence through the chakras.
In La dame aux camellias written by Alexandre Dumas, the character Marguerite wears a red camellia while menstruating, and this primal association with blood—the basis of life— is what I hoped to capture with the color red in this painting. Despite the visual complexity of the scene, this piece hints at something very simple and foundational in exploring our need for nourishment, our perceptions of safety, and our instinct for survival. We are first nourished through our mother’s blood in the womb, and then enter a world where our first ecosystem and community informs our sense of security and view of the world. A forest can be both a safe refuge and a dark, dangerous demonstration of Rudyard Kipling’s law of the jungle, and I wanted to explore this dichotomy through unassuming characters symbolic of protection, self-reliance, and luck.
The defense mechanism of the lucky ladybug is to emit an offensive odor; they also protect crops by eating agricultural pests. The ‘chickadee’ call of the bird that bears its name is an alarm, with the number of ‘dees’ signaling the type of predator present. The luna moth uses distraction and camouflage to elude predators, and a rare sighting of these ephemeral night creatures heralds good fortune. So much of human safety is based on the luck of the draw and the circumstances one is born into— a fact demonstrated by centuries of racially-motivated violence in America, among many other disparities across the globe. This painting was completed with a sense of grief and horror the week that George Floyd was murdered as I examined the relative privilege I was born into as a white, American woman and attempted to understand my own essence and purpose as a creative human consciousness beneath, beyond, and because of these assigned identities.
The winding path of shadows behind the figure is reminiscent of the Kundalini serpent of Hindu mythology, said to reside coiled at the base of the spine in the muladhara chakra, which roughly translates to the root or basis of support, from which I derived the title for the painting. This energy center is associated with the color red, earth element, survival, safety, community, stability, and vitality. Another symbol of life and latent potential, the acorn is offered in the middle of the camellia as an invitation to discover what lies dormant in the dark woods of your being and what potential lies beyond the awakening of this fundamental life force.
The camellia, here personified with actionable legs and hands, was prized by the samurai of Japan as a symbol of grace, love, and the fleeting nature of life. It offers a final contemplation of transcending fear, not only of death, but of life as well.
What will I do with my body while I live? What will you do with yours?
One's Own Home
Among many other layers of ideas, this painting is a visual representation of creative and emotional sovereignty. Creating it was an exploration of what it means to be a conscious, creative being that flows with the wisdom of emotions and assumes her inner places of creative power, freedom and responsibility without deferring to an outside authority. Set in one of the most violently beautiful places on earth, the jutting granite giants of Yosemite that formed under inexplicable energy and pressure loom in the background to demonstrate the immensity of the creative forces at play. In yoga traditions, the second chakra, or energy center located at the womb, is the center of creativity, pleasure, relationships, fertility and emotions and is called svadhisthana, which translates to mean 'one's own dwelling.' The rose, with its radial symmetry and vibrant color, is associated with the planetary transit of Venus, along with goddesses and symbols of love and sensuality. The flower is how I hope to exist, with my head, heart and depths moving as one, cohesive entity, with all my actions and offerings springing from that wholeness. I want what I do with my hands and where I go with my feet determined from an intentional, unified place that is informed by what is wild and true— to live in the state of balance and brilliance I suspect happens when one is a conduit for some deep essence. The egg speaks of rebirth, creation, and potential. If you look closely, you will see that it has a tiny crack, which is a nod to the stunning words of Leonard Cohen:
"Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack, a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in."
The hummingbird hovers close to be first to see and perhaps communicate what will emerge long before daylight reveals its contents. In the shamanic medicine wheel traditions of South America, the hummingbird is associated with the North direction, the realm of myth and symbols, and the soul level of perception which sees through images, dreams, poetry and music. It is a symbol of courage, joy and divine sight. With its ability to move freely between water and land, the frog reveals how to exist in the liminal spaces between the fluid, emotional realms and the earthy material world and has been a personal guide on many meditative journeys through my inner landscape.
This work is a good example of my artistic practice, which is part attempt to heal, understand and integrate parts of myself, and part attempt to celebrate and share something I find beautiful, interesting or meaningful so others can use it as medicine or inspiration in their own journeys.
I conceptualized and painted over the first 3 weeks of April 2019. It was greatly informed by the energy of the transitional, emerging spring season with all its water, blossoms, and potential. The idea was born after learning that the planetary transit of Venus creates a rosette pattern around the earth. This made me want to express something about the archetypes of love, fertility and sensuality often associated with Venus in the form of a rose. The additional symbols began to crystallize only after I began sketching and taking and arranging photos for a reference.
both pliant and forceful
to greet the unknown
paintbrushes and blood
both cover the floor
birth from the beyond
can feel like a war
Questions asked violently
What am I for?
Or soft, like a prayer
There’s really no need
to be decimated,
a slow growing seed
Learn how to inhabit
what is already freed
'Unstruck' is a visual meditation on the elevating power of love and openness, exploring the heart as a bridge between the physical plane and our spiritual aspirations. The setting, colors and symbols each contain clues to the divine mysteries of the heart on a personal and universal level. It is part of a seven piece series that explores various aspects of human existence through the chakras and other mythological symbols.
The dove has long been seen as a symbol of peace, hope, beauty, innocence, and love. They have been used throughout history to carry messages and are considered messengers of the gods, as when Noah sent the dove to find land after the flood. The goddesses of love Ishtar and Aphrodite took the form of a dove along with the holy Spirit of the Christian trinity. Doves also represent feminine attributes of the goddess with its rounded form, monogamous lifestyle, and fertility. Doves were seen as oracles in ancient Greece, and priestesses were often called doves. Doves are also celebrated by Muslims and believed to have a direct link to Allah-- there are special roosting niches in Mecca to this day. For me, doves remind me of home and my parents as there were always a pair of doves nesting outside the back door of my childhood home.
The conch held out like an offering in the center of the succulent is seen as a symbol of purity in many Hindu and Buddhist traditions. When used like a horn, it is said to purify the air, bring good fortune, and dispel negative energy by creating the primal sound of creation. In Buddhism, it is one of 8 auspicious symbols, representing the Buddha's voice. These shells were also used to hold paint in Mayan art and used as money in many coastal cultures. Shells resemble a human ear and are associated with the feminine mysteries of birth and rebirth. I have always loved to listen for the sound of waves when holding a seashell to my ear and their association with the nurturing water element, home, and femininity. Shells remind me of my Grandma who I always felt unconditional love and safety from. The first thing I would do when visiting her home is pull down a basket of shells and look at them.
The four legs of a turtle represent the four directions and four elements, while the underside of its shell is earth and the dome represents the heavens. In the Hindu cosmogram map of the universe, a turtle carries the entire cosmos on its back. There is also a Mongol myth about a golden tortoise that holds a mountain at the center of the universe and many Native American myths say the world tree grows from its back. Turtles and tortoises are symbols of immortality and spiritual awareness. Retiring into its shell symbolizes turning inward in meditation. In China it is one of four sacred creatures associated with the north. In alchemy, the tortoise represents the first stage in transformation from matter to spirit, just as the heart chakra is the balancing link between the physical and spiritual chakras. A turtle carries its home on its back, taking refuge whenever needed, just as we can take refuge in the love at our core. As we realize our true essence is love, we need not fear. In yogic traditions, the fourth chakra, or energy center located at the heart is called anahata, which means unstruck. The cosmic sound Aum is heard here, just as it is heard in the conch shell. The color associated with this chakra is green-grey, like this echeveria succulent that is so resilient and life-holding.
As masters of metamorphosis, butterflies are significant symbols of transformation and rebirth. These winged creatures have long been viewed as otherworldly messengers and heralds of good fortune and joy. The Greek word for butterfly, psyche, is the same word used for soul, and this association is found across many cultures. The first time I saw a malachite butterfly was in a stairwell in Mexico where my family and I made our home for a time. Its green beauty stunned me into silent observance, and became a personal symbol of love, gratitude, and wonder.
The water of this tropical cascade is a symbol of a receptive, open channel for love to flow. You may notice a disgruntled face to the right of the legs. This face is a reminder that water continues to flow and shift despite heartbreak. Understanding that emotional states are always changing and letting them go and flow freely makes us better able to access the unchanging center of true freedom.
Both the turtle, conch, dove, and butterfly at certain parts of its life cycle retreat inward, reminding us that the unstruck peace at our center is best found in moments of quiet being. These symbols of home are an invitation to discover the home, haven, and kingdom inside that we all carry within ourselves.