INTERNAL JOURNEY | THERAPEUTIC PIECES
I first started working with clay 30 years ago. This material has been the vehicle in which I have expressed myself creatively, it has also earnt me a living over the years as well as teaching the subject alongside my own practice.
I worked as a pottery teacher in a psychiatric hospital for 12 years. This is where I first witnessed the profound benefits of clay. I could see the difference it made to the patient’s recovery and the healing that was taking place as the patients worked with the material, becoming a powerful experience for both the clients and for the staff to witness. Patients became soothed by the material and achieved equilibrium and emotional stability. I could also see they were connecting to something deep within themselves by embracing ceramics, to restore balance back in their life.
When I started my MA, I knew I wanted to continue to witness more of the healing aspects of working with clay in my own life. However, my years of working in a psychiatric setting and the demands of the work had taken its toll and my old work felt stuck and stagnant. I wanted to feel inspired not only in my life but with my work as well.
Primarily, I wanted to free myself up and to start my journey with clay from scratch again. My starting point was to completely turn my back on technique and to begin to work in a very intuitive and authentic way. This I felt would give me a clean slate, where I could break old thoughts and makings habits. This new starting point was extremely liberating for me and slowly my passion began to re-emerge both within my work and life in general.
Continuing to work in this way, intuitively and authentically I observed that a lot of emotion was beginning to stir within me. Rising to the surface, feelings were being released. Feelings that I had experienced as being trapped inside my body. I could see how the clay was becoming a vehicle for my own internal healing and from this juncture, I could experience for myself the therapeutic way in which I was now working with the clay.
I will talk briefly about the making process and what I was witnessing...
Firstly, I begin by allowing awareness to centre before I start making. By this I mean holding the clay and doing nothing, closing my eyes, allowing my thoughts to be still, just feeling the clay in my hands, I am motionless until my awareness centres. Now my breathing is slow, and I am offering my life energy to this moment, to this space and this material. My fingers begin to tingle, and I feel energy rising deep within me as I begin to work the clay.
The clay is gashed, gouged, cut, slashed, rolled, prodded, perforated, squeezed, poked, kneaded, folded and hollowed. I pound blocks and lumps of clay, getting rid of pent-up feelings. In these moments I am able to access sad parts of myself trapped within my body, feelings held tight within my cellular memory. Pre-verbal and nonverbal emotions begin to emerge. With my strong purposeful movements, I can experience the coming up of emotion from a gut level. My whole body is moving as I create.
My heartbeat quickens and my breathing increases in intensity. Sometimes I close my eyes. Fingertips sending 1000’s of messages to the brain. I often feel a deep need to have cry. Massage and movement almost takes me into a hypnotic trance, transporting me into the realm of the unconscious. I pace up and down, back and forth from the piece. There is a sense of expansion within me when I make. What I have created is an extension of myself. What images are emerging in the clay? I look at my piece from all angles. What does the image say to me, emerging totemic forms begin to be seen. With the tactile and emotional contact through the clay and expressing it in a physical concrete form, I am liberated from the feeling itself! Powerful feelings emerge, the unconscious been activated by the clay-cathartic and healing.
EXTERNAL JOURNEY | ASSEMBLAGE PIECES
As I worked on my own therapeutic pieces a new body of work began to emerge, I call my assemblage pieces. They are about my external journey. If I could heal and transform myself through the clay internally, I now felt a great desire to go outwards and heal and transform my external world through clay.
An artist whose concepts and philosophy of life and art I greatly admire is Joseph Beuys. Beuys is a humanist, teacher, pioneering environmentalist, self-styled shaman, installation artist, sculpture and performance artist.
‘His central interest was transformation, the alchemy of one thing turning into another’3 (O. Laing The Guardian 2017). He believed art had a transformative effect on humanity. It was about seeking self-realization, renewed hope for the future, spiritual uplift and social transformation. Beuys work is very different from my own aesthetically, but his core concepts and beliefs are very similar, having been brought up as Buddhist and practicing one to this day. Beuys words ‘The revolution is us’ (Beuys) speak to me as a core concept in Buddhism. Beuys says- ‘Art enters into the person and the person enters into the work of art’ (Beuys 1976).
My external journey is about imbuing my work with my intentions. Awakening and summoning forth every clay cell in my work to resonate with my hopes and desires for humanity.
Jung, a leading psychologist who wrote a lot about the power of art, encapsulates the role of the artist in society. He says "By giving it shape, the artist translates into the language of the present and so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life. therein lies the social significance of art; It is constantly at work educating the spirit of the age, conjuring up the forms in which the age is most lacking. the unsatisfied yearning of the artist reaches back to the primordial image in the unconscious which is best fitted to compensate the inadequacy and one-sidedness of the present’ (Jung 1973).