Tag Archives: Art

I Just Want To Have Fun!

In his 1991 pre-TED Talk  “talk”, John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, delivers countless “light bulb” jokes, all while detailing ways to foster creativity. The main take-away for me is that creativity is not a talent or ability. Creativity flows, Cleese believes, when you are in an open, expansive and relaxed state. And the more playful you are, the longer you can maintain this state.

To get into this “Open Mode” Cleese recommends these conditions:

Space: a secluded oasis of quiet where you are sealed off from the pressures of daily life
Time: limit the time in your space to a pre determined beginning and end
Time: allow yourself enough time to ponder before accepting your creative choice
Confidence: while you are experimenting, nothing is wrong.
Humor: humor is an essential part of spontaneity and helps get you into the Open Mode

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John Cleese also spoke of another condition that resonated with me. He recommends that your “play friends” be people you like and trust; individuals who will support and encourage you during your unedited exploration. Which brings me to Karen Lorre, actress, love goddess, and founder of Yummy Meditations. I met Karen serendipitously two years ago in a Santa Monica restaurant and immediately felt a divine connection. Several days later, an Aphrodite portrait emerged from the foamy waves of Malibu. (You can read about the making of her Goddess on Earth Aphrodite portrait here!). Karen inspires me deeply; she lives life with an abundance of joy, unconditional love and vibrant spontaneity. Her trust in me always fosters my creativity.

On a recent trip to Los Angeles, Karen and I mused about making another Goddess portrait. The result of our play time together is “Lila.” In the Hindu tradition, Lila is a way of describing our human reality and the result of spontaneous, divine play.

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On portraying Lila, Karen wrote;

When I look at the wildly innovative creativity that is in nature, I see how much this divine universe loves to play in new and fresh ways! Being playful allows me to be an open conduit for this unbounded, novel, ingenious divine, and feels fun, effortless, exciting, and full of laughter and wisdom! Being playful makes everything easy. Being playful brings out the best in me and in everyone I encounter. I love embodying the essence of Lila! I love you! ”

During the process of creating Karen’s Lila portrait, were John Cleese’s conditions present? Indeed they were. Our creative space was nestled in the magical Hollywood Hills, perched high above the din of Sunset Boulevard. The end time was pre-determined; we were going to a dinner party together AND the sun was setting! We gave ourselves extra time the next day once we had a clearer concept of the Lila image. Karen’s unconditional love and support gave me the confidence to try anything. And humor? Adorned with a tutu around her neck and a Mad Hatter’s hat floating on her head, our sense of humor was in full throttle.

Which reminds me; how many Goddesses does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: None….. they are already enlightened!

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Women, Power and the Rule of Three

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My personal relationship with power is fraught with anxiety, self-doubt and fear of conflict. As a woman, I doubt I am alone in this, yet as I struggle with this confounding reality, I wonder what my ideal relationship to power should be?

As an artist with ancient mythology embedded in my DNA, I have examined this issue before. I have photographed prominent feminist leaders such as Gloria Feldt, (who portrayed the strong-willed Lilith, Adam’s first wife), and Starhawk (who portrayedMaeve, the Celtic Goddess of Sovereignty). Both women advocate re-envisioning women’s connection to power.

Other ancient myths reflect our contemporary relationships to power as well. Durga is a fearless Hindu Goddess who symbolizes power in all its forms. Durga — whose name means “invincible” — is a ferocious protectress against injustice and all human suffering. Traditionally she is depicted astride a tiger or lion: symbols of her unlimited power. Often illustrated with eight arms, her capacity for action speaks for itself. Durga also has three eyes: her left eye represents the desire to act, her central eye the capacity to follow through with one’s desires, and her right eye, action itself.

 

DURGA’S LEFT EYE REPRESENTS A STRONG FEELING OF WANTING, OR THE DESIRE TO ACT.

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I was introduced to Francesca Kelly this past summer on Martha’s Vineyard, and returned to photograph her several weeks later. Francesca is a pioneer rescuer of the Marwari, a rare and indigenous Indian horse breed. After a twenty year battle with the Indian Government to lift the export ban of the Marwari, Francesca and her partner Raghuvendra Singh Dundlod have helped resurrect this threatened breed.

 

DURGA’S CENTER EYE REPRESENTS THE CAPACITY TO FOLLOW THROUGH WITH ONE’S DESIRES.

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Francesca quickly identified with Sherawali, the warrior incarnation of Durga, and chose to portray her for the Goddess on Earth series. Surrounded by marshes on Chappaquidick Island, we created a commanding image of Sherawali. To accompany her portrait, Francesca wrote:

“It has been my privilege to be a key protagonist in the renaissance of the Marwari. The confidence to actualize ideals, to remain unimpeachable, to incorporate if you will, at the best of times, the qualities of Sherawali, is a battle and sacrifice all must experience.”

 

DURGA’S THIRD EYE IS ACTION ITSELF.

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Francesca’s embodiment of Sherawali in the photographs we created portray the symbolic trinity of Durga’s spiritual stages of power.

Far from being archaic, ancient symbolism continues to influence the necessary re-envisioning of feminine power. Durga demonstrates how modern women can use power in its multiple, generous forms as the manifestation of reflection, intent, and capability. Sherawali and Francesca are role models for contemporary women warriors (my conflicted self included) who are looking to add layers of empowerment to their lives. With mythical and ancient symbolism to guide me, I will continue to nurture my passions, practice and embrace tools for empowerment, and take action to achieve my desires.

(Francesca Kelly is seen with Sushil Kumar, a horse trainer and tent-pegger from Dundlod, India.)

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The Irony of ISIS

What would the Goddess Isis call on us to do as ISIS — the militant terrorist group — threatens to bulldoze our global cultural heritage?

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Goddess. Enchantress. Instructress. Protectress. Considered the divine Mother Goddess of Ancient Egypt, Isis was the throne upon which all pharaohs sat and received their powers. Superior to all other Gods, Isis was the giver of life. She represented motherhood as well as strength, flight as well as rebirth, purity as well as mystery. She was an incarnation of the feminine aspect of the creative force of life and power. Her throne was the foundation of a civilization, as were her principles of Right, Truth, and Justice. Ancient sculptures often depicted her with outstretched wings. Others, breastfeeding her son Horus, God of War, a singular representation that was later appropriated by Christianity as Mary and the baby Jesus.

For Goddess on Earth, Crystal Johnson, an environmental strategist and founder of ISES (Integrative Sustainability & Environmental Solutions) portrayed the Goddess Isis. To accompany her portrait, Crystal wrote:

Life is a beautiful journey for our soul’s experience and expansion. By aligning with Isis energy, I find that regardless of what is happening around me, I feel a great sense of peace, clarity, guidance, protection and love. That is comforting especially while the collective consciousness of humanity is at the current level and the resultant changes are occurring on Earth.

Crimes to our sacred history are tragically being committed by a different ISIS; an acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Less than two months ago the ISIS militants invaded Nineveh, one of the oldest cities in antiquity. Nineveh contains over 1800 important archeological sites and is forever woven into history as a major center for the worship of the Assyrian Goddess Ishtar. The ISIS occupation of Nineveh poses a disastrous threat to these sacred sites “…the virtual certainty, in fact — is that irreplaceable history will be annihilated or sold into the netherworld of corrupt and cynical collectors,” wrote Christopher Dickey on July 7 in his Daily Beast article, “ISIS is About to Destroy Biblical History in Iraq.” Disturbing news of this rampage surfaced on July 25, when militants leveled the tomb of Jonah, a site of holy pilgrimage.

“Increase public awareness of the situation!” was the plea to come out of the July 8 panel discussion “The Implications of the Current Fighting for Iraq’s Cultural Heritage.” A vocal, critical mass of public opinion is our only hope for saving our global heritage.

In this decisive time before the imminent destruction of our common sacred sites, let us all call upon the protective guidance of Isis: the oldest of the old, mother of all mothers and The All-Seeing Eye. Let us reclaim the true name and meaning of Isis. With lightning speed, let us spread our collective wings, awaken the world to the crimes being committed and raise the roof before it’s too late.

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New Goddess Sketches

For the past decade, I have traveled throughout the world-photographing women embodying Goddesses. These Goddess Portraits have been a unique opportunity for women to explore, identify and celebrate an ancient archetype and its relevance to their contemporary lives.

Goddess Sketches condense the creative process to under 15-minutes, and was developed with conferences in mind. These quick portraits include a short consultation (Find Your Goddess) and a photo session in an on-site photography studio. Here is a taste of what can be co-created!

artemisA Cybele Goddess SketchesAnna_Gaia Goddess on Earth Mnemosyne Goddess Sketch Amelia Martin Eos Goddess Sketch

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The Real Goddesses of Essex County

Luna Stage, a professional theater in West Orange, New Jersey planned to honor three extraordinary women in their Essex County community during Women’s History Month. Galas, legacy lunches and award presentations are standard affairs for most non-profits, but Luna Stage was thinking outside the box. They chose instead to commission goddess portraits of their honorees.

To me, a goddess is a woman living her life with authenticity, passion and power. Inspired and inspiring, a goddess—on earth— speaks her truth and stands up for what she believes. A goddess on earth has vitality and is beautiful, not because her cheekbones are high, her waist is thin, her breasts are large or her wardrobe is current, but because she recognizes her inner divinity — imperfections and all.

Thus a theater, named for the artistic and spiritual importance of the moon in women’s lives, reached out to me: an artist who has spent the last 12 years exploring, identifying and celebrating ancient archetypes and their relevance to our hectic, contemporary lives. Was I interested in creating Goddess portraits of three empowered New Jersey women as their most beautiful and alive selves? Bada bing, bada boom. You betcha!

Suzzanne Douglas, award winning actress and jazz vocalist, is a fervent activist bringing creative expression into the educational system. Although widely known for her starring roles in the TV show The Parent’Hood, the Hollywood film How Stella Got her Groove Back and the Broadway show The Tap Dance Kid, amongst others, her driving passion now is working with schools to help them incorporate the arts into their curriculum. To Suzzanne, the arts are a critical tool for children to learn a fundamental life lesson she herself embraces: “One must live life on purpose with a purpose.”

For her portrait, Suzzanne chose to embody Minerva, the Roman Goddess of wisdom, whose symbol is an owl. Minerva is also considered warrior goddess; a protectress of the arts; and an overseer of intellectual activity.

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Suzzanne wrote:

“Like Minerva, I have always considered myself a guardian of the arts — one who advocates, protects and cares for the many forms of creative expression that inform and influence humanity. The late Jimi Hendrix said, “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” From my work in front of and behind the scenes, wisdom drives me to approach all tasks with a spirit of excellence knowing that the arts have the power to change humanity and thus our world”.

Cameron Boyle, along with her daughter Giovanna, has run a small NGO namedCRIANSA (the Portuguese word for child) in two fishing villages in Brazil for the past 10 years. Based on the simple premise of connecting children through a decade long pen pal exchange, CRIANSA has built lasting bonds between children in these remote villages south of the Equator and students in affluent Montclair, New Jersey. By fostering deep friendships between these diverse communities, CRIANSA is planting seeds of transformation, one child at a time.

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Cameron and Giovanna chose to portray the Brazilian Goddess Iemanjá for theirGoddess on Earth portrait. They wrote:

“We are a symbiotic mother-daughter incarnation of Iemanjá, the Afro-Brazilian Goddess of the sea. After working closely together in Brazil over the last ten summers, Iemanjá has infused us with a mutually maternal and nurturing spirit. She gives us her vision, inspiration and the ability to flow smoothly through life’s torrential times.”

Diana Moise is a 12-year-old middle school student who came to Essex County after her home was destroyed during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. 2014-02-24-Erzulie_GoddessonEarthA.jpgShe has struggled with language barriers and has had to overcome multiple surgeries for scoliosis, but her inner fortitude is apparent to all. When deciding what sacred myth most resonated with her, Diana commented with the heartfelt confidence of a pre-pubescent girl that Erzulie, the Haitian spirit/goddess of women “is beautiful — and so am I”.

Minerva, Iemanjá, and Erzulie remind us there are many ways to live inspired lives of authenticity, passion and internal power. Some women embrace their intellect; others connect with their communal, nurturing spirit; and others innately know how to dig deep into their own personal wells of strength. What an honor it is to have been commissioned to create goddess portraits of these exceptional women. Please join me in celebrating them, and all the remarkable women we know, in as many creative, inspired and unique ways as there are goddesses on earth.

Goddess on Earth: Women of Essex County, a multimedia immersion installation, opens March 8th at Luna Stage, West Orange, N.J. and runs through May 11th. Please visit www.lunastage.org for viewing hours.

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Aphrodite’s Love

Last month, in an attempt to escape the last legs of this dreary New York winter, I went to Los Angeles in search of sunlight. I found light, warmth and stunning flowers in vibrant colors — but most surprisingly, I found love.

“Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow; a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them — we can only love others as much as we love ourselves,” wrote the researcher and author Brené Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfections. Love, according to Ms. Brown, is nurtured through interpersonal connections and allowing our authentic selves to be deeply seen and known.

Serendipitously, this kind of connection began at a neighborhood restaurant in Santa Monica. There I met Karen Lorre, a television actress. She chose to sit next to me at a large communal table, and we immediately began talking, finding mutual ties and a common philosophy toward life. The synchronistic bonds, however, were just a starting point. The joy for life that flowed from Karen seemed to vibrate around the room. Like a radio signal on a high frequency, I was getting the message loud and clear: A Goddess portrait was being born!

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Several days later, when asked what sacred myth she most resonated with, Karen revealed she felt aligned with two Goddesses, White Tara, the Tibetan Goddess of compassion, healing and serenity, and Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of love. Both had deep meaning for her, but love won out.

The women I photograph for the Goddess on Earth series are extraordinary in their willingness to be entirely wholehearted and open to experiencing the playfulness of co-creating. In turn, I feel deeply honored by their belief in me and empowered by their trust. My internal work during any photo shoot is to get out of my own way, and let the joy flow, secure in the knowledge that all is well. I now realize that during this creative process, love is being nurtured. I’m sure this is why I feel my happiest, most alive self when I am making a Goddess portrait.

Aphrodite, who in Greek mythology arose from the foam of the elemental waters, celebrates love and sexuality as an embodied divinity. She helps us cultivate sensuality, and the desire to live in harmony with the natural world. On my last day in California, we created Karen’s Goddess portrait on a beach in Malibu under the blanket of soft grey clouds.

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On choosing to portray Aphrodite, Karen wrote:

“I know love is our true nature and an infinite supply flows into us from this divine universe if we allow it. We allow it by focusing on what we appreciate and what makes us happy. Seeing wellbeing in everyone and everything is pure love. Seeing wellbeing in everyone and everything is pure fun! “

Blessed be!

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Creativity and the Three Graces

Creativity is like a spark of electricity. In ancient Greece this catalyst was believed to have been a wondrous gift from the Gods and Goddesses, the Muses in particular. The Three Graces were ancient Rome’s artistic benefactors. Today, it’s generally believed that our creativity lies within ourselves rather than being a gift from outside. Scientists studying the brain call this powerful force, “fluid intelligence” or the imaginative ability to solve new problems independent of previous knowledge.

Steve Jobs, in Wired Magazine said: “Creativity is just connecting things”. True, but these connections usually come after tirelessly working at one’s craft. In Meredith Moran’s new book Why We Write, the Chilean writer Isabel Allende shared her philosophy on inspiration; “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too. If she doesn’t show up invited, eventually she just shows up”.

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Sometimes these muses, or connections, occur when we take a break from our routine and let our minds wander freely. When I was a dancer in my twenties, the choreographer Twyla Tharp was an inspiration to me, so it wasn’t surprising to connect with the wisdom in her book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. She wrote; “Reading, conversation, environment, culture, heroes, mentors, nature – all are lottery tickets for creativity. Scratch away at them and you’ll find out how big a prize you’ve won.”

For my friend, the painter Natasha Rabin, an inspired moment occured at an art exhibition which included her work, as well as that of the artist Grace Knowlton, known for her earthly spherical forms. From their chance meeting, a connection was made and Grace became a muse for Natasha’s new series ” States of Grace”. When I saw Natasha’s vibrant new paintings, I was inspired by her inspiration – and the electricity flowed.

On a recent, chilly winter afternoon, the three of us met at Grace’s magical home. Clay, concrete and painted steel spheres dotted the landscape as though they had rolled down the hill in some prehistoric era, settling in gentle clumps. We gathered, Grace, Natasha and I amongst these organic forms, contained, protected and joined in spirit. Entitled “The Three Graces” this image expresses the interconnectivity of inspiration and how we feed and nourish one another in our creative pursuits.

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Finding Beauty in the South Bronx With Majora Carter

The great photographer Ansel Adams wrote: “Art is both the taking and giving of beauty.” No doubt about it, as a photographer, I get immense joy from finding, seeing and sharing the exquisite beauty in our world, both in my commercial and art work. But try as hard as I could, I could not find anything remotely attractive about the notorious Spofford Juvenile Detention complex in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx.

2012-08-13-MajoraGreenTara_1C.jpgMajora Carter, the Bronx born urban revitalization strategist, and I were in discussions to create her portrait for Goddess on Earth. She wanted it be in her own backyard, which just so happens to be The Spofford Juvenile Detention Center, a horrifically ugly, closed up, white behemoth that until last year housed troubled young men. Surrounded by barbed wire, with windows spattered with gun shot holes, and rusty old signs declaring “No Guns Beyond this Point,” it takes a pure visionary like Majora to see the possibility of transforming this vessel of pain and suffering into a green, sustainable, mixed income housing complex.

I have had the pleasure to hear Majora speak in public several times, and have been truly inspired by the passion and determination she brings to her lifeʼs work of connecting ecological and economical degradation with social inequality. In her renowned TED Talk Majora said:

“As a black person in America, I am twice as likely as a white person to live in an area where air pollution poses the greatest risk to my health. I am five times more likely to live within walking distance of a power plant or chemical facility — which I do.”

For Goddess on Earth, Majora chose to embody Green Tara. In Tibet, Green Tara is known as The Goddess of Compassion and the Mother of Liberation. In Buddhist theology, she helps individuals overcome obstacles with energetic action. Majora shared with me why Green Tara is a source of inspiration to her as she fights for both her neighborhood and environmental equality:

Green Tara embodies the pure wish to protect and support something — or someone – -that has been through so much. She is love, wisdom, and fierceness all rolled into one, qualities I want to live up to.”

On a hot, sweltering night in July, we photographed at various locations around the locked up facility on Tiffany Street. With Majora as a guide, I found grandeur in this neglected corner of the city. I discovered, as the English poet and painter William Blake wrote: “exuberance is beauty.” With Green Taraʼs energetic action, and Majoraʼs passionate and transformative commitment to her community, the beauty of the South Bronx was revealed to me — its splendor is in its people and their capacity for rebirth, renewal and creativity. With great joy, I share what I found in the South Bronx with you.

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