Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Phoenix Paradigm.

It's been awhile since I've posted, to say it's been a hectic, crazy, overwhelmingly wonderful summer would be an understatement. The rushing current of a busy festival season, my first metal clay conference, and looming deadlines has blasted me through three months. As a result I've neglected my blog. In my defense I did start 8 different postings, unfortunately I only managed a few incomplete sentences. Although a little brevity may have been refreshing for anyone familiar with my tendency for long winded ramblings ;)

One of the looming deadlines was finishing a piece to submit to Rio Grande's Saul Bell Design Award, titled "The Phoenix Paradigm." My initial instinct is to not even mention that this is a submission. Submitting work, while productive and important, is also an incredibly vulnerable process. For someone who has been a closet artist in the past, was for 8 years, submitting work to people who really know their stuff is kind of like streaking naked through a room full of personal trainers and plastic surgeons. This piece is like a metaphoric expression of that journey... not the running naked part, the overcoming fear part... maybe the naked running wasn't a good example... Initially, when I was constructing this piece, I decided I wanted to make the inner vessel bright silver, with a perfect mirror finish and everyone would be so amazed at it's shininess. After 16 hours of sanding and polishing, filing and fixing I finally managed it.  Pffft. Should've have know better. I accomplished my "vision" and realized I was not seeing straight at all. It looked awkward, and disingenuous. My need to control, my need to achieve this ideal, left the piece wanting in so many ways. I had to let my false ideal of what I thought this piece should be burn away and become something beyond my original conception. Going back to my example, it's not the shedding of cloths that's important, it's the *acceptance* of what is under the cloths that's important. So I took a rotary tool armed with a diamond burr bit and proceeded to begin the deconstruction and reconstruction of this piece. The following is some of what came to me as I worked.

The phoenix is a classic representation of life, death, and rebirth in a number of mythologies spanning the globe. This mystical bird, that rises from the ashes of it’s previously burnt form, speaks to more than just primitive fantasy. I believe many of these kinds of symbolic stories hold within them the truth of the many dimensions of the the human experience, being more allegorical than literal. 

To me, the phoenix tells the the story of transformation. In order for the new to be born, first room must be made, and all the experiences leading up to that dissolution feeds the process of renewal. For example, the children we were must be left behind to become the adults we are meant to be. The innocence of childhood is traded for the freedom and responsibility of adulthood. It’s not that one is better than the other, it’s simply the natural progression of form. With the phoenix, there is no fear of that transition, because the surety of renewal is written within the very flames of transformation. This piece was designed to express this system of transformation but in the context of how this applies to the discovery of one’s true self. 

Upon first view, fire encompasses this entire necklace. The focal is flames wrapped around a charred chunk of wood. The wood, although gnarled in texture, has the look of a once carefully carved and refined form. I think we often perfect our personalities in the same way. There’s this wild, unruly, instinct within us, that we smooth, and carve away at it to create our social personality. This construct is often mistaken for being our true self. I don’t believe our true nature is either simply an animal instinct or this refined personality, but in order to discover our true nature, we must offer up the illusion that we are these things to the fire of clear consciousness

The clarity of consciousness is not a complicated thing. It is a natural form, it is simply the act of observation. In the same way that fire consumes, so does this clarity. For example, when we feel angry, we say “I am angry.” If you are able to step back and simply observe this feeling, you begin to realize that this fury, can be boiled down to physiological changes. Perhaps your heart races, your breathing become more shallow, you feel a surge of energy as your endorphins are released. You can begin to see that you are not this feeling, you are just experiencing this feeling, you are feeling angry. So if this is how you are feeling, who is it that is observing this? Who is it that is “feeling”? Where is this “who” located? Where does this observer begin or end?
This process is the beginning sparks of the fire of consciousness. It’s not a process that happens just once, and is finished. It is a process that we renew each and everyday, in each and every moment. As we burn away the false forms that we identify as our “self” that clarity arises. The Phoenix is that clarity, it is just awareness passing through one form to another form, arising and falling, without fear, without judgment. Even as it takes it’s first breath and emerges from the ashes, it begins it’s journey once again toward the fire. In embracing this paradigm I believe we begin to discover what lies beyond language, beyond thought, beyond emotion. We begin to discover that wellspring of simply “being.” This simply “being” is represented by the natural form of the fire agate cabochon. 

Once again I wanted a setting that would allow the stone to be removed, because this simply “being” goes beyond this paradigm of existence. It is the fluent energy that animates our experiences, the space in between each and every atom that fills the entire universe. It can be described but never defined, it is beyond all allegories, beyond the constraints of language, whether symbolic, written, or spoken. It simply is.


  1. Thank you for sharing your thought process and growth with us once again Wanaree! Your piece is incredible and I know it was a challenge for you in more ways than one. You are an inspiration my friend :)

  2. I am speechless!!! Both the beauty of your writing and the magnificient work of art are truly awesome. I have no doubt this piece is a true winner. WOW;0)

  3. I knew it, Wanaree! It has the hallmarks of a piece that is truly the product of what William Blake would call "the process of the imaginative faculty"....a combination of "innocence" (imagination), "experience" (mortality and death) and "higher innocence" (transcendence over the mortal, finite self into the realm of the divine).
    Excellent , my friend!

  4. It is a gorgeous piece and I am sure you will do great !

  5. Another stunning piece, Wanaree! Your pieces, and the symbolism of them, are an inspiration to us all. Fantastic! Best of luck with the submission!!


  6. Utmost admiration here, Wanaree, for the piece itself, for the artistic insights that went into forming it, and for the courage to confront your fears and submit it for the Saul Bell Award. Well done. I have no doubt the jurors will echo my admiration.

  7. Love it! Congratulations ;-)

    I would love to hear more about the materials you used, technique, what challenges you had etc.

    Excellent! Thanks for inspiring us all.



  8. OMG, Wanaree, again, sharing your creative process! It almost makes me visualize your thoughts as the piece was conceived, wrought and perfectly finished. I's say you look pretty darned good naked!

  9. Thanks so much for sharing the piece and the process Wanaree. The piece is beautiful! I'm sure you'll do well, and I wish you the best of luck!!


  10. Thank so much everybody!! I really appreciate your feedback and encouragement. I'll try to write a post about the construction and process of this piece, wish I would have been more vigilant with taking pictures!

  11. Can't wait to read more about the construction. This is wonderfully provocative. Good luck with the Saul Bell process.

  12. May I chime in to say I love it, too? Very special, Wanaree! Best wishes with the Saul Bell awards.

  13. Unique, fresh, full of soul, amazing!!!

  14. Thank-you Evelyn and Marilyn, I really appreciate it!!

  15. Wow.... What a beautiful piece, beautifully described. Thanks for the inspiration! Man I hope you win.