Thursday, July 7, 2011

"Chos Kyi'khor Lo" The Wheel of Transformation: From Inspiration to Expression

The process of inspiration to expression is a wonderful, frustrating, and beautiful struggle. A little microcosm of living life, so much a part of us, but from some place beyond us. Here's a brief history of how this particular piece came to be. It began with the oddly shaped stone. It's a faceted yellow opal bullet cabochon from Thailand I found on Ebay. At the time I was cruising for a cab to fit a totally different project. It was unusual enough, I ordered it, and when I got it in the mail, I was surprised at how big the stone actually was. I loved it, but it sat on my bench neglected for a few months. One day, while working on another piece, I looked up, saw the stone and thought "hmmm.... that kind of looks like a lotus bud..." followed by "huh... it's faceted into 8 segments... hmm... Buddhist's 8 fold path," which reminded me of the Wheel of Dharma...
"Chos Kyi'kor Lo" means Wheel of Transformation in Tibetan. In buddhism it's a symbol expressing the path of practice one takes to rediscovering no-self through the 8 fold path. I also remember a friend once explaining to me that  the wheel, in a Native American tradition (can't remember which one,) is a metaphor for all the world's religions and spiritual traditions. Each one is a spoke that leads to the same place- God, enlightenment, truth, or what I like to think of as the source from which inspiration springs. As this imagery brewed in my mind, the Ouroboros began weaving itself between the spokes. The Ouroboros (meaning "he who eats the tail" in Greek) represents the self nurturing, self devouring, cycle of life and more subtly the often contradictory process of the human experience.  For me, the two images became inseparable. It's through seeing this contrary human mind that we can find that path to what's beyond mind. Put simply the process begins with the transformation of "want what I can't have, don't want what I have" into "wait, what is it I'm actually looking for? and who is it that is looking anyways?" 
Many years ago, I think it was my teacher Tulku Tubten Rinpoche, explained that our troublesome minds weren't something to deny but something to present as an offering. To move into that state of suffering, experience it, understand it, know it is a shared human experience, then offer it  at of the alter of transformation as if it were a beautiful bouquet of flowers. The burning of incense very much represents that process, it's through that fire of consciousness that what appears very real and solid, like our tumultuous minds, reveals itself as a vaporous illusion. Hmmm... actually, that sounds like something Mr. Spock would say!
Construction: The petal and wheel design were hand drafted then transferred onto steel backed photopolymer plates. I made 10 different sizes of petals, using seven of those sizes. I started with the pendant first, building the two rings of petals. I then formed the wheel design into silver clay and pierced around the entire design so that the relief would be more dramatic. I opted to solder the bezel wire onto the pendant after firing the base to allow the clay to shrink to it's optimal density and prevent any distortion from occurring. Perhaps I'm overly paranoid about distortion from working with base metal clays! I knew the bail needed to be low profile, so I decided on a hinge and the slotted shelf system. After firing I applied oil paste to the bail, followed by Art Clay Gold Paste, kiln fired and pulled it out of the kiln while still at the fusing temp hoping to encourage crackling and excintuate the subtle inclusions in the stone.  For the Ouroboros on the wheel I allowed the accent gold to cool to room temp in the kiln, as crackling would have distorted the image. I then attached the bail, soldered the bezel to the base, set the stone, and pushed the petals a little inward to curl around the stone.

The base of the vessel is built in Fastfire BRONZclay, and the pieces are all fitted to prevent slippage. The disc in the bottom of the vessel  has a hole for small sticks of incense, or a cone, acts as a catch for ash and is easily removable. Getting it all to fit together did require a little bit of hammering and sanding, but nothing too extreme. I did have to repair some cracks in the main base, repairing and re-firing three times total. All in all I was happy with my first major construction experience with Fastfire BRONZclay. Compared to some previous experimental projects, three re-firings seemed pretty manageable....
The lotus was something of an exercise in patience, which I thought was a rather appropriate theme. I started with the inner ring working my way out, stabilizing each ring  and increasing the petal sizes as I progressed. The curled outer petals were formed by draping each one on a knitting needle until it just began to hold it's shape, then pinched the base of the petal  a little so it would match the shape of the ring of petals it was to be connected to. I reinforced all the connections with syringe paste, sanded, re-sanded, and then sanded it all again with 600 grit wet/dry. For as much as I fussed with it, I'm shocked I didn't drop it or break one of the petals while still in it's greenware state! In the end that it all even fit together was a bit of a miracle,  but any act of creation, artistic or otherwise, is a bit of miracle isn't it?