We've started the process of pouring new sculptures from our freshly cast mold - it's terribly exciting and also really hard work... I'll be sharing more about that process with you in an upcoming post.

Today I offer you this image. This is the piece from which we cast the mold. I carved it out of a solid block of clay. In the process of creating the mold, this piece was severely damaged.  Of course this was expected! The original for the castings is made never to be fired. Today I took this heavy, damaged but beautiful solid chunk of buddha clay out into the meadow and placed him beneath a tree which I can see from my studio window. Being raw, this piece will disintegrate in the elements, I have no idea how quickly. I will watch this disintegration from my window.


rough clay

I've been working on a series of small gestural rough pieces in a heavy, groggy stoneware. I'm used to hand building with porcelain or fine white stoneware which are smooth and delicate to the hand. This stuff is rough and earthy. I'm used to planning and measuring and carefully cutting from templates, and with these pieces I'm rolling out uneven surfaces, spontaneously tearing the clay, working by feel, being guided by the process itself.

What I'm finding is that this rough clay is the perfect vehicle for expressing the questions of embodiment. Some would argue that buddhism is a religion of transcendence but I don't believe it is. We embrace the paradox of embodiment and the lessons of the body. As the Buddha himself discovered, asceticism and mortification are not in themselves paths to enlightenment. We can learn to manage desire and impulse with skill and compassion, never needing to denigrate the body or set up an antagonistic body/spirit dualism.

Still, there are questions, problems, paradoxes, ironies, difficulties. The life of the body is rich with them. From where else should we draw our questions, and so our wisdom, our knowledge of the spirit?

The thing about the Buddha, why we sit at his feet: he was human. He lived a fully embodied human life - a life which is a model for us of possibility. The possibility is of enlightenment -
wisdom-breakthrough - in this body, in this life, in this ordinary, imperfect human form.

There are a few moments of Buddha's life which we see over and over again in the iconography. Seated Buddha in meditation on the night of his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. Standing Buddha, the young priest offering a gesture of benediction, abhaya, no fear. Reclining Buddha, approaching his death, offering reassurance to his followers.

Each of us has great moments in our lives, moments of enlightenment, benediction, and release. And these moments are the sum of all preceding moments, and how can we say which moments are most sacred?

What I find emerging from beneath my hands in these small sculptures are articulations of very human moments in the life of the Buddha. Not the iconic moments but the ordinary moments of weakness and struggle,  pride and suffering.
A caved-in chest and an alms bowl.
A proud young prince playing with priestly gestures.
My hands imagine the many moments of this remarkable human life, the multitude of human moments ultimately consummated beneath the Bodhi tree.

In creating these pieces I do feel in communion with the wisdom-body of the Buddha. This sounds grand but it is ordinary and intimate. Of course it is intimacy with the universal human experience of embodiment, suffering, and the possibilty of enlightenment.

That's it for today. I hope you enjoy seeing these clay pieces in progress, and I would love to hear what thoughts and feelings these pieces inspire in you.


taking shape

Remember the block of clay that I showed you in the last post? Here it is after today's progress. I find this sculpting by hand to be a much more intimate process than drawing or painting. Hands-on-clay is so immediate and sensual. In creating a body-of-Buddha, however humble, I do truly feel I am connecting with Buddha energy, I am in meditation, and I am learning. This is exactly what I hoped this process would be! I took my glasses off and worked a lot by feel today, connecting with the roundness of shoulders, the receptivity of lap, the aspiration of the crown of the head. We should be pouring the mold on Thursday, which is very exciting.

I'll leave you today with these verses from Thich Nhat Hanh:
The Buddha is like the fresh, full moon
that soars across the immense sky. 
When the river of mind is truly calm,
the moon is reflected perfectly
upon the surface of deep waters.

Dwelling in the refuge of Buddha,
I clearly see the path of light and beauty in the world.

Taking refuge in the Buddha in myself,
I aspire to help all people recognize their own awakened nature,
realizing the Mind of Love.


does this block of clay have buddha nature?

Well, I'm back in the studio this week, and what you see above is the incipient form of what will be my 54 slipcast buddhas, the ones that will venture out into the world to do good in unexpected places. I have to confess, after manhandling this very heavy block of clay into place on the table, and confronting its unrefined mass, I draped myself over it and burst into tears.

My husband happened to be in the studio at the time, getting some tiles into the kiln. I said "I can't help it! It's like there's this very loud voice in my head saying 'who the f*** do you think you are, to take on this work?'"

"That's OK." he said. "All artists have voices in their heads. It's part of what keeps you doing the work. Just do the work." He went on to say something about Jackson Pollack which made me laugh, and the moment of tears and doubt passed, and I went on to doing math and hacking chunks of clay out of the big mass.

It's true for all of us, artists or not. Parts of you will doubt, and scream discouragement. You just need to keep doing the work.


Sea Green Serenity

You might take the world for granted, but if you look again, you will find that tremendous beauty and subtlety exist in perception...   ~Chogyam Trungpa

 My purple irises are blooming, looking exquisite with the sea green glaze on this Buddha plaque. I'm planning a wall of these for the exhibit in August, a serene repetition of  meditating buddhas, in reds, golds, greens, and lichens, reminiscent of these Taras in the Ajunta Caves:


Fresh from the Dragon Kiln - A Lesson in Transformation

details of transformation

These vessels are very humble offerings, especially when I consider that they rubbed shoulders in the fire with amazing pots by both prodigies and masters; artists with decades of practice in their craft, elegant and nimble hands, fertile imaginations, plus MFA's, grueling apprenticeships in Japan, and other enviable accomplishments. (Wonderful people, all of them, with whom I enjoyed sipping coffee by the campfire, crawling in and out of the belly of the kiln,  and of course admiring tables laden with wares freshly out of the kiln.)

That said, I love these pieces - Buddhas numbering two through six of 108. Remember what they looked like before they went naked into the kiln?

What I love is not what I made of them, but what the fire and ash made of them... those amazing smoky amber surfaces, wrought by elemental forces.

The pots in the Anagama kiln get white hot. Naked flames lick around them, smoke and ash and mysterious chemical vapours whirl in and out of them, leaving traces on their surface. It's alchemy.

I prayed over these pieces when they went in to the kiln. On the second night of the firing, while my partner was working late stoking that fire, I dreamt I was in the heart of the kiln, with these cups - undergoing violent but beautiful transformation. I was worried about them like they were little parts of me, hanging on in a dramatic and dangerous place.

I saw some magical things come out of that kiln when we unloaded it, like a bowl that had gone in full of seaweed, and came out with seagreen glass pooled in the bottom.

It's an object lesson - in life, in practice, in love. Surrender and be transformed. Go in naked and raw, come out strong and shiny, indelibly marked by a mystery, glowing.