Art Speaks for the Soul
Six months ago I interviewed Maarten Schaddelee, a well-known Victoria sculptor. Maarten’s work is beautiful and technically superb with flowing lines that speak to me of spirit. I did not feel the interview was successful. I had gone in with an agenda that wasn’t satisfied. Yet Maarten was candid and welcoming. Over the past months I have thought about this interview and my expectations and I have some new insights.
It is the end of Fall term, the groups are established and the studio is a safe place to explore art making, so I try to nudge the students a little further. I ask them to think about why they create art. What they are trying to say with their art. I ask them to notice the subjects they choose and then reflect on why they choose them. What is driving their need to create? Because once an artist can identify why they create, the act of creating art can lead to deeper understanding of their selves.
In my current group of students I have a few who are resistant to the idea that artmaking can be about more than technique and representation. One night I went to sleep wondering how to convey the concept to them and woke up thinking about my own Father. Near the end of his painting career he created a number of large landscapes. One of which I have in my studio. It is a painting of Douglas Channel, just outside of Kitimat in northern BC. The sun is streaking through the clouds and reflecting on the water. It is like the dawn of time. My father was a professed atheist. He denied that there would be anything after this life. We live and we die. From the void and into the void. I don’t know when this position came to be his, but it was what I knew of him until a few days before he died and revised this position.
It came to me that sometimes art is not the vehicle of the conscious artist at all. Rather it can be a vehicle for the artists’ soul. If this is true it explains many things. It explains why artists who are unkind and immensely selfish, can create work that speaks to others in a profoundly deep way. It explains why artists who deny that they are spiritual can create art that speaks loudly of spirit. This thought took me back to my interview with Maarten. During our interview he repeated several times that his wife, Nadina, is very spiritual while speaking of his own part as that of ‘allowing the work to happen’. Yet he recounted that in a conversation with Nadina he had come up with the phrase ‘my hands make the voice of my heart visible’ and was immediately inspired to carve the words into stone. Maarten also stated that he and Nadina are a team, for instance the name of their website is Maarnada Studios. Maarten creates the objects and Nadina articulates the stories that Maarten doesn’t always see in the work. Reminiscent of Myles Lowry’s comment that; ‘Sometimes people get the work at a deeper level than I do. Even though I painted it.’
One monumental work that Maarten is particularly proud of is a series of doorways representing 16 religious and spiritual practices. Sixteen large panels of carved MD fibreboard and together they are called “Doorways to Spiritual Peace”. Nadina offered this description, ‘The Doorways are installed with their faces outward and they are hinged together like real doors. They are holding each other up in the circle realizing that when we come together with our own unique stories and recognize our heart’s truth that is when our Earth will have Peace. It is not how we are different but how we share the love of our planet.’ Maarten also explained that these were not doorways for the physical. They are for the spirit only. The statement being that all religions lead to the same place, to the place of our beginnings, to the place of our becoming.
The love and labour he put into these doors is palpable. They are very different from his other sculptures. At first I saw them as stiff and contrived, but upon reflection, I think instead they are more innocent, an expression earnest concern for the spiritual paths on this planet. They are naïve in style where his other work is modern and masterly. The message is the same. That spirit is in us and around us.
This series of articles: Art as Spiritual Practice, is written by Joanne Thomson, a visual artist living in Victoria BC. If you are an artist who can relate to these columns and are interested in being interviewed about your practice, please contact Joanne.
Joanne Thomson is a watercolorist who works on paper and canvas. She is best known for her images of the BC forest and coast. These strong images are created with a gentle spiritual approach to art making. Thomson writes about the connections between Art and Spirituality as a regular contributor to the Times Colonist’s Spiritually Speaking Blog. Joanne has earned a Masters of Adult Education and as an instructor she brings enthusiasm and wisdom to her workshops encouraging students to explore the creative process through research and experimentation. www.joannethomson.com.