There is a somewhat inorganic separation at work here since I see a great deal of overlap between the “natural” and “spiritual.” That said, some of my work has a more direct spiritual intention, and so for the sake of convention, I am placing that work in this gallery.
I am ambivalent about creating this gallery, mostly because I think some degree of spirituality is evidenced in much of my work. The process of painting is certainly a spiritual undertaking for me much, if not most, if not all, of the time. Plus, there remains something problematic for me about the term “spirituality,” especially since some of what I use as subject matter (the Madonnas for example) are spiritual in a different sense than, say, the more overtly Buddhist subject matter (such as “Red Scouting the Bardo.”)
Sometimes, I use words like “metaphysical” or “cosmological.” Sometimes I say these are matters of “heartmind.” Perhaps it is simplest to say that being “spiritual,” for me, means, in large part, accepting the possibility that there are forces or energies, objects or mass, and/or sentient beings which are imperceptible to unpracticed human senses. Further, observation of these things–particularly, for me, energies–present a truth that is different from truth as we define it conventionally. Being spiritual to me means practicing, in the Buddhist sense, and training my heartmind to directly experience reality and truth as it is, unfiltered by thought, unfettered by narratives, and surpassing (predominantly) Western categories of reason. It may sound all highfalutin’, but the practice is in fact quite simple.
The Madonnas are important to me as powerfully female symbols of devotion. In creating them, I do not intend to signify devotion to a patriarchal creator God. I think of Mary as a bodhisattva, and by this I mean her devotion inspires my own. And the devotion is no small thing for a bodhisattva or aspirant: it mean nothing less than devotion to the well-being of all sentient beings without any exception whatesoever. That is what Mary of Nazareth means to me and what her image inspires in me.
I was raised Catholic and as a child I understood the Virgin Mary as a direct conduit to divinity. As the Queen of Heaven, she herself is semi-divine. Her presence in Christianity is no coincidence: every major (patriarchal) religion seems to reserve a space for goddess-worship of some kind. My intention in making these icons is to reclaim this powerful saint/goddess, and help save her from the clutches of patriarchal Christendom. Not least the Catholic Church, which seems to have lost its way in terms of the humility and compassion embodied by the Virgin Mary in favor of a more muscular Christ-centric theology. Indeed, I find the very notion of Jesus-as-personal-savior both insulting and heretical. There is nothing personal about the divine. There may be intimacy, to be sure, but personal? The very concept of divinity requires thinking beyond any consider of the personal. Mary is not our own personal mother. She is, symbolically at least, the mother of all. And regardless of what she is called in various traditions, and where she is placed in the hierarchies of gods and saints and divine beings, that is a cosmology that still resonates with me. We need this “great cosmic mother”–as symbol if nothing else– more than anytime in my lifetime.