creativity

Synchronicity

The past 5 weeks have been a whirlwind. As you know, it was 5 weeks ago that I officially left my day job and began devoting myself toward the development of my vocation – to dedicate my time and energy to the fulfillment of my mission statement:

“To give divine light form through the manifestation of symbolic images that encourage reflection upon the myriad ways spirit reveals itself within our world.” 

I have been working on making sure things are in order for my vending at the various art and wine festivals throughout the Bay Area (see right panel for the schedule) setting up a consistent studio schedule and looking for reasonable part-time employment.  Money is tight, the vending circuit can be grueling, and I need to stay focused on the creation of additional images.

I have prepped the canvas in anticipation of completing the second image in my new chakra series. I was also inspired by a photo I posted on Facebook and a painting by Richard Diebenkorn I saw at an exhibit in San Francisco a few months ago. These 2 seeming ly random impressions blossomed into a concept regarding the notion of Memento mori – translated from Latin as, “remember you must die.” These kinds of images have been used historically but became a common genre of imagery for artists during the 17th century. Anyway, I began researching and collecting reference for the

Anyway, I began researching the theme and collecting reference images for the creation of my own memento mori about 6 weeks ago. In July First Friday was extremely packed and lots of people were in the studio. A woman began speaking with me about my work and inquired about my interest in submitting an image proposal for a project at the next Burning Man. I said sure and took her information to follow-up but didn;t really think much of it. the following week I reached out to make contact and was eventually sent a packet of specs and other information about how to complete my submission for the project. I initially saved the email but didn’t open any of the attachments to look at them because I was too busy with some other projects and the deadline wasn’t until August 3rd.

In the interim, I completed the canvas prep and worked up a suitable sketch for the memento mori project. Once the sketch was up to standards I decided to complete the image in scratchboard and mocked it up on a nice new piece of board.

Pyramid skectch

Mock-up sketch for Scratchboard

Last week I took a break from sketch-searching (my own new word for sketching and researching) to go through my emails and look at the specifications for the Burning Man submission. It turns out that the project is focused on the creation of a South American style pyramid themed around the Day of the Dead.  I immediately thought about how I could use the Memento Mori project I was working on and create a small mock-up version to submit for the Pyramid project.  I usually complete some kind of small mock-up n preparation for a new project anyway so the whole process was fitting right into my normal work flow.

Nicho b:w

Completed mock-up for Burning Man Pyramid

I completed the sketch and then decided it would be more attractive using color so I made the adjustment to create a color mock-up and submitted it for review. To my surprise, the next morning I received the following confirmation,

“Hi Damon,

This a beautiful piece! With your permission we would like to use it as a perk for our second crowdfunding campaign. We would print 8×10 poster prints as a donation reward, we would like to include a short bio about the artist and a link to more of your work. Let us know if this is acceptable for you.”

Talk about synchronicities! All of these random slices of events and impressions came together in order for this to happen. This is what life and the willingness to maintain a connection to spirit is truly all about. This is a reminder to keep following my intuition, listening through meditation and prayer, acting with assurance that guidance is always available, and being willing to follow-up and do the work! So mark your calendars and get ready to join me at my first Burning Man!!

Powell Nicho submission

Memento Mori color mock-up sketch.

I will still be completing my own Scratchboard piece of this image (with a few modifications) in the coming weeks so be on the lookout. When I post the completed image I will provide my usual breakdown with regard to the image’s meaning and symbolism – so be on the lookout!

 

 

The Flowering of Truth

INSPIRATION

The impetus for this work has been part of an ongoing struggle. A struggle that has been uniquely mine yet paradoxically experienced by each of us at various points throughout life. From the earliest stages of human development, each of us learns about self through the experience of contrast between us and that which is other. A baby begins to comprehend the difference between self and mother through the contrasts created by the touch. sight, and sound of its mother versus that of its own. Later in life, we often learn to distinguish who we are through the experience of contrast between the ways others (friends, parents, classmates…) are like us or different from us.
 
This process of self-discovery continues throughout the life cycle because each of us is always changing. The person you were at 3 is still present within your DNA and consciousness but is definitely not the same person who is reading this post right now. This process of continual growth and deepening consciousness requires that we not only discover who we are in terms of likes and preferences but also necessitates that we come to know self with depth and profundity. In a sense, one could postulate that we don’t actually learn who we truly are, but rather that we find the courage and strength to discover, and then become who we truly are. That living a conscious life is a continual process of becoming or embodying the spiritual beings whom we truly are.
  
As our eternal being, our essence becomes more fully integrated and embodied within us it shines forth more brightly through us under the guise of personality. In order for this to occur, we must first find the willingness to look within, the strength to face what we find there, and finally the courage to be that person in the world regardless of what others may say or think about us because of it. This kind of courage requires that we commit ourselves to complete truth and authenticity in all of our interactions. That you find the courage and commitment to be and do YOU in every aspect of your life – no matter what the circumstances. No facades, no compromises to get along, no hiding how you really feel or think to fit in, no holding back your truth for another’s sake…etc. I’m talking about having the courage and determination to be who you are in every way you can, under any and all circumstances.
 
Each of us has the right and the responsibility, to be who we are and do what we want as long as we are honest and forthright in our intentions, and do not hurt or harm others in the process. This kind of freedom can only be achieved by operating from a level of truth and authenticity that most of us are not willing to live from.  In my opinion, this is the kind of commitment to truth and authenticity which lies at the core of 5th chakra symbolism.  
The 5th chakra’s core principle is truth. It is the first chakra to move us beyond the boundaries of our physicality and connect us to the higher realms of consciousness by acting as a conduit for the expression of vibration, sound, and speech. Thus it is associated with the throat, neck thyroid, shoulders, arms, and hands. When we deny the truth within ourselves, or continually speak or act in ways which lack integrity or truth this chakra can easily become clogged or choked thereby weakening its’ vibration. When fully opened, this chakra gives one the courage and commitment to express one’s self in truth and authenticity.  
This has been the focus of my struggle. To not only know, “Who I am” but to strive to authentically “be me” in all situations and circumstances. To stop worrying about, “how others view me or my art?” If speaking my truth will cost me friends or prestige? Will people not like me if I show them who I really am or what I’m about? To be true to self is the simplest yet most difficult of endeavors. This year I am determined to open and clear this chakra. To let the real me shine forth and open up like as a flower opens to the receive the rays of the morning sun! To open to my truth, and express that authenticity in all my interactions. This is the Flowering of Truth.

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SYMBOLISM

The symbolism within this work is focused on truth. The large lotus symbol floating above the figure is a reinterpretation of the 5th chakra symbol. The deep cerulean blue is one of the colors associated with the chakra. The symbol found within the inner flower is the Bija symbol (or seed sound) “Ham”. When repeated, this sound is the key used to activate the chakra and unlock its power. The symbol eye-like piece above symbol is my own additive that which is reminiscent of omniscient divine presence. The white outline used to outline the flower is symbolic of the full moon which is also part of the chakra’s symbolism. T

The flower upon which the figure sits is also a lotus. I purposely used the varying shades of blue for this composition since the primary colors associated with the chakra are cerulean blue and turquoise. This flowering lotus is opening because the figure seated upon it is chanting the seed sound “Ham” as a mantra as she meditates upon the qualities associated with the 5th chakra. 

Since the seated figure is meditating upon the 5th chakra and chanting its’ seed sound, I chose the lift her head and expose her neck – the primary body part associated with the 5th chakra. I intentionally placed the tale end of the seed symbol in the lotus above her head near the figure’s throat in order to further accentuate her neckline and the connection between sound/mantra, the symbol, and the chakra’s connection to the throat. 

My intention was to strike a balance between the areas that were more highly rendered (the opening lotus and the figure’s flesh) and the more graphic areas (the lotus above the figure and the figure’s clothing in order to create a visually energetic push-and-pull between the various portions of the composition. This tension helps to create a downward movement which draws the eye from the face down through the opening lotus. I chose to keep the background soft and muted so that it would not distract from the main focal point of the composition – the meditating figure.

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God of the Oppressed

God of the Oppressed bw300

INSPIRATION

Although this image has flowered recently, the nights of reflection and debate that planted the seeds for its creation go back almost 20 years. Seeds that were planted during my second semester at seminary where I received my initial exposure to the writings of Dr. James Cone, the parent of Black Theology. That seed was then watered by the writings of Gustavo Gutierrez, the parent of Latin American Liberation Theology, and fertilized in the fruitful soil of ongoing theological debate and reflection.

I find both ironic and appropriate that I have given birth to an image of Jesus so close to the season in which his birth is celebrated throughout the world. For some this birth means nothing – and for others everything. The most practical and pertinent questions have nothing to do with whether or not Jesus ever existed as an actual person, is he the son of god…and everything to do with his contemporary relevance in a world where his presence (real or otherwise) has made a lasting impression. There are so many differing voices and factions claiming  possession of Jesus that it’s extremely difficult to discuss his relevance to the current state of affairs, until we ascertain “whose” Jesus we should be talking about? God of the Oppressed is a visual response to this question.

SYMBOLISM

Imagery

The nature of representational imagery necessitates the use of smaller, individual images (image begets image). The smaller individual images within the overall composition were carefully selected to support the overarching theme, “God of the Oppressed”.  In the process of supporting this theme, I have placed the images together in ways that detail or elaborate upon certain aspects of the theme while simultaneously reinforcing or supporting the other images around it. In this way, their interdependence mirrors our own interdependence.

The Asian male with his hand raised in defiance counter-balances the outstretched arm of Hitler behind him. The handcuffed figure in the prison garb is directly connected to the silhouetted figure behind bars – yet both are directly linked to the police officer firing his gun as he holds the dangling head of yet another victim…we go on and on this way as we circle our way around the entire composition.  My point with this effect was to remind us that despite all our futile attempts to deny our interdependence, each of us is connected to one another in myriad ways. The injustices we exercise upon another have an effect upon us, them, and the whole of humanity.

The Scriptural Texts

The figures carrying signs in the image’s lower left corner are central to its interpretation. Each of the figures holds a sign containing excerpts from key biblical texts. The young man in front stands before a sign which contains an excerpt from Luke 4.16-21 that reads: When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  

The gentleman walking behind the young man carries a sign with excerpts from Exodus 3.7-10 which states: Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

The final text is carried by a woman wearing a hat who marches just behind the two gentlemen. Her message is excerpted from the famous “Magnificant” contained in Luke 1.46-55: And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

The central theme within each of these texts is the emphasis upon liberation from oppression, suffering and injustice. Not only liberation from, but more importantly solidarity with those whose lives are being affected by injustice. Solidarity from a divine intelligence that feels what they feel, hears their cries and provides comfort in the midst of unjust and often hostile circumstances. A divinity that not only identifies with us in our brokenness but also promises to take concrete action toward justice on our behalf. These actions are not solely focused upon comfort for the soul but are grounded in concrete historical reality. There is no “pie in the sky” or promise of future glory in the hereafter. These are the actions of a being who walks with us and works on our behalf within the context of our present reality. Freedom and justice are to be struggled for “now” because they are pertinent to our physical experience.

These texts present us with a divinity that is filled with compassion and actively concerned with justice. A god who not only takes sides but exercises a preferential option for those who are oppressed. This is a divinity who cannot be contained or co-opted by the establishment. A creator who loves us all, but is willing to not only take sides and become proactively involved with our efforts to balance the scales of justice. That is why these texts lie at the core of my personal theology and are intimately connected to every other aspect of this image.

Jesus

The image of Jesus serves as the central figure within this illustration. He is surrounded by a mandorla like shape which is also representative of the fish symbol that the early church appropriated to depict their faith and mission. I intentionally made sure that the figure not only breaks through the mandorla to touch the other figures but the tail portions of the mandorla also connect with the outer figures as well. This helps unify the composition and create a direct physical connection between the Jesus and the figures that surround him. I also opted to make use of the traditional halo surrounding Jesus’ head. Both symbols indicate spiritual light and power that is being symbolically transmitted to the other figures as it connects them to Jesus. The silhouette upon the cross at Jesus’ feet is not only his cross but the cross of all those who are suffering from oppression – yet continue to engage in the struggle for justice and equality.

From my perspective, the real question is not about Jesus, but “whose Jesus?”  The Jesus of the oppressor never was and never can be the Jesus of the oppressed. The establishment has its own Jesus. He is not a person of color. He is not a Jew. He is not concerned with justice or equality and would never condone any kind of rebellion or insurrection. He is a wimp. His only interests are sentimental love and helping to maintain the status quo. Whose Jesus are you walking with?

My emphasis here is upon the person of Jesus as opposed to the risen Christ of faith. A Jesus who was born as a person of color into a minority community that was experiencing multiple forms of oppression. A Jesus who was: poor, stood up to a corrupt religious establishment, established his ministry by serving those who were considered the least within his community, was trapped by his enemies, abandoned by his inner circle, brutalized by the authorities, and ultimately tried and murdered by an oppressive government. This is the Jesus who has stood by my side, labored with me in my struggles and knows me in every aspect of my humanness.  This is the Jesus with whom I identify. This is the God of the Oppressed!

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Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

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Winds of Hope

Winds of Hope

INSPIRATION

Recent events in my life have led me to the contemplation of hope. It just so happens that life has been moving along at its own steady pace. Sometimes intense and other times slow, but thankfully there have been no major upsets or crashing waves. When things are like this I often find the breathing room needed to catch my breath and connect more deeply to my higher self. It is during the steady rhythm of life that I am more easily able to reflect upon life’s deeper layers and connect with Spirit from a much more grounded place.

These times of recollection and reflection usually start with gratitude. I find myself grateful for the periods of sunshine that burst forth from the heart in the seasons between the storms. When I am quiet, I can observe a kind of in-gathering within my mind and spirit as all the myriad pieces of my identity are gently de-fragmented and reconnected to one another. I review the progress I have made, see things moving forward, and am filled with gratitude. But even more than that – I am filled with hope.

I am able to see the bigger picture and all the small but progressive steps that let me know I am moving forward towards my goals. This acknowledgment fills me with hope. Hope that that I can succeed. Hope that I can achieve my goals. Hope that I have and can make the right choices, and hope for the future. Hope is foundational and inspirational. The bible reminds us that,  “faith is the substance of things we yet hope for, the evidence of things not seen.” Most of us focus upon faith in this passage but the statement clearly places an even weightier emphasis upon hope – as the foundation which makes faith even possible. Without hope, life has no meaning. Without hope, faith is not possible. Without hope, there is no vision for the future. From this perspective, hope could best be defined as an assurance that the things we desire are actually capable of becoming reality. Thus my stepping back to acknowledge my progress. express gratitude for my current place, and celebrate my accomplishments fills me with hope.

Hope is the wind which blows through my spirit filling me with renewed determination and inspiration. My sails are full so, I do a bit more dreaming and make a few more plans. Then I stretch my arms out wide, lift my head towards the heavens and bathe in the hope’s breeze. HOPE

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

I began this blog because people who view my works often inquire about the meaning within my imagery and the symbols I employ. Since a great deal of my work is about spiritual insight and visual metaphor, symbology plays in integral role in my creative process. Lately, visitors to my studio have also begun asking about my medium, techniques, and the ways in which I am able to integrate them into my overall creative process. So I took the time to snap a few photos of this work in various stages of my creative process.

Everything starts with an idea or inspiration. It may be something I see, a spark gleaned from something I’ve been reading, an image or feeling that is impressed upon me within my meditations…but  things keep coming so I just try to remain open. Once I have solid grasp upon the concept, I begin doing sketches and/or looking at various images that may help to translate my inspiration into concrete visual form. This particular image had a rather long germination which began last winter while I spent 2 months viewing a package of subliminal message videos I had purchased. The actual composition came together quickly after I began researching images.

I am an extremely visual person and an artist so I often save random images that speak to me. While watching one of the videos, the image of the young man standing in the field struck me so I saved it. A few months later I was on google images (I just do that sometimes) and the grassy knoll just kind of popped out at me so I saved it as well. A month or so after that, I was at work making myself a cup of tea. I pulled the last tea bag out of the box and I saw the image of a lotus flower on the inside so I ripped the box apart and took the image to my studio so that I could digitize into my image library.  Shortly after that, I was sitting in my studio sketching. I was feeling really good and reflecting upon how well about things had been going and I got this very full, glad, hopeful feeling. I began to try and sketch it – so I pulled up a few images from my image library to see if anything might create a few more sparks and these three spoke to me.

As you can see from my initial thumbnail sketches it didn’t take long for me to come up with a workable composition. There are days and weeks when it doesn’t  come this easily and I may spend weeks researching, or end up producing 20-30 thumbnail sketches until I can find an inspiring and workable composition. Once I have a good composition, I will often produce 2-3 larger ones (4 x 6) to work out some of the light and shade problems.  For this image, I didn’t feel the need to do so. I moved directly to creating some small color roughs. The circled Image with the double stars is the color combination I decided upon using. With an extremely complicated image, I will create 1 or 2 larger-scale color roughs (4 x 6 as well) to alert myself to any potential tonal problems that may arise before I get into the actual process of execution.

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The Work

For me, getting down to the actual work of creation is also an act of worship, and ritual. This aspect of my vocation involves the use of several rituals that I employ to move me toward concrete acts of creation. Creativity necessitates form. An idea or concept is no better than a daydream until you give it form through acts of concrete physical manifestation. Just as “faith without works is dead” inspiration that are not accompanied by acts of manifestation die shortly after conception.

Keeping the above in mind, I often let the work itself determine the medium from which it will be manifested. At some point during the sketching stage, the imagery begins to inform me about which medium would be the best vehicle for this particular expression. In this case I knew the colors needed to be bright and vibrant so scratchboard was not a consideration. Once the color roughs were completed, it became clear to me that watercolor would be a better medium since the white paper beneath would produce a much brighter, ephemeral, and luminous quality than I could achieve with acrylics.

I begin by engaging in prayer, and then slowly and mindfully laying out my materials so that they are easily accessible and functionally placed within and around my work area. I then choose my material (in this case watercolor paper), and outline the image upon the surface. I often us a projector for larger layouts rather than drawing everything out by freehand. In this case, I used a thinner sheet of paper than I normally prefer to work with (I prefer 300lb Arches watercolor paper), so I had to size the paper before I could begin any actual painting (many artists don’t lay out their imagery until after sizing, but I prefer to do it beforehand).

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Before I begin to do any creative work I spend at least 10-15 minutes in prayer and meditation just before I begin. I created a small altar in my studio that contains candles, incense, crystals, a bell, and other items of significant personal value. After completing my meditation, I spend about 2-3 minutes with my Ipod selecting what (if any) music will be playing for that particular creative session.  With Winds of Hope I began by painting the first layer of washes upon the largest areas of the image. Although it is not depicted here, each area of color has anywhere from 5-8 thin layers of color upon it. This technique allows for the vibrancy of the colors to reflect up through the paper as each successive layer builds upon the next.

As you can see from the images below, the vibrancy of the colors slowly builds intensity with the application of each successive layer. The more subtle details and shading are added in as each layer of color is applied. For me, this process is more like sculpting than painting. I often imagine myself pushing, pulling and molding the various surfaces and contours of the image rather than drawing or rendering them with the paint brush.

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Finishing Touches

As you can observe from these photos, I save the more precisely detailed portions of the image for last. In this instance, it was the waving grass and the figure’s skin tones. These final details were part of my work activities on days 5-6.  Sometimes, I will initiate changes to the image based upon insights or promptings that come to me during my preparation meditations. For this particular piece, there were no promptings over the course of the process, but once the work was completed several people pointed out that the figure resembled me. This was not a conscious decision on my part and I honestly hadn’t noticed (oftentimes, we do more than we can know or say).

The piece was unveiled in my studio for the First Fridays Art Murmur without the facial mustache and goatee, but after the 7th or 8th comment about the figure resembling me, the following day I removed it from the frame and added the mustache and goatee so that the figure would resemble me more closely.

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SYMBOLISM

There are only two actual symbols in this image: the lotus flower depicted behind the central figure, and the West African Adinkra symbol floating above them both. The work’s title, “Winds of Hope” embodies the notion of Hope being the wind which blows through mind, body and spirit, filling us with renewed determination, enthusiasm,  courage, and willingness to sacrifice for the creation of our dreams. Hope is the literal wind beneath our spiritual wings. The figure lifts his head toward the heavens and opens his arms wide to be caressed by the spiritual winds of Hope in a display of gratitude for blessings already received. The lotus behind the figure is also indicative of hope as it springs up from the muck and mire of muddy riverbeds to show forth its splendor. The Adinkra symbol floating above the main portion of the composition literally symbolizes Hope in West African symbology. I thought it very apt and appropriate that hope is connected to the heart’s symbol. For hope too is about the heart –  it’s dreams, passions, and desires. Purple is indicative of spiritual power and love, red passion, and yellow symbolizes wisdom, happiness, and divine benevolence.

Winds of Hope

To Purchase a Print click on the image above, or use the link below:

Damon Powell – Artist & Theologian

To purchase an original work please contact me directly at:

info@damonpowell.com

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