Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Thank you" is in order. . .

While I'm thinking about it, I'm a very small piece of The Wooliverse.  I just want to say thanks  to my aunt and uncle who turned me onto this art form, my wife who's been a fan, an inspiration, and a constant source of encouragement, friends both past and present, local and online who've given invaluable feedback, my kids, the folks at Urban Fauna in SF who have taught me a lot and continue to help me dig deeper; also, the ladies at Urban Bazaar who in carrying and selling my somewhat weird creations have given me the confidence to go the extra step in opening an online shop.  And my yoga instructors!  And of course the long line of writers, musicians, artists, mystics, scientists, philosophers, rabble rousers and other powerful sources of inspiration whether known in person or through their work, who've helped shape my world view .  And to the world itself for providing constant input . . .beautiful, dark, spiritual, sparkling, depraved, writhing and alive.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's time to stop hoarding.

I've been chasing the magical folk of the Wooliverse out of joy, love and because it is utterly fulfilling.  I love these guys and even added shelf space for them in my home.

But there comes a time to let things go, to share with the world, to stop clinging so you can continue to grow. 

Recently I've sold some of these guys at  Urban Bazaar in SF, and it's a good feeling to know that these critters are bringing happiness to more than just me and my wife.  That's why I started this blog, and am making the Wooliverse available on Etsy.  It's scary, it's exciting, and it's a little bit sad to see some of these guys go out into the world.  But as I learned while wrangling with a particulary opinionated and bossy denizen of the Wooliverse, the quickest way to lose access to the magic is to refuse to share it with others.


Why "The Wooliverse?"

I had an odd dream shortly after returning from Patagonia and consciously implementing a loosely "shamanic" approach to what I was doing with wool.  I'll spare the explicit details (for dreams are almost always boring in the retelling) but the essentials were that I traveled through ten different dimensions of a Universe made out of wool.  The first realm was bright, light and airy.  Each subsequent dimension was more densely sculpted than the one before, and of a darker color palette.  The final realm was muddy, stormy and torn and I reached into the sky, grabbed a piece of cloud and used it to felt closed a hole in the ground through which the universe was pouring out into a dark void.

It was a few weeks later when I recognized that the colors and increasing materiality of the wool dimensions were much like the ten Sephirot in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.  It was also when it occurred to me that creating "in the Wooliverse" was, so to speak, actually a path of healing for me.  I had known "intellectually" that art and magic are healing tools, but I had never "known" it in any truly experiential way at all.  Which says a lot for the limits of intellect, huh?

Chasing Imunu in Clouds of Wool

Mangrove Root Imunu or Kakame approx 1700s
I've been transfixed by the Oceana Exhibit at the De Young in SF since it opened (The Jolika Collection.) Most inspiring are the few pieces referred to as Imunu.  As I understand it, the Shaman would have a spirit vision, then seek out this spirit in the wood, and embellish it, rendering its most salient details more visible.

 This is the process I have used for a many of the wool sculptures I've done.  I do my best to respect the process, and differentiate between the wool Imunu, which are very much a communication between conscious and unconscious mind as they interact with the wool, and other pieces which are conceptual and aesthetic creations that are more intentional.

I don't want to scare anyone off with the "magical" and "mystical" vision stuff.  For the most part, I believe "magic" is a system of using deep symbolism to assist the conscious and unconscious mind to unite into another kind of consciousness.  Dreams, fasting, self-hypnosis, ceremonial magic, sleep deprivation, meditation, ecstatic dance. . . all of these things and more have been historically used to travel to. . . . wherever you want to believe that "other" place is.  Another dimension.  The unconscious mind.  The faerie realm.  I have no idea.  I'm as likely to pick up one of these hitchhikers in a walk through the redwoods as I am dancing to a high energy band.  Often one will arise, bright against my closed eyelids while resting, empty, in savasana after 90 minutes of intense Bikram Yoga. 

I look for these "visions" in one of the ever growing piles of wool around the house.  Sometimes I sketch them because I might not yet have the wool to complete them.  But the process.  It's hard to explain what it's like sitting down and letting one of these creatures form over many hours and days out of a cloud-like puffs of wool.  It isn't easy.  And it isn't always fun.   More than writing or music ever did, chasing these sometimes whimsical, and sometimes dark visions has been an act of self-exploration and a process of discovery and healing.  Whether I've wanted it to be or not!


Some dear friends invited my wife and I to join them on a camping and fly-fishing trip to Chilean Patagonia.  I had JUST learned needle felting and was obsessed with it, but was glad to set it aside for an adventure (of the unknown, because I knew NOTHING about Patagonia.)

The vast, empty landscapes in the southern part of the country were really inspiring, in part because of their sheer beauty, and in part because of their lack of wildlife.  I kept thinking it would be completely unsurprising if a dinosaur stepped out from behind a mountain, or if Cthulhu himself arose from one of the deep, blue lakes.  It was hear that I first started feeling like crafting fantastical creatures, and for whatever reason (I'm not even especially a Lovecraft fan) Cthulhu was the first creature I was certain I wanted to attempt making when we got home.  (Unbeknown to me at the time was that the Great Old One was apparently gripping the imagination of many Bay Area artists.) 

There were a few actual creatures living in Chile (not just my projected monsters), even in Patagonia:  SHEEP!  Again, ignorant  me, I had no idea.  Near Coyhaique we camped on a farm, and got to watch some sheep get sheered the old fashioned way, with a pair of big scissors.  And when we made it all the way down to Tortel in southern Patagonia (a swampy little fishing village that might be the cutest place on earth) we discovered a lady selling uncarded raw wool, dyed with plant dyes taken from her garden.  I bought as much as I could and brought it home with me.

When I started playing with this kind of wool, raw, uncombed, with all the whorls and personality of the sheep still intact, it was actually a revelation to my creative process. Previously, I had only worked with processed wool roving (which I still use for many kinds of projects) but there was something about the raw wool that suggested to me an idea I'd encountered in the De Young Museum's Papua New Guinea exhibit:  certain pieces called "Imunu" which are spirits the shaman/artist doesn't so much create, but finds residing in the medium (wood, traditionally) and "enhances" or makes visible.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"A Bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."

It never occurred to me to blog about my experiences with needle felted wool sculpture originally, because I had no idea that it was going to be a  journey worth documenting.  But I did buy a journal to jot down ideas in.  I chose it because I liked the cover.  When I got home I noticed a little peal-off sticker on the plastic wrap that said "A bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."

I hadn't had a "song to sing" in a long time when I was introduced to felting needles.  I was a writer with nothing to say, a guitarist with nothing left to play.  I had been trying to revive myself, to get rid of that "dead inside" feeling through yoga, meditation and other techniques and was in a healthy place in many ways, but my neglected creative self remained stagnant.

The first time I had a felting needle in my hand was at my and aunt and uncle's art studio in Santa Cruz, and with nothing but a few pointers, I found myself in that creative state that is sort of like self-hypnosis--the kind of state I used to be able to enter while writing poetry or playing guitar.  With no conscious intent I first made a sloppy, poorly felted mushroom, and then an "alien wizard" or shaman which looked kind of neat, but was so loosely constructed it barely holds together. 

I bought wool and tools for myself and doodled around a little with these "ideas" of what I thought I wanted to do. . . things I thought other people might like or want.  And then a trip to Chile helped spark a transformation in the way I approached wool art.  That's a story for another post, but it took me back to my very first felting experience, and made that little Alien Shaman meaningful, because in a way it was a sign post to the path I would end up on, to the place where art and magic intersect.