Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Hallowmas!


Happy Hallowmas, or Halloween, or Witch's New Year or Feast of the Dead! Whatever you call it, October 31st is a very interesting day to me. Today is the day we honor our dead, express gratitude for our heritage, recall our ancestors and our many gifts bestowed upon us by those in our blood lineage who have proceeded us in life and death. Blood, like metal, is magnetic, by the way....those who share our blood line magnetize us even as we may resist the attraction and pull. Interesting thought to ponder.
Today is a festive and a creative day! How much fun is it to be anyone or anything that you desire on this day? How creative to dream up a costume and put it together!
For these reasons, and many more, Halloween is my favorite day of the year.
I believe in magic, fairies, ghosts, spirits and goblins. I have an understanding of "the old ways". I know the power of good - and of evil.
I am of Celtic heritage.
Perhaps this is why fire and the forge excite me?
It is documented that the Celts were so war-like (I have a bit of a warrior inside me too!), that our bonfires come from the Celts....except their fires were "bone fires". Use your imagination here, People.
The above image is a classic Celtic design (triad) that I designed, made and interpreted as a stering silver pendant for my friend, Tami.
It always shocks me how modern the Celtic designs and symbols appear. They are ancient, but  forever young. Perhaps there is something in the symbology that most of us relate to? The designs appear the 'freshest' when there is a bit of imperfection to them after execution. Overworking a Celtic symbol is, I believe, a sin.
A few years ago, I was most fortunate to see the ancient collections of the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. Phenomenal. Such sophisticated metalsmithing (mainly goldsmithing) - unparalled! Brilliant designs and knock-your-socks-off craftsmanship. Timeless, indeed. Hollow fabrication, fibulas, jewelry and vessels that had me wondering how the ancient ones created such remarkable works! To this day, with all of the new technology, I do not think that I have seen any collection of smithing as outstanding as this!
So, with humility, honor and gratitude, I leave you with this thought:

The noblest share of earth is the far western world
Whose name is written Scotia in the ancient books:
Rich in goods, in silver, jewels, cloth, and gold,
Benign to the body in air and mellow soil.
With honey and with milk flow Ireland's lovely plains,
With silk and arms, abundant fruit, with art and men.

Worthy are the Irish to dwell in this their land,
A race of men renowned in war, in peace, in faith.

-Donatus, Bishop of Fiesole, mid-ninth century.
Translated by Liam de Paor

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Om malas and such...

I finished a few of my "Om Malas". I really enjoy making these bibelots. They are versatile, beautiful and can be personalized for each user/wearer/bearer. A mala is a bracelet-like, or rosary (necklace-like) collection of prayer beads. I have a few in my personal collection - wooden beads, carnelian stone beads and others. They are used as a tool in meditation or prayer.
My handmade malas are personalized, but bare bones, so that the recipient can add his or her own meaningful materials. I start with a drawing of the charm, seal, symbol, sigil, or amulet that I think most befits the recipient, or the dedicated purpose of the mala (Archangel, Om, Zodiac sign). The main amulet is typically made of brass, but I have used sterling silver and copper. I pierce the design into the brass using a jeweler's saw. The disc is hammered into a convex form. The piece is then stamped with my mark, and perhaps the title of the symbol.
I like a patinaed or oxidized finish, so I experiment with the coloration. I then choose a tassel, beads, crystals and various adornments that compliment the mala's dedication. For instance, in the above malas I chose rose quartz for a pink hue to enhance the love vibration of the Om symbol. The main disc was flame-colored, then hardened to get rosy tones. The other mala (Tamil Om) features a brass endless spiral and some gorgeous peach-toned agates and crystals, as well as the patinaed brass.

Above is another Om mala, resplendent with gold and deep red. This mala has a silky, generous tassel, a large wooden bead and genuine red garnet crystals. Again, the Om symbol is colored with a lovely, turquoise green patina. I think this mala is rich-looking. I was inspired by the Tulku/Tibetan monk robes of saffron and dark red. On afterthought, I should have created the Tibetan Om symbol (which is different than the above). Oh well, that is an idea for another day.
I love these pieces - and that is saying a lot. I do not like everything that I make! These malas, to my eyes, glow with a life of their own.
After these creations are turned over to their new owners, all kinds of delightful things happen. One client wears her mala around the neck with a handwoven cord. Another friend promptly clipped hers on her handbag. Another draped her mala around a Quan Yin statue in her entry hall.
Me? I display my own collection on the walls of my home.


I am so happy that I had to put my pliers down for a few minutes to share this info! A Blog Roll, please!
I am excited to announce that Critical Alchemy has been mentioned in the blogroll of, an opinionated view of arts and entertainment!! is published in that great mecca of all things artistic, stylish and cultural, New York City. Check out and see for yourself!
As always, thank you for following Critical Alchemy. Your interest, readership, commentary and views are invaluable.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Show on Wednesday, Uriel, Om malas and Wim Wenders...

Chandra will display my products at the Art & Craft show at TXU Energy, which is is fast approaching (Wednesday, Oct. 28th). It is difficult for me to grasp that it is nearly the end of October, 2009. For some odd reason, I had a time-space interruption around Y2K. Oh well, as Albert Einstein would undoubtedly say, "time is relative".
I am finishing up some malas with the "Om" symbol pierced into the amulets. The Om shapes are in various translations and visually lyrical. I will post photos here when I have completed the few that I will present on Wednesday.
The above photo is a mala with amulet/sigil dedicated to Archangel Uriel. I made this mala for my friend, Janice. Janice is a very talented Lightworker, who maintains a gorgeous website, Shining Lite. I am pleased with the way this mala turned out. The pale gold background certainly befits Uriel.
Uriel's name means "Light of God". You can call on Uriel to partner with you on any new project. This Archangel also can show us the fire and light of true love. Uriel can shed light on a situation that we may 'be in the dark' about.
I have always been fascinated with the angelic realm, art, symbols and all things beautiful. I have endeavored to see 'beyond the veil', as it was called in my paternal Irish family. When I was a small child, this ability to "see" and "feel" used to frighten me. I shut it out for many, many years. Today, I find great comfort in this ability.
Did you see Wim Wenders film, "Wings of Desire"? An unforgettable film - check it out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thinking about Archangel Michael & Michael Jackson

Above is an image of a prayer mala that I made for my dear friend and gifted Lightworker, Maria Peth. This is a bracelet mala that holds the sigil/seal of Archangel Michael. It is composed of patinaed brass, cobalt beads, brass and fiber. Archangel Michael's name means "He who is like God". He is widely believed to work with a number of angelic helpers who are rightly called "The Band of Mercy". It is for good reason that Michael is the patron and protector of police and  fire fighters. He is 'the Big Gun'! You can call on Archangel Michael whenever you need help in a seemingly impossible situation. Visualize his gorgeous color of cobalt blue to assist you in invoking Michael.
I think about another Michael a lot these days - Michael Jackson.
I was fortunate enough to see Michael Jackson perform in the 1980s. I had watched him from afar all of his life. I collected Jackson 5/MJ records, 8 tracks, cassettes and CDs. I recall being happy to have tickets to see him in St. Louis at the old Arena, but nothing prepared me for what I saw that night. Wow! Precision. Perfection. Magic. He danced as though he was skating on ice. He made it look so easy! I had never seen anything like it. I know that I will never see anything close to that performance again.
I have never failed to lose my respect for this man's artistic genius. He was a rare gem, a shooting star. Michael Jackson was a wildly creative, gifted talent who could see into the gap - see possibilities that the rest of us could not. And, thanks to the medium of video, Michael Jackson could give us a visual glimpse of his magic visions. Video? I will take it - but no one could beat a Michael Jackson "live" performance - absolutely no one.
I think about Michael Jackson these days in terms of his fear and his courage. When it seemed that most of the world turned against him, Michael Jackson kept pursuing his art. In my opinion, his strongest work was "Dangerous", largely overlooked and created in the midst of controversy. His work in the 90s and 2001 was the best of his long career! "Thriller"? Groundbreaking. Later work? Mature and polished. Definitely.
I think about Michael Jackson preparing for his last tour. I imagine that he felt crippling fear, but he, always the disciplined and consummate professional, persevered.
Some of Michael Jackson's work remains with the world. I think the world misses him. The world needs the performers, the magicians, the believers in Neverland, the artists. It is through these people that so many others in despair can be lifted up with the hope that life really is worth living - even if it is for a short time.
Michael Jackson has inspired me to work in my studio again. Plain and simple. My latest creations hearken back to my roots - a tad raw, but with a strong element of fantasy. When I was young, I sat in my family's living room, 're-purposing' my poor Mother's rosaries and jewelry. Sorry, Mom.
Thank you, Michael Jackson, for helping me overcome some of my many fears and letting me see that anything really is possible.....I had forgotten.

A new week, a new necklace, a show coming up soon!

Below are two images of a necklace that I am working on for a show on October 28th. This is a simple beaded construction with an amethyst and sterling silver cross.  The cross can be taken off and worked with a simple cord. I like that versatility. The necklace has a slight Victorian accent. What gives the contemporary edge is the sheer volume of the curtain-like drape of glass beads and wire, juxtaposed with the antique look of the chunky amethyst pendant. It also has that high-low/new-old aesthetic that is pleasing to my eye. I would wear this necklace. It would perk up my basic, nearly all-black Fall and Winter wardrobe.
P.S. The glass beads are a dusky purple. I am still a neophyte with digital images!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday, Kandinsky, sights, sounds and the spiritual path

One of my prized possessions is an old, dog-eared, yellowed copy of Concerning the Spiritual in Art, a book written by Wassily Kandinsky in 1911. This treasure was a gift from one of my college art professors. This book changed my life.
Widely credited as a theorist, the Moscow-born Kandinsky studied law and ecomomics before beginning to paint at the age of 30. He is often cited as having created the first abstract painting, but this is not entirely accurate. More correctly, Kandinsky was the first "non-objective" painter. "Non-objective" literally means 'not (derived from) an object'. In other words, Kandinsky freed the rest of us mortals from our reliance on realism.
A painting can be color and shape. A sculpture can be pure form. When you choose to create an object, it can be poetry. Art can and should be an experience that moves the observer on a soul level.
From his book's title, one can assume that Kandinsky saw art and a spiritual knowing as intertwined , all-encompassing and essential as breath. Well, the Great Man had me at the title!
To further cement my lifelong love, Kandinsky also proffered a theory that has a beautiful, true meaning for me: "music is the ultimate teacher". To that end, he wrote numerous essays on the analogy of color to shape, sound, note, volume - you name it - Kandinsky forever fused music and visual art in my mind.
Turns out, everything really is everything.
The above image is a reproduction of Kandinsky's famous "Composition VII", a painting from 1913 that he called his 'most complex' work. I call it a virtual cacophony of sight and sound.
I think Kandinsky's most complex work was Wassily Kandinsky himself.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What to do when it rains....

Another Tuesday, raining again, as so many of the recent days. I am a person who loves rainy days - especially  rainy Autumn days when the temperature dips ever so slightly. Today, there was no better place for me than my studio. I puttered around with my trinkets, lit only by work lights, and was in the good company of decent soundtracks (several of The White Stripes, as well as Dylan's latest).
Today, I did not feel like filing, sawing, hammering and soldering.
I did some "beading" work today. I am not a "beader", but I often distinguish my work with offbeat combinations of beads, gemstones, mixed materials and offbeat placements.
The above photo is a necklace that I created with glass, crystals, sterling silver and nickel. I have distressed it slightly, oxidizing and twisting the sterling wires to achieve the look of an artifact that is pleasing to my eye. 
I like this particular necklace.
There is something about the necklace's composition that looks unique to me - not crafty or mass-produced.  It is  important to have a finished product that looks handmade - not homemade. This, my Friends, is much harder to achieve than it may seem.
I am not a fine jeweler. I am not a craft person or an artisan. I am a metalsmith who often makes "wearable art". I justify my time and materials in a way that, I hope, represents style with a higher aesthetic.
I can buy fashion - style is priceless.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A quiet day - a simple gift

I made a few men's bracelets from stainless steel, culled from a recycled bicycle chain a few months back. Stainless is great to wear because of easy clean-up, but a bit difficult to discipline when working with it. I used sterling silver, commercial clasps that seriously lock for these bracelets.
I have a photo (below) here of a bracelet that was given as a surprise gift to a sweet man who manages a favorite Indian restaurant in Richardson.
I hope that he likes it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Picasso, creating like a child & the quest for perfection

Picasso is credited with declaring something to the effect of: 'It took me months to learn to draw/paint like a master and a lifetime to learn to draw/paint like a child'.
This is a profound statement for any artist, no matter the chosen media.
The child's expression is immediate, unencumbered, innocent, original, direct, real. Many times, creative people get that pure, childlike essence drained from their work in the name of 'perfection', very much to the detriment of their work.
I am a 3rd generation metalsmith. For most of my early training, I strove in vain for perfection in rather complicated fabrications.
Metal is a harsh mistress. It does not always allow the artist to control it. Often, one must submit to its demands.
One day, it dawned on me that I would never achieve perfection. Why would I want a perfect piece? It is evidence of the maker's hand that elevates the earthly work to rarefied art.

True and unique beauty is found in imperfection.
From that day forward, I decided to consciously distress and disfigure my work. A series of such work was met with critical disdain at a certain exhibition. Scandalous craftsmanship! Well...that was the point - I wanted to make art, not crafts. The battle had lines of definite division.
The irony? I effortlessly sold every piece in that "flawed" collection.
With all the machined pieces in the world, a handmade composition is a prized treasure.
We are delighted by that sublime beauty that comes from the human imperfection or nature.
I regret to admit that emotionally, I still have the desire for absolute perfection in my work. Rationally, I know this perfection is ultimately unattainable.
Nonsensical, but therein lies a hint of my own imperfection, which I must learn to accept.
(Above photos: Phul Sigil Amulet & Mala, collection of Ms. P. O'Neill; Brass, pearls, abalone, fiber; 2009 and
"Roadwork Badge"; Sterling, brass, copper, yellow gold, nickel; ca. 1980)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Jackson Pollock, Jack White, Neil Young, Susan Powter & Marcel Duchamp

Every artist has times when the Muse takes a sabbatical.
I often think about Jackson Pollock's downward, alcohol-fueled spiral after his wildly successful "drip" (action) paintings. In my youth, I never understood how Pollock's once-upon-a-time brilliance could be dimmed, and ultimately extinguished.
As I fumble around my studio these days, the answer to my Pollock pondering comes to me in one word - fear. I theorize that Pollock was afraid that his post-action work would not be 'as good'. His solution? Don't produce any work and dull the creative flow with massive quantities of alcohol.
After incredible success, Pollock was unable to complete any artwork for many years until his fatal car crash.
Today, I think I understand Pollock's fear.
I often remedy my own fear of failure by observing Jack White and Neil Young, two artists who take risks by creating unique, sometimes quirky, not always sure-fire, successful pieces. Their inspiration to me lies in the fact that both of these musicians keep creating, despite commercial constraints. To my ears, both White and Young sound fresh, youthful, fearless! And when they get it right - well....words cannot paint that sound or capture that feeling.
Lesson to me? Do not fear failing - fear the times you do not even try.
Susan Powter has written this: "Motivation is in the process of doing". I have this 'just do it' nugget posted in 3 places of my home and my studio. 
Then again, a good game of chess may be a much-needed distraction from the studio. Consider Marcel Duchamp, the famous Surrealist, who declared that he was retiring from the avant garde. He announced that he wanted to play chess for the rest of his life.
Now, that move took courage.
(Above photo is a candelabra created for Mr. & Mrs. Bill Fitzgibbons at request of Mr. Creighton Michael; Brass, copper; ca. 1984)