Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sedna: Plumbing the Depths

Sedna (graphite, watercolor & ink)
Sedna, goddess of the arctic sea, controls the sea mammals and the balance of life and death in the cold north. Her transformation from beautiful young woman to a hag-like goddess is told in many conflicting tales throughout the Arctic peoples.  I have put together a condensed version here:

Sedna began as a beautiful young woman, courted by many suitors, but none pleased her father. Then a mysterious stranger appeared, claiming to be a great king in the north, and convinced her father to let them marry. Sedna went to live with her new husband only to discover that he was a cruel Skua (sometimes it is a Raven) in disguise. She called for help from her father who came to her aid and as they escaped in a small canoe, the angry Skua sent a terrible storm to topple them. Sedna fell into the water and clung to the side of the canoe to keep from drowning. Her father, fearing that they might both die, cut her fingers off so she sank down into the icy depths. As she sank, her severed fingers became seals, walruses, porpoises, dolphins, polar bears, whales, and sea otters. She became an important figure for the hunters of the north who relied on her generosity to survive. If Sedna felt slighted, she would call her sea animals to her and the people would starve.

The subject of this piece had been haunting me for over a year.  I have several sketches, even another painting started, but in the midst of this exploration I felt called toward exploring a new style.  I combined mediums and explored the contrast between realism and symbolism.  I even went with more muted colors rather than my usual saturated hues.  But what haunted me wasn't the new mediums and techniques it was the story.  How did I relate to it? Why did it speak to me so strongly?  Many interpretations speak of Sedna as a symbol of overcoming victimhood.  It can be a powerful story for that and at one time or another we can all relate to such a theme.  This theme didn't speak to me in that way.  I kept thinking of the nature of creativity and how Sedna could be viewed as such.

My relationship to Creativity started out as something joyful and powerful.  As a youth, I spent many many hours creating. I won awards for my work. I had shows in schools and in the local community.  When I was young, if someone asked what I want to be when I grew up, my answer was an enthusiastic: "an artist!"  However, as I grew into my teen years, my dream of becoming an artist was tested.  Common responses to my career goal were: "That's just hobby.  What are you going to do for a REAL job?  No one can be an artist for a living. It is time to grow up!"

This began the separation between me and Art.  As I grew older, and the messages that I could not be an artist grew stronger and more insistent, I found my life grew darker and less enjoyable.  I wandered aimlessly for sometime.  Then, when given the opportunity to go to Pratt in the Fashion Design program, I turned it  down. Afterall, how could I choose such an irresponsible career! I gave up on my art entirely then for almost a decade.  This, I think of as severing Sedna's fingers and sending Creativity to the icy depths.

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This decade was the darkest of my life.  Depression became who I was.  I felt lost and empty.  Each year grew worse and worse until it became clinical and I was hospitalized.  During that darkest of darkest moments, I found a glimpse of Creativity.  It began in an art therapy group (which I was resistant to at first) and grew into a daily practice of putting paint on paper.  I was reaching out to Sedna.  But it was an arduous journey.  Like the Shamans who must travel through many obstacles to reach her, I too had to plumb the depths and face many difficulties.  After all, having shut Creativity away for so many years, She was not trusting of my intentions.  What if I refused Her again?  Since my reconnecting to Creativity, I have had to do a lot of work, a lot of personal healing, work and healing that continues to this day.  The Shaman may reach Sedna at the bottom of the ocean, but then he must turn around and go back.  It is a dangerous journey both ways.

My relationship to Creativity is better than it has been in a long time.  But it is being tested again.  Is this the return journey?  Many obstacles are being thrust before me, just at the time when a career in art is taking off.  This is a test, I know it.  As I make this second leg of the journey, maybe Creativity wants to retreat out of fear of being abandoned. I know I must communicate to Her that I will not cut her away, even when there are many voices around me saying I should.  Continuing to communicate to Her, respecting the process, sharing my work with others, staying true to Her are all keys to keeping Her favor.  I believe working on this painting was my assurance to Her that my commitment to Creativity will not waver, even while I find ways to remake a life in a very uncertain world.  I have yet to figure out how it will work out, but one of my current mantras is: "Not Knowing is Okay"

This may not be the perfect interpretation of Sedna's story. It may not even be the correct one, but for present moment, it is the interpretation that makes sense to me. 


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Anonymous said...

Every individual's path to creativity is different, I kind of like your path, your words and your art make you a well rounded artist, inside and out...beautiful !

Anonymous said...

I've really been struggling to reconnect with my creativity, Tony, but reading this really made me think about what might be blocking me and what I need to do to reconnect. That story that we've talked about, the one I wrote in 2004 about Sedna that is still laying in the drawer, might be what I need -- yes, I wrote it 7 years ago. But perhaps it's time to yank it out and get back to work in a way that will connect me with Sedna--and hence my own creativity. Thanks again.

Antony Galbraith said...

Thank you Jordan. You are right that there are many paths to creativity and I know that mine is one of spiritual exploration. Not all artists believe that art can be a spiritual practice. But I believe a spiritual practice is an activity that enables you to develop mental clarity, mindfulness, deep wisdom, compassion, and awareness of higher states of being. When such acts of intention are applied to the making of art the artist can become contemplative and the artwork become external evidence of the inner spiritual journey.

Antony Galbraith said...

Kristi, I am so pleased that my work (and my struggle) has spoken to you. Another writer said a similar thing to me and was motivated to work after viewing this piece. Learning that my art has motivated other creative people to work on their art is surprising, but such a beautiful surprise. It confirms my belief that art is meant to speak to many people and that my role is just the messenger. I look forward to reading your story!

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