Of cages and freedom


I'm a bird. Ok, not really a bird, but my resonance with Sky (and matter being released therein) is such that I might as well be one. Not surprisingly then, birdcages look like prisons to me. As soon as I saw the collection of wood and bamboo cages in the shop in Ubud, Bali, I felt conflicting emotions: On the one hand, the idea of a bird being trapped inside any one of them while being able to see the wide-open sky felt profoundly saddening. Yet on the other, these were intricate, handmade structures practically inviting transmutation into symbols of freedom. And so, the seed of the Sky House series germinated right then and there.

A lively pair to start...

In Lands More Spacious Still






The first of the Balinese birdcage Sky House pieces is a lively pair of creatures that seem to have arisen out of nature and abducted the original intention of the architecture. The doors are flung open, and just inside is an altar to freedom. The tops have been pushed open by trees growing from the root-ish legs, alive with tendrils and seeds. 


In Lands More Spacious Still stands 84 cm (33”) high, while May Gravity Conspire With Levity is 132 cm (52”) tall.




In Lands More Spacious Still -back




With the coloring, I was inspired by the rainbow spectrum of the chakras, from red at the base, to orange and yellow as earth erupts in passion at the altar level, to the greens and blues of heartful expression as the trees merge with sky, and finally to purple as it rises transcendentally into the freedom of pure Space.

 












making May Gravity Conspire With Levity





You can see in the post above how the cages originally looked at the cage shop. I had to structurally rebuild them to allow the bottoms to be opened up, while also supporting the copper wire that’s been integrated.

May Gravity Conspire With Levity















 One of the motivations in creating a pair of pieces was a lack of rice paper and natural oils to finish them at the time. While waiting for those to arrive from Australia, as well as my earth pigments from the States, it made sense to lavish my time and attention on the structural elements, and let the “fleshier” parts emerge in response to the bones and the paper itself.


 





Both pieces also incorporate a large dried leaf rising from the base of the cage. The natural oil brings out the gorgeous networks of veins swirling through them. They add a sense of landscape to the inner space, with the “terrain” dipping down in the front to hold the altar spaces just inside the opening. These spaces have a temple-like back pointing toward the top. I especially like the intimacy of these glowing, amber-toned spaces.





 







The segmented, waxed-linen wrapping of the legs is similar to Unbound. There’s a sense of the legs being both roots and a combination of ligaments, bones, and flesh.






Chrysalis




This old-style cage was hanging in front of a basket shop, and I felt like jumping up and down like a six-year-old when I saw it. Still, to think little birds would have lived in each side of it sent shivers down my spine. Obviously, both the form and function were ripe for liberation.

Just before I began envisioning the direction for this piece, I saw a documentary film on the ecosystem of a field and woodland landscape, with close-ups of insects in motion. Seeing a caterpillar lumbering along, I immediately thought of this cage, and how I wanted it to evolve.








Soon after I began working on the structural elements, it came time to head off to Singapore for a new visa. There, I found a Chinese calligraphy shop with a fabulous collection of rice paper and handmade brushes. That paper, added to the small stock from Australia, inspired the play of fleshier elements in Chrysalis.






There are roughly two hundred leaf-shaped, water-colored pieces of rice paper creating the flame-like effect inside. The tops of the “body” sections are left open, allowing the light to project directly onto the green leaf pattern on the sprouting wings.









Chryalis is a mixture of life-phases: it’s a caterpillar walking, a pupa/cauldron of transmutation, and butterfly wings emerging.

26.5"L x 16.5"H



Gatekeeper


 


In the first pair of Sky House pieces, nature seems to grow up through the architecture, opening the roof into Sky. With Gatekeeper, the initial vision was of the architecture rising up through nature, with the roof eaves swooping down and embracing the sides.


 












 



The prior piece, Chrysalis, involved a cage which was quite evocative in form. The relative simplicity of this cage suggested inviting landscape-ish imagery into the architecture, and using the layered ellipsis from Chrysalis in a more dynamic, form-suggesting way. 

The eye of awareness sees through the cage door, allowing the figure (an ancient Chinese symbol) the freedom to cross the threshold, or simply reside between inner and outer worlds.






The turning gesture arrived on its own: I’d just inserted the central copper leg pieces, making it stand for the first time; as soon as I stopped holding it, the cage and legs twisted in a clock-wise direction. This spontaneous gesture instantly became a core theme, and had a major influence on the form of the wings in response to the implied motion.












Until Gatekeeper was nearly finished, I was contemplating the areas under the wings, opening to the right material to create a presence of some sort in those spaces. As I’ve often done over the years, I took a break and went out to the garden to connect with nature briefly. I noticed some of the potted plants had weedy flowers growing in them, and I spontaneously decided to pull them out. The roots that appeared were the perfect solution!



 

Though I’d intended to create a paper baffle to allow the warm air from the bulb to vent out the top, the roots turned out to be ideal here as well, mingling naturally with the twisted copper and creating a lovely play of light and shadow.







The play of the legs is similar to the first pair of Sky House pieces, but with this one, the surface splits in two before rejoining at the bottom, creating a vivid interplay of color and form, and what looks to me like a split up the thigh of a sexy dress.


Height: 77 cm (33")

Home Beyond Seeking



On a trip back to Ubud from Denpasar, at the southern tip of Bali, I saw this cage hanging at a birdcage shop along the narrow, pothole-strewn strip of pavement we shared with a slaloming stream of motorbikes, bicycles, cars, buses, and trucks. At my insistence, the driver managed to turn around with traffic swerving all around us, and we backtracked the distance it took for him to see I was serious about going back for a closer look. I’d never seen this design, and wasn’t about to pass it up just because it was inconvenient to get to... it was after all love at first sight.

making Home Beyond Seeking


After the angularity of the Gatekeeper cage, this splendidly curvaceous one was a delicious  counterpoint. Back in the studio, it seemed to rebel against being simply vertical—inverted or not—and it wasn’t until I leaned it over on its side that it felt right. Almost as soon as I started playing with a sketch, the few lines I’d intuitively drawn suggested hermit crab legs, and suddenly the feel of the overall creature was revealed. I do love that moment when the gist of the piece pops out of the ether, its details still enticingly hazy.


 

The inspiration of hermit crabs carrying their home about with them held a great deal of resonance for me. Having lived abroad for substantial periods in recent years, I’ve developed a quite mobile sense of home based on a deep sense of simply being wherever I am, and with at most a smidgeon of short-term obligation to any locality.




 
The layers of symbolism arrived on their own in the flow of making...though I'm most interested in form that's evocative of life and feeling rather than laden with intended meaning.






At the front, the feminine opens out through the masculine architecture of the doorway into the world. With this balance, it sees with eyes of awareness the many landscapes of experience on the path. There’s not a drive toward seeking along the way, having already arrived at the home within.

This inner sense of home is available wherever this creature may go in the world. The vibrant orange-red tones of the legs suggest an intense worldliness, a life-infused embodiment of earth.








The “shell” has layers of wafting/watery inner experience: the blue-greens mixing expression and heart, the indigo-purples melding awareness and spaciousness.

The yellow-greens of the leaf sheltering the top blend heartfulness and personhood, merging toward the front with orange-red tones for creative connection with what is encountered along the path of discovery.


 
 


This is the freshly pigmented rice paper before I cut into a couple hundred “leaves” for the big leaf form... yes, it is hard to slice up such a beautiful thing.







One of my favorite details is this little boat-like form, which reflects light back up under the legs, giving them a back-lit glow.


I knew at the time I'd play with this boat form at some point. It's since evolved into the Skyhull series.

53 cm (21") long x 44 cm (17-1/2'') high





Gateway of Duality



On the spiritual plane, Gateway of Duality invites the coalescence of multiplicity through the portal of duality into Oneness in the light of awareness. One of the aspects I enjoy most about making art is that I get to ground in materials and the senses what can otherwise seem untouchably abstract. I often use the eye to symbolize awareness… Here, it observes the earthly realm, encompassed in the arc of the creature’s front legs.
the original cage














This piece contains the most extensive use of layered rice paper vesica piscis shapes yet in the Sky House series. The ancient shape from sacred geometry arises with the intersection of two circles, denoting the Oneness underlying apparent duality. 

 
It’s a symbolic doorway between Oneness and multiplicity through duality. There’s a vesica piscis in the doorway as well, intersected by a simpler depiction of the eye: awareness evoking the meeting of duality and Oneness. One of the aspects I most enjoy in overlapping the vesicae piscis is that it spawns yet more of them, along with a spontaneous wonderland of other organic shapes of varying densities. 



 
As with all the Sky House work, Gateway of Duality is a study in the integration of structure and sculpture: essentially, masculine and feminine entwined. While the copper “bones” hold the cage in space, they also define the whole form, within which the seminal cage becomes an integral part. In the making, the entire piece becomes a fusion of plant, animal, architectural, and landscape elements.



The openings toward the back reveal a surface underlying the structure of the cage, offering a sense of the inner realm of the creature. Opening into forms suggesting awnings or wings, they emerge from the lines of the cage, integrating architectural and animal forms, while creating a landscape that wafts between inner and outer.




 

Toward the top, the two leaf-skins emerging from the front legs and rippling up the sides evolve from emerald- and yellow-greens to warmer oranges and reds. Their duality meets the central Oneness of the finial rising from the flame-like waxed-linen threads glowing in the light from below.  


I particularly enjoy the shadows from the cage responding to the organic forms of the paper, diffusing and distorting as the surfaces flow away from the cage, becoming reflections of the confluence of “bone” and “skin”.

 





The genitalia-like nest projects into the denser realm of multiplicity with nine golden-red eggs of potential.


88cm (34.5") high x 36 cm (14") wide

Last of the Sky House series: Orcan Swallowtail




 

















One big difference between working on the Sky House series in Bali and here is that once again I have access to my own paper making setup, so I’m able to create high-shrinkage, translucent flax fiber paper in a gorgeous spectrum of colors, in shapes and sizes resonant with the work.





Applying my creative sensibilities in response to given settings readily evokes new forms and approaches. In this case, the owners wanted to invite in some curving, organic lines to counterbalance the straight lines and angularity of their home. And, poignantly, they wanted the piece to memorialize a family member who had recently passed away young and unexpectedly.






The piece called for a sense of rebirth, of earth releasing into sky. As I contemplated the space and the role of the piece in it, an image of a butterfly fluttered right in. In many cultures, the butterfly is associated with soul, transformation, and transcendence. Along with its fitting form and symbolism, it seemed a fine expression of their dear one’s spirit. 

The smaller piece, more a pupa with the wings just starting to unfold, brings light further down the stairwell.



This metamorphosis-oriented commission spawned three new series: Lumenpear, Skyhull, and Seedpod. Though I didn't realize it at the time, it also finished the 5-year arc of the Sky House series.