On Sunday I visited The Rubin Museum of Art in NYC. The Rubin shows ancient to contemporary painting, sculpture, and ritual objects from the Himalayas and surrounding region with their permanent collection focusing on Tibetan art. My objective was to see the exhibit Please Altar Everything, work by avant-garde performance artist and musician (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV) Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. The exhibit includes installation, sculpture, sigils, altars and gold-leafed paintings. As I walked through the exhibit, I felt especially connected to the sculptural, tactile altarpieces (some with tags that said: please touch!) and sigils (used in spells and for manifesting). Both altars and sigils are creative acts steeped in ritual and devotion.
After the Genesis show, I spent some solitary time in the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, the highlight of another exhibit at The Rubin called Sacred Spaces. It is a contemplative space – dark, with drone-y Buddhist chanting and an altar filled with ornate objects of worship.
I also had the chance to explore some of the permanent collection of the Rubin – statues of deities and paintings made with the most vibrant and saturated pigments.
The visit to the Rubin brought my attention to ritual, meditation and devotion in artistic practice – in other people’s practice and my own.
Part 1: Ritual in Preparing the Space/It’s the Simple Things
The daily act of going to my desk and preparing the space is an important ritual. It is the practice before the practice, the thing I do before I do the thing I do. Is calling my studio area a sacred space too heavy-handed? Well, my hands are heavy holding all this Palo Santo and sage that l am burning to clear any bad vibrations from the aforementioned sacred space.
Most of the time when I sit down at my drawing table, it’s a mess. Like, a ridiculous mess from the previous night. I’m often impressed by the chaos I can create in a short amount of time. I start drawing/painting with an organized and peaceful space but as I make what I’m making, I’m not thinking about my love of an organized and peaceful space. I’m grabbing, mixing color, crumpling pages, digging for scraps, sharpening my pencils letting the shavings lie where they fall, cutting/trimming with abandon, etc. By the end of the night when I’m finished working, I don’t have the will or desire to clean, but I usually have a finished page. The next day the act of cleaning and organizing is my pre-drawing ritual, a simple meditation. It is an act that requires care and attention but not a lot of thought. It’s gives me a moment to see, appreciate and take stock of my supplies, clean my brushes, file my scraps away and put pens & pencils back in their homes. By clearing the physical space I clear the mental/emotional/psychic space in preparation for a new blank page that lies ahead.
Look for Part 2 of this ongoing series next week!
Alyssa Berg makes comics in Brooklyn, NY. You can find her work HERE.