M. LUNA ROSSEL, ARTIST
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“Flesh & Clay”

 

This body of work sneaked up on me.

It followed me quietly, even tiptoeing across my dreams, until I was finally ambushed.

It happened while traveling, on a long post-divorce journey, where I was seeking healing not only for a broken heart, but also for a mysterious illness that was gradually stealing my strength.


So, busy wandering through inner and outer landscapes, I had ceased producing Art.

“Serious” Art, that is. Public Art, in all of its dimensions...

Nevertheless, I felt this apparent barrenness didn't come from a dreadful case of artist's block. I sensed something meaningful was brewing within me, even if misshaped or misunderstood as disease, and I knew it intended to burst forth, but wasn't necessarily meant to be “arted” by me at the time.

So I stopped arting.

I had left everything behind; married life, home, work, friends, possessions... Everything I had built in my years in sunny California.

The multifaceted loss was as overwhelming as the vertiginous freedom unfolding.

I was a peregrine. A rolling moon, free range and even tech free, as I was often off the grid.

It was a solitary voyage, with the slow, contemplative rhythm imposed by my body. It took me through mountains and valleys, jungles and deserts, little sleepy villages, a few bizarre places, and some uncharted miles of my soul...

In spite of inhabiting within the confines of a convalescent body, I was in a way expressing my creativity through the adventurous life of a spiritual seeker. Hand in hand with pain, I still walked on Beauty; well acquainted with what some call “Fierce Grace”...

After a long chain of wrong diagnosis and useless, expensive treatments, (and obviously disappointed on the medical and pharmaceutical paradigms), I was on my own.

Invoking all my courage and intuition, I searched and experimented with all kinds of alternative approaches, some quite exotic, while I was content with a simple, even ascetic life; with temporary jobs and volunteering when possible.

It seems to me that when our material life falls apart, (as mine did, rather spectacularly) the subtle, impalpable side of our being finds a fiery vacuum where to stretch out its luminous infinity...

In such moments, sometimes the Muses arrive too. Unannounced and relentless, as they can be.

Pestering day and night with vivid imagery that soon piles up between your temples...


I was living in a tiny village, in the beautiful north of Thailand.

Held as it seamed, by pure Energy in lack of physical strength, I was resuming my rusty Tai Ji practice with the curious and brilliant Abbot from an old monastery in the mountains of China, a man of long braid and short age, who taught occasionally in an international Taoist center, of rather special costumers and teachers...

Later, I attended other classes nearby, under a humble grass roof, by a Tibetan Buddhist monk. A quiet French man, he tended not only to the needs of the spirit, but also to those of the stomach, as he prepared a few simple dishes for me, as the Chef of his little café. I later heard he was a high rank monk (Rinpoche), and had been a personal assistant of the Dalai Lama.

But I must confess my favorite “guru” turned out to be a small woman of inscrutable age, that used to serve me her marvelous soup, a potion unquestionably magical, in a tiny nook of 3 tables covered in plastic... On a rather slow morning, she joined me and shared matter of factly, in broken English, the story of her healing from a malignant tumor the size of a grapefruit. She had refused the emergency surgery ordered by a surgeon that sentenced her to a sure death, and used instead only natural methods (a fermented beverage made by her elderly father). With a naughty smile, she added that whenever she goes to that village, she walks in front of the hospital, hoping that doctor will see her alive...

In that “land of smiles”, under reluctant grayish skies, pregnant with rains yearned for, inspiration presented itself one day.

Timidly at first, it appeared as faint anthropomorphic visions, evoked by swirling breezes drawing on a dry, yellow rice field. I was surprised to be reacquainted with my first love, the Human Figure. My favorite subject in my drawings as a child and in my youth as a photographer, it had since faded away under the allure of organic abstraction, of pure textures and colors...


How mysterious is Inspiration. Soft and delicate, as morning dew, ...or violent as lightning! Random, fickle. Sometimes it comes as a little spark fluttering around like a blind butterfly, anxiously waiting to be caught before vanishing...

The oneiric visitors brought by the muses started taking shape, and then hunted me day and night.

A powerful reminder that you can fight your Demons, but you can't fight your Muses. Not for long.

I had just arrived to that Thai village when I was invited to participate in “Weather on Steroids”, a group show in California; a collaboration with scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, about Climate Change. My budding apparitions, albeit covering a broader subject, seemed rather appropriate.

Soon after, as a colorful procession, my Muses followed me all the way from Asia to South America, where their unborn voices flew at last, in a boundless whisper, over the Atacama Desert, surprisingly blooming, in Chile... only to be later drowned under shamanic chants and deafening jungle rains, pounding over my tin roof shack, in the depths of the Peruvian jungle.

My anthropomorphic visions were already familiar...


Haunting and primitive, they appeared with no garments, or a discernible cultural background.

They had no face, no evidence of race. They had no language, no lineage, nor social status.

No religion, or political opinion.

They showed up as we all do, alone and naked.

In their vulnerable, poetic “nobodyness”, they struck me as the “Archetypal Human”.

Ambassadors of Humanity as a whole.

Sometimes they were merged with, or infused by Nature, the elements, the botanical world, strata textures and more. This was already recurrent as high contrast surfaces in my abstract work, but in these silhouettes it suggested a sort of anthropomorphic physical map of the world; perhaps one charting the beauty and fragility of the human condition, within its indissoluble bond to Mother Earth. A poetic representation of what I heard a spiritual teacher tenderly call the interbreathing or interbeing of different species.


I felt that in their symbolism, these beings were also inquiring within our metaphysical vicissitudes, dipping their ethereal toes into the mystical with innocent abandon. Witnesses of our journey, sometimes halting and through foggy paths, where a day like any other, we apprehend the ungraspable just around the corner... in the unfathomable tunnel opening at the bottom of the tea cup, in the elusive song of the wind through the leaves...

We are after all an interesting amalgam; liminal creatures, both evanescent and eternal...


Maybe as a reflection of these somewhat esoteric ruminations, I had started producing some Art again. Informal Art, of course. Non-serious Art.

Even though my longing for Beauty had been quenched regularly by my ability to find it and breath it everywhere I went, I still needed to do something with my hands. So these clandestine, “guerrilla” installations came to life. Made with organic materials found in nature, at my several temporary locations around the globe, they were spontaneous, furtive offerings to the ineffable. As such, and in the context of a no-tech, no-social-media journey, they weren't registered photographically or otherwise. They were not meant to be seen by eyes other than mine, or to last in time.

In spite of this, they occasionally escaped from my hands...

I was once walking down a trail of red earth and blue butterflies, on my way to a tiny cachoeira, or waterfall, near a village in the heart of Brazil, that was home to a Spiritist Center among other curiosities. I suddenly bumped into a woman, that turned out to be from the USA (Californian on top of it) and that, maybe happy to find somebody to chat with in her mother tongue, told me the story of her life and later proceeded to show me in her cellphone the photos she took of “an incredible anonymous marvel” she had found “in the middle of nowhere”, which she had shared with all her contacts...

I recognized one of my creations from a few days before. It had survived for her.

One could say these fragile offerings later became, almost unwittingly, poems, drawings, monotypes, paintings and mosaics; an unplanned although quite symbolic progression from the extremely fleeting and into the lasting...

Meanwhile, the visions of my Human Archetype evolved into a more distinctly Female shape, an allusion to my own gender and at the same time, an embodiment of Mother Earth. Flesh & Clay...

For the Weather on Steroids show, I chose to work with the Water Element and its powers, both vital and destructive, depicted in all simplicity by the dichotomy between flood and drought. I based my work in the research form Alexander Gershunov, and was assisted by the eminent professor Richard Somerville, both of them outstanding scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The time of manufacture was arriving, so I had to put a halt to my wanderings. I dropped anchor again in California and hung my wings behind the door...

There, in lack of a proper studio, I worked in a humble nook under a pine tree, loving witness and custodian of the evanescent secrets whispered by my creations, and of some of mine.

Because I was walking a spiral trail; an empirical path without footprints to follow, always in search of the ever elusive healing.

In the city of Encinitas, a destination that had summoned me in dreams, and in the middle of a reckless Spring, Pachamama (Mother Earth) offered her Medicine. In a green whisper nobody else could hear or translate for me, I was prompted to collect and use unknown plants and wild herbs, growing in my own little garden.

I hesitated at first, but eventually trusted them. I had to admit that it wasn't the first time I had a “close encounter of the 4rth kind”, as I call them; a spontaneous, profound, mystical connection with the botanical or other kingdoms. Guided by my intuition, I started to use my magical allies and begin to recover slowly...

For some time, while I recovered my strength and the winter ended, I was content making little gelatin monotypes; colorful, anthropomorphic miniatures on paper. Until I had to start preparing my outdoors studio, the nook under the pine tree, for heavy duty work... Very heavy.

Because my “creatures” had refused to come to life as the small works on paper or canvas, or videos, I had in mind, insisting on becoming mixed media works (unorthodox Mosaics) ...and life size!

Not a small deed, as I was still weak. This means that during the strenous process of making these bodies, with blood, sweat and tears, I was also rebuilding mine, one little piece after the other...

After several months of devoted labor, and just like me a few decades ago, a few artworks took their first breaths, close to the Pacific Ocean.

As part of my palette as a visual artist, I use the archaic technique of Mosaics, although in rather unconventional ways, such as the invention of a procedure to combine metal and mosaics in three dimensional work. For this reason I find it more accurate to refer to these works as Mixed Media.

In this particular series, the atypical character of the materials is such, that for the attentive, sensitive observer, these artworks have a tender and eerie presence; with the intimate, powerful quality of a reliquary.

I used precious materials, collected over the years, seemingly for this very purpose, specific and unknown, till then. They include all kinds of recycled materials, as well as very unique found objects; debris from local wild fires (in one of which I had to evacuate), molten glass, burnt rocks, animal bones. I also used stones, beach glass & ceramic tumbled by waves in different oceans. Seeds and wood from trees I'd met while alive; the occasional crystal and semiprecious stone... A truly unrepeatable collection.


Eventually, I chose the tittle “Flesh & Clay” for the series, echoing the words “clay & silence”) which, popped repeatedly in my head, like an encouraging mantra.

The tittle also addresses the feeling of spiritual communion, of unity that pervades the artworks. In words of John Muir, the Scottish-American naturalist, the awareness that "...when we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe".

As mosaics, each unique fragment connotes diversity, but is also woven within the unity of organic textures that gives these artworks the appearance of physical maps of the Earth.


During the manufacture of the first mixed media, “Dissolution”, my being immersed in the thousands of pieces of its waters, I realized it spoke beyond Climate concerns, floods and sea level rise.

These problems were symptoms, the tip of the (melting) iceberg...

The piece also became an aery, blue reflection on the upheaval taking place, locally and abroad, over the struggle for clean water and its protection.

I felt my creations had not only many layers of meaning, but also an inner life and agenda beyond mine, and I found them to be quite timely at reverberating on some planetary issues, in my perception, consequences of the prevailing spiritual disconnection and greed.

Later, the feminine aspect of my Mother Earth representations deepened, when I finished the main 3 artworks for the first show right for the 2016 USA elections which, amid a worldwide, general unrest, brought about a big women's movement.

Somewhat consciously, and reflecting events from my personal life, I had avoided creating from a place of sole intellect, of “cleverness”, fully surrendering to the intuitive, visceral guidance I was receiving. These flesh & clay interbeings held my hand, and upon each vacillation, each bout of doubt, would whisper the clay & silence litany, and then another one: follow that thread... And I followed it, imagining “the red thread of destiny” of a beautiful Japanese legend...

During the opening of the Weather on Steroids show, in La Jolla, California, and while I took a break from what for an introvert is a stressful task, that of answering too many questions from strangers, I saw a tender, magical scene, one of those that go unnoticed and seam a private gift...

Among the sea of people pullulating the gallery, I saw the little 3 year old son from one of the collaborating scientists, contemplating intently my artworks. He then took off, only to come back, moments later, holding the hand of another little child, to show him my pieces... Days later, I told his father about it. He answered he had to take him back to the gallery twice that weekend, as the child insisted on seeing the mosaics again...

This anecdote, and the comments from the viewers, suggested to me that these creatures, these life size silhouettes melding (apocalyptically) with nature, were a powerful remembrance instrument, and as such, they were possible triggers of a certain awakening of consciousness.

Because in spite of the educational and scientific aim of the show, my message came from and was conveyed to the heart. My artworks were subtly evoking empathy, demanding respect and appreciation for Pachamama, Ñuke Mapu; our Earth Mother.

We are Flesh, and we are Clay...

My pieces elicited some touching responses from the audience, in a show that got 2 awards for the organizers and had several locations; the San Diego Central Library, the La Jolla Historical Society, and the Long Beach Aquarium.

These artworks are in the process of being acquired by UCSD, through Scripps Institution of Oceanography, to become part of a budding permanent collection.

The Flesh & Clay series also includes mixed media paintings and gelatin monotypes, besides other anthropomorphic sculptural artworks, such as “Secret Portal” & “Forest Spirit”, created for a show at the San Diego Botanical Garden.

Hanging among the foliage, from the branches of old cork trees, they surprise the visitors with their poetic presence. Much like their predecessors, encompassed within their ecological message is one of innocence, tolerance and compassion among us, the custodians of the planet.

A message of coexistence and peace.

“As above, so below, as within, so without, as the universe, so the soul…” Hermes Trimegistus