Sacred Artist Interview: Leah Piken Kolidas

Leah Piken Kolidas is another artist I discovered in my art editing work for Presence journal.  I fell in love with her piece “Betwixt and Between” (seen just below).  It evoked in me that exhilirating sense of being on the border of something new, of entering a new landscape. I especially loved when I went to look it up in her shop and read her inspiration behind the piece because she refers to the term “antevasin” from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love, a phrase that captured my imagination immediately when first I read it in her book myself.  It is a sanskrit word meaning “one who lives on the border.”

I am so grateful to Leah for taking the time to share her creative wisdom and insight here with us.

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 Are you rooted in a particular faith tradition?

My father was raised Jewish and my mother, Catholic. At first my mother tried raising us Jewish to appease my father’s family, but my dad was never a religious person and wasn’t interested in being involved, so at age 7, I was baptized along with my younger siblings in the Catholic church. A few years later, my parents were divorced and therefore, my mother was not allowed to receive communion in our church. I found this, along with several other issues to be be disturbing. I continued on to be confirmed, to make my mother happy, but was not interested in attending church after that. However, I was fascinated by the Biblical stories and the depiction of women in the Bible. And I did feel a sense of spirituality, particularly in nature that I wanted to explore. As a teenager, I began to explore these things in my artwork. I remember I made a huge infinity symbol out of collaged fall leaves, which to me represented the cycles of life, the seasons, and the idea of re-birth. I have continued to dialog with myself about my feelings regarding religion, women, and spirituality in my artwork ever since.

What is your primary art medium?

I mainly use collage and acrylic paint. I also enjoy working in ink, encaustic, oil pastel, and pencil.

How do you experience the connection between spirituality and creativity?

Creativity can be such a wonderful connection to our spirituality. It can be a way in, a way to gain access to our higher selves, and a way to tap in to something larger than ourselves. For me they are completely intertwined.

What role does spiritual practice have in your art-making?

I find that the times where I can work in an intuitive fashion with my artwork, when I am able to let go, I am connected to my spirituality. I also find that spiritual topics often come up in my work whether or not I intend for them to. There are themes of connection, seeking, meditation, prayer, and other spiritual topics in my art. I also practice daily creativity, which to me is a spiritual practice.

What sparked your spiritual journey?

Honestly, I’m not sure. It was probably a combination of things. I know that I was a teenager feeling particularly angry with the Catholic Church and yet I was simultaneously discovering my own sense of spirituality. I found my sparks in moments walking in the woods alone and standing by the edge of the ocean where I felt so small and yet, so much a part of everything. I remember reading “A Passage to India” by E.M. Forster about that time and there were passages in it that made so much sense to me. In my senior year, I was in A.P. Art and we were working on a series of work on a theme of our choosing. I spent the year exploring my issues with religion and new sense of spirituality. In my first year of college, I took a class called “Women, Religion, and Spirituality” that further sparked my interests and excitement about the topic. In that class, I read the introduction to “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron which ended up being an enormously helpful book for me years later. So my spiritual journey was like much so many things in life, one thing leading to the next, a series of experiences and synchronicities.

What sparked your artistic journey?

That one’s a little easier to answer as I’ve always been making art. I was drawing from the time I could pick up a pencil (my mom has the little scribbles to prove it!) It wasn’t until after I left art school though that I found a way to make art that connected to my soul on a consistent basis. In school, I was so worried about what others thought and for a short time after school, I stopped creating all together. It was not a good feeling. Fortunately, with some time and space I was able to get back to doing what I love.

Do you have a particular process you use when entering into your creative work?

Sort of. It varies a bit. Sometimes I’m more methodical and sometimes completely spontaneous in my approach. I like to mix things up. But generally, I like to start by taking a deep breath, silently giving myself permission to make “bad” art, and then beginning by seeing what I’m drawn to at the moment. I follow my intuition in choosing colors or images for collage. I try not to question my choices, especially in the beginning. I’ll work and then step back to see what might be coming forth and then continue on in this way.

How does your art-making shape your image of God?

I don’t really have an image of God. If anything, making art has helped me to remove the image I had of God being a big, old, white-bearded guy in the sky. I still prefer using the word Universe to the word God as it seems more inclusive and captures better the sense of what God is to me.

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A warm thank you to Leah.  As always I resonate here with multiple images and insights. I love the image of creativity as the “way in” to our spiritual selves and art as having helped to remove her traditional images of God.  I also appreciate the idea of giving herself permission to make “bad” art when she sits down to create, cultivating freedom in her process.

Make sure to visit her website Blue Tree Art Gallery where you can purchase originals and copies of her prints. I love the commentary to she offers there on the inspiration behind each piece of art.

She also has a wonderful and inspiring blog called Creative Every Day where she offers challenges like Art Every Day Month and her Creative Every Day Challenge for 2008.

Leah’s art from top to bottom: Betwixt and Between, Lady of the Lake, Lotus Heart, and Ophelia.

Please feel free to leave a comment below!

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

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