I was connected to Josie Rodriguez's wonderful work through Laurie Mika (see Laurie's interview here). I adore encaustic and I always feel a kinship with people doing the extraordinarily meaningful work of chaplaincy, especially hospice work. Ever since I walked with my own mother through the last few days of her life I have been drawn to the journey of dying and grieving. Josie is a hospice chaplain in San Diego and was so generous to send me her insights into my questions exploring the connection between spirituality and creativity. So read on!
Are you rooted in a particular faith tradition?
My faith tradition is Catholic having been baptized as an infant. My parents, especially my Dad were devout Catholics and found great strength in their faith. All 6 of us children attended Catholic grammar and high schools. I attended both secular and Catholic universities and received my master’s degree in Practical Theology. As I think about being “rooted in a particular religion” I strongly believe that there is a difference between religion and spirituality, and can say that as I have gotten older I’m not so rooted in my religion as I am in spirituality. I have been struck however by the beauty and constancy of the Mass said in different languages throughout the world as we have traveled in different countries. Being Catholic has given me the foundation and groundedness that has helped me through some personally difficult times such as four pregnancy losses, death of my youngest brother and my father. I see spirituality as how I find meaning in my world—how I see God working in the lives of others, my sons, family members and friends, the global community.
What is your primary art medium?
My primary art medium is encaustic assemblage and painting. Encaustic is a 2000 year old process which means “to burn or heat.” Hot wax is painted on a hard surface such as canvas board, wood or paper and heated with a heat gun. Pigments of different colors and collage are added and heated again. Layers are added. The finished art is luminous and transparent. I was struck by the absolute beauty of this type of art at an exhibition and wanted to learn how to paint in this way. I took a weeklong course in San Francisco about 5 years ago and have been working in this medium since then. The mixed media collage work that I worked in for many years was a perfect combination with the encaustic process.
How do you experience the connection between spirituality and creativity?
Creativity is an important part of my spirituality. When I work alone and without interruption in my studio, sometimes silently and at other times with music and focused on my artwork I feel such joy that it has to be of God or the spirit. The present moment is all there is at that time. Art is universal in its ability to heal the spirit. I have seen this in my own life and those of the students I teach.
What sparked your spiritual and artistic journeys?
My father and youngest brother died within 18 months of each other. As you can imagine this was a very difficult time. The sense of loss and sorrow continued as I took time from my position as Clinical Chaplain at San Diego Hospice. Throughout my almost 20 years of working as a chaplain I wrote poetry about the many patients that I had met along the way. Writing helped me make sense of the many types of experiences I had in both acute care hospitals and hospice care. My book of poetry, Waiting Rooms of the Heart was published and in many ways gave me the inspiration to work as a visual artist. As a self-taught artist I continue to learn through my students and other artists.
Do you have a particular process you use when entering into your creative work?
Process for starting my artwork? Always different. But my favorite is to know ahead of time that I have an extended length of time alone (all day, three days, 10 days!!) It is then that I work with focus and clarity sprinkled with experimentation. That is heaven for me. Most of the time however I fit in my art work to other situations going on in my life and our family. My studio is in the middle of the house so it is a way for my family to walk from the front of the house to the back. My studio houses my washer and dryer so there is typical multi tasking going on!
Sometimes I am stuck and can’t get started on anything having to do with my art. It is then time for me to clean my studio. As a working artist and teacher I have paper, brushes, canvases, finished artwork strewn everywhere but I can’t take too much clutter. Cleaning my studio helps me focus and find new “stuff.” I often work on several projects at one time. Most of my work is one of a kind and I enjoy the challenge and discipline of working on an art commission.
I offer great gratitude to Josie Rodriguez for sharing her wisdom and work here so freely. Make sure to visit her website to see more of her wonderful art and to order her book of poetry. As always I felt much resonance with her words. The phrase "Art is universal in its ability to heal the spirit" is shimmering for me this day and I smiled deeply in recognition at Josie's love of uninterrupted stretches of time and the need for organizing space as a part of the ritual to enter into art-making.
What insights resonated with you?
Titles of Art from Top to Bottom: Spheres of Influence., Go With the Flow., Peace., Writer's Block., Woman of San Miguel de Allende.
-Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts
** Visit this week's Poetry Party! **