Sacred Artist Interview: Liora

I was connected to Liora‘s work through another artist (I love when that happens) who sent her my way.  I loved her vibrant images on her website, especially the mandalas she has created and the way she integrates Buddhist and Hindu symbolism into her work. She teaches art and creativity workshops down in the Florida area which sound delightful.

 I am grateful, as always, to Liora for taking time to reflect on my questions for this interview and offer you, my wonderful readers, some insight into her creative process and the integration with spirituality.

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Are you rooted in a particular faith tradition?

Since the mid eighties I have looked into and delved into some forms of Hindu practice. I took refuge as a Buddhist about 8 years ago. I, however, consider myself a buddhist with a small b. I look for common ground in some of the major religions; love, do no harm, compassion, and good deeds, etc. I do find the kabbalah fascinating, and would like to spend some more time looking at that eventually.

I guess if I had to define roots, it would be my love and devotion to our glorious planet. That is where I plant roots during my meditations! I admire the 8 fold path of Buddhism. I do my best with that. Right action, right livelihood, right thought, right speech, etc. I love Ganesh, the Hindu god of removal of obstacles, and have statues of the Buddha and Kuan Yin around my home. I like to integrate different teachings that come my way and synthesize my own very personal spiritual path.

What is your primary art medium?

I work primarily in watercolor/mixed media which includes collage of my own painted work, and other media, on Arches paper. Ive recently renewed my love for paint on canvas though, and am playing with some acrylic paints.

How do you experience the connection between spirituality and creativity?

When I was a very young artist, late teens or very early twenties, I had a painting teacher hand me a copy of Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky. It had such a dramatic affect on how I viewed the process of making art. Kandinsky theorized that an artist that does not express what comes directly from the soul, and instead produces some watered down version palatable for the general public, not only doesn’t have a positive impact on society, but does society a huge disservice. This and other points he made in his book, continue to influence my outlook. Not only did this open my eyes to the possibility that art from the heart came not from us, but often through us, and started to have a dramatic impact on how I viewed all art (especially my own).

When we listen to a particularly beautiful piece of music, it can transport us to another place. When we gaze into a painting, we often feel emotion, and are transported as well. When we watch a ballet, and really submerse ourselves in the music and the form, it brings us into the present moment, often evoking a feeling of euphoria.

Creating art from the heart brings us into the present moment, regardless of the art form. This can be transformational for the creator of the art, and the observer of the finished piece. Anything that brings us back to the present moment seems to connect us with Source.

I conduct classes and workshops where I lead a guided meditation, and use essential oils to help calm the mind and center the participants. The creative process is usually then done in silence, with provacative music in the background. I can honestly say that I see many of the students land in their bodies so to speak, and come up with some really deep and wonderful stuff.

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

The act of creating art is a spiritual practice for me. Whether I meditate before or during, creating art usually brings me to the present moment, and initiates a very intimate dialogue with the Self and Source. This is usually subtle, often unnoticed at the time it’s happening. When I’m painting alone in my studio, the rest of the world ceases to exist. I rarely answer the phone while in creative mode. I feel that we can choose if we would like our reality altered by a phone call at any given moment. We don’t answer the phone during meditation or yoga (I hope not!), why would we do it while in the sacred space of creativity?

I go through my morning rituals most days which usually starts me off on the right foot, and if I can get the left foot into the studio quickly, before my mind gets in the way, magic often ensues!

I have painted a series of lotuses and oms, and other spiritual imagery. When I am painting sacred symbols, such as in “Divine Nectar”, a quietness happens, and I enter into that intimate sacred and divine space.

What sparked your spiritual journey?

My spiritual journey began in the mid eighties. I found myself in a career that although lucrative, didn’t match my picture of where I should be or what I’d like to be doing with my life. This realization began a process of self discovery. I realized that I wasn’t happy. I had decided to be a full time artist when I was 16, and had allowed loved ones and life to convince me that art wasn’t a viable way to make a living. I also got it that making a living was something that wasn’t negotiable for someone in my position. I realized that I was in a marriage that was falling apart, in retrospect, partly because I had lost me, or perhaps more aptly put, had never really found me. We had a good life, I had wonderful and meaningful friendships, and yet my life somehow felt empty and shallow. It was at that time that I decided to return to Parsons School of Design to audit the classes that truly called to me. I began the slow and painful process that would take years to figure out…. what I really wanted out of life.

The first book that I was introduced to at this time was A Gradual Awakening by Stephen Levine. I drank it in like someone in the desert who found a spring after days of searching for water. Then I was introduced to Gerald Jampolskys books, beginning with Love is Letting Go of Fear and Good Bye to Guilt. These books really helped me to open to the possibility that this material world may not be all there is. This was the beginning of my spiritual awakening, which has led me to a smorgasbord of teachings and practices.

To this day, on and off, I read spiritual books of various authors, and find that when I start to get anxious or moody, sometimes just a day or two of listening to Ram Dass, Pema Chodrun, or Deepak Chopra, are all I need to get back on track.

What sparked your artistic journey?

My artistic journey was originally sparked when I was about 6 years old, and my maternal grandfather taught me to draw. He was an oil painter, and really nourished the artist spirit in me. Drawing and creating became my first love. This lead me to attend Parsons School of Design in New York. I had a great education there, learning the foundation of the many building blocks of art. Honestly though, the pressure of a monstrous amount of homework, intense competition, and the burden of carrying nine three hour classes a week overwhelmed me, and I, for the first time in my life, didn’t draw or paint for almost two years. It was a slow recovery for me, and it took me even more years to commit to anything but pencil or marker. I had heroes along the way, including a teacher named Karen Santry, who taught at the Silvermine Guild of Art. She helped me to find my inner artist and let her peak out again. A few years later I would go back to Parsons, with a much more serious attitude, and much more of me invested in the process.

It was shortly after that year back at Parsons that I decided that my heart and soul were crying to do my art in a much bigger way, and I started the process of moving toward doing my art full time. I left my job and marriage, and moved to Florida where I would have the support of my family.

Once I made that decision, the universe seemed to orchestrate some of the details. I met a musician that was to be my partner for the next decade or so. I had longed to really live the artist’s life, and that part of my life was a wild ride. I spent a magical summer in Prague, which is probably the most inspirational place I’ve ever been. I did about 20 pieces that summer, about half of which I consider to be my among my best work. We lived in France for a couple of years, and that was great inspiration. It was an important step in my artistic journey. It was also an important step to once again honor my art and myself and come back to Florida. I realized that the wild artist life was no longer necessary or even comfortable, and have opted for a much more peaceful existence with a loving peaceful relationship and home. Since returning to Florida, my spiritual practices have deepened and become more consistent. When I look back at my art from a decade ago, l can see the excitement and energy, but now there’s more of a harmony and joy. Travel still continues to inspire me though!

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

I begin most days with a very gradual awakening, so to speak. I love beginning the day with a cup of green tea and journaling. I live in south florida, so am blessed to often do this in my certified wildlife habitat, sitting in the sun in the winter. Then after a half dozen yoga poses or so, I like to do a little Qigong or breathwork followed by a long or short meditation. This, to me, along with some good clean food sets up the perfect space to create. While I am in the process of creating, I love to work with either music or spiritual dialogue in the background. I feel that it is this grounding and centering that gets me in the best creative space. Since ultimately, mygoal is to bring the viewer to a place of joy and contemplation, ideally, I feel its important for me to be in this more balance place when I create. Of course, when I’m feeling down or upset with the way things are, painting is one of the best releases I know. I must admit that this work is real art, and while not art that evokes joy, it evokes and expresses emotion.

I teach painting, and often paint along with my students. In this case, unless it’s my Painting from the Heart and Soul class, I paint from whatever space I’m in. Often, just the act of painting itself brings me to the same space.

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

My image of the Great Spirit is something that is intangible, and seems to always be changing. I’d say that through my art, I search, and I sometimes paint images that seem to appear out of nowhere. This is when the magic flows through me rather than from me. I then look at my paintings and think to myself, not only am I incapable of painting like that, but am in awe at what happens when I let myself get out of the way.

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Thank you so much to Liora for sharing her insights and wisdom here.  I love her image of art as being that which brings both artist and viewer back to the present moment and initiates a dialogue with our deepest Self and our Source.  I also resonate with her commitment to creating from a place of balance knowing that this affects the art she creates and the way her viewer interacts with it.

Make sure to visit her website filled with her vibrant images.  Click on “Galleries” and then “Eastern Art” for some of her wonderful mandalas and other art rooted in spiritual traditions.

Images from Top to Bottom: Divine Nectar, Prague Rooftops, Growing Bananas

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-Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts

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