Sacred Artist Interview: Sybil Archibald

Sybil Archibald, also know as Painter of Blue, has a blog dedicated to spirituality and art and loves medieval illuminations (so you know I was going to like her right from the start). She has even co-authored a book called Lapis and Gold, on reclaiming the original tools and methods of medieval artists.  We have only been recently introduced through this virtual world, but she is most certainly a kindred spirit and has been gracious enough to respond to my interview questions for the benefit of you, my dear readers.

Read on for more sacred wisdom:

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Are you rooted in a particular faith tradition?

I was raised in a family of agnostics but, from an early age I always felt a deep connection to God and to the Virgin Mary. I have spent much of my life searching for a home for that connection without success. It was in hopes of finding Mary that I began to study medieval mystics in college. First Christian mystics like Hildegard of Bingen, Eckhart, & Bonaventure then mystics from other traditions like Plotinus, Ibn Arabi, & Moses de Leon. As I immersed myself deeply in the study of mysticism, my connection to the Divine grew stronger. Through the School of Sacred Arts in NYC I studied the sacred practice of Icon writing and danced the ziker with Sufis. Later I studied for a conversion to Judaism. I know prayers in Hebrew, in Arabic & Latin but have never found a spiritual home in the rules and rituals of one religion. But my devotion to Mary has never wavered.

How do you experience the connection between spirituality and creativity?

They are one, as inseparable as 2 sides of one coin. All creativity springs from a deep eternal well brimming with the generative nature of the Divine. The source of creativity is the source of everything.  So by connecting to our creativity we connect directly with Divine Light. As artists and human beings, we have a responsibility to this Light. We are sacred vessels bearing Divinity, spilling it into a needy world. Where we hold back, we hold God back.  My journey has been to heal myself & to dissolve internal blockages so that I may be a larger vessel to carry Divine creative energy into the world. And I still have a lot of work to do!

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

Spirituality is the process of deepening my relationship to God. It means healing myself to remove my intimacy issues with the Divine, much as one would do with their own spouse. In 1992 I was diagnosed with a rare auto immune disorder called scleroderma. I have been quite ill off and on. But I am incredibly grateful for my illness because it has helped me to empty. I was so small and petty before, so angry and closed. Now, I still have work to do, but there is space for the Divine to enter that did not exist before.

Making art is one of the major ways that I process my blocks and release them. I hit the wall when I work. I feel the fear of exposing myself, of going too far, or losing myself in God. Then I have to stop and set down my brush or clay. I must be still and enter into in fear to come out the other side. Only then can my work be completed. This is not the process of pushing through fear, it is the process of accepting and honoring myself. Only in that state of stillness and connection to our Maker can fear truly be released.

What sparked your spiritual journey?

My conscious spiritual journey began one summer in my early 20s when I had a vision of the Virgin Mary sending me brilliant blue light. You can find the whole experience detailed on my blog, Art of the Spirit, here I will just say that I prayed for the Light. I asked for it, and yet I did not understand how it would come to rule my whole life. Only now, 20 years later, have I created enough space in my frail earthen vessel to contain even a drop of this light. My illness was bequeathed to me by the Light as a gift to teach me to open. Every moment of my life conscious or not (mostly not!) has been unwrapped from that eternal instant. I see the Light now, as bright as ever, exhorting me on to create so It may enter more fully into this world.

What sparked your artistic journey? What is your primary art medium?

I have spent every moment of my life as an artist. I began by playing with clay as a child and will return to clay when I die. Right now I focus on sculpting in clay, painting & etching. For many years, I specialized in manuscript illumination techniques because they are the perfect marriage of the medieval mystics and art. I made all my own art supplies from natural materials. For example, I made paints from stones such as malachite & azurite, plants such as indigo & madder, animal sources like bugs and bones & from colored clays. Every process in manuscript illumination is deeply link to a spiritual process (See here for an example).  These techniques taught me about the deep connection between the earth, the body & the Divine. I’ve written a book about these techniques and the spirituality surrounding them with Karen Gorst called Lapis & Gold: Unlocking the Secrets of Medieval Painters & Illuminators.

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

I strive to let go of myself as I enter into my work. Ancient mystics tell us that there is nothing that is not God. I respect the Divine energy in the material world from the dirt beneath my feet to the stars in the sky. When I work, I seek guidance from the Divine spirit in matter. I allow my materials to lead me on my path to a finished piece, not my ideas or preconceptions about what “I” want to create. When I begin, I always pray, “Dear God/Goddess/All That Is, I am open that I may be filled, lead me on.”

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

My ultimate goal is to release any image of God because any image or word is a construct which hems the Divine in. Making art allows me to be free of images and thoughts, to exist in the present moment and meet the Divine. This is true intimacy, the soul in the arms of its Maker.
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An abundance of gratitude to Sybil for these beautiful words.  She is indeed poet as well as artist.  As I am reading, I am moved by her connection to Mary as she embraces different traditions and by her willingness to surrender to fully to become a vessel of divine light. Make sure to visit her website, where you will find her blog (worth putting in your feedreader), more of her art, and of course the book she mentions above.

What stirs in you in response to these words and images?

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

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