Creating, and Freeing, Art for Creation’s Sake
It was while we were digging clay on the Midges that I learned a bit more about Eliza. She was born and raised in Milwaukee. Can you believe that? The sexiest and most atmospherically exotic woman on the planet comes from Wisconsin. Hard to comprehend, but true. She stayed there, blossoming beautifully, until it was time to head off to college. She could have attended any college in the country — her test scores and GPA wouldn’t have mattered once any guy in the admissions office had gotten a look at her — but she chose to attend the Michigan School of Art and Design. She spent four years there, raining beauty down on the campus like the mist around a waterfall and earning a degree in pottery.
She started with the usual vases and bowls. She could do that stuff well; her professors were impressed with the graceful curve of her clay. But she found the creation of such things too monotonous, too limiting. Sure, she played around a bit with shape and color and proportion, but there’s only so much you can do with a vase or a bowl without making it something else altogether.
So she shifted from making functional pieces to making clay sculptures. She started with miniatures, so she could get a sense of form before moving on to larger works, and her first pieces were little clay deer and rabbits and hippos and things. And by her own admission, they were awful. The rabbits looked like kangaroos, the hippos looked like they were made by demented mimes, and the deer all looked like Bambi in serious need of a heroin fix. She tried making other things — little houses, trees, whales, cars, castles, microwave ovens, whatever — but the best she could achieve was death. The pieces all looked like little clay representations that were crafted by someone who had no knowledge of life, joy, agony, love, and the absurdity of the human condition.
Then she tried people. She made this critical career move after hearing a lecture about creation myths; the speaker noted that many of the world’s creation stories involve the sculpting of the first human beings out of clay or dirt. “God gathered the dust from the earth, added spittle to it, and formed moist clay. With that clay, He created the first Human.” So say a host of different traditions. So Eliza went back to her studio, filled a large mug with a kind of thick espresso that is intended for cautious sipping only in the presence of qualified medical personnel, and threw herself into a five-day Genesis bender. She didn’t eat. She didn’t go outside. She probably took bathroom breaks, but she doesn’t remember them. All she remembers is taking a couple hundred pounds of clay and building, with trembling hands and breathless anticipation, a life-sized, passionate, beautiful, powerful, peaceful, intensely human sculpture of a standing man. The skin was textured with the splashes and trickling pathways of her tears and her sweat. He was tall, strong, and magnificent.
She named him One, and after a few days of sleep and food, she brought her professors in to see him. They stared at One for a long time, in silent awe. Then one of them spoke: “Definitely not Bambi.”
She graduated with honors from MSAD and followed the usual path for people of her talent. She sought out commissions for large-scale architectural or landscape sculpture that would bring in some cash, keep her alive, and show off her steadily growing population of offspring. She made Two, a man running as if in terror, as her honors project at MSAD. Three is a strong and defiant African-American woman who stands in the entryway of a building owned by an oil company in Seattle. Four, Five, and Six are in parks in California, and Seven can be seen along the main walkway outside a museum in Georgia.
She has created more than a hundred people, all of them individuals, all of them strong but not superhuman, all of them afraid of some things and proud of others. She has lost count over the years, so now her creations are given descriptive names — Woman Angry at the Moon, or Man Finally Content — and she loves every one of them.
It was on Grand Seal Island, after she had moved in with Bo, that she first created a sculpture with the deliberate intention of destroying it. She had read an uplifting book that describes the work of religious potters in Bangladesh. They create elaborate, beautiful sculptures of deities for use in spiritual rituals, but they don’t fire the clay. They leave it dry but unhardened, temporary and fragile. Once the religious ceremonies are complete, the sculptures are taken to the river and lowered into the moving water. The clay and the paints slowly dissolve, sending a colored streak out of sight downstream. And then the deity is gone, returned once more to the silt from which she came. Only earthly cycles can hold non-earthly spirits.
Eliza took three days to take this first step toward art for creation’s sake. She built a woman, reclining and life-sized and euphoric, and she named her Body of Water. Bo made a small raft for her using nothing but driftwood and water-soluble glue. One calm day, they put Body into the raft and put the raft into the outrigger canoe. Bo paddled away from land until the shoreline was just a dark suggestion on the horizon. Then they put Body and her raft into the eternal Sea.
Body bobbed on the waves at first, enjoying the sea air and the new perspective on the world. Then the raft slowly disassembled itself, reverting to the chaos of lifeless limbs that it once had been. When the raft’s keel let go, Body dipped into the water, euphoric still, and spread the joy of her existence among the continents of the world.
Eliza did not talk for almost two weeks after that. She found the experience so moving, so deep, so transcendental, that she knew that little else mattered for her. She continued to take the occasional commission to keep the food and espresso supplies from running dry, but she devoted herself to the creation of Art For No Time.
Since then, she has breathed life into dozens of astonishing and intricate people, and each of them has borne the secrets of new creation and timeless wonder back to the realm of nature and spirit. Eliza misses them all deeply, and on some chilly nights, while we’re sitting around The Village campfire, passing a bottle of tequila from mouth to mouth and telling stories of loves we’ve never had, she’ll talk about one of them as if they had been friends since birth.
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — NavyBrat414: She’s a nut case. Loony tunes. A few songs short of a playlist. She’d better be hot, or there’s no point is hanging around.
Comment — WomynFire982: nice, brat. your fly’s unzipped and your brain’s exposed.
Comment — Gemstone: I think she sounds fascinating. I’d like to meet her sometime.
Comment — MapleLeaf249: Hey, Freedom — I’d like to see the U.S. try something with Canada. We’re tougher than you think.
Comment — WomynFire982: Oh, give it a rest, Leafy.
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.