The Visual Arts for Missions school that I am helping run had a talented Thai artist come and teach about using mixed media. This week was to be the culmination of all our hands on artistry from weeks prior. Pan has a vibrant and flourishing art ministry near Bangkok where he lives and supports his family through his artwork.
Pan wore a baseball cap and some arty spectacles when I first met him. I would have walked right by him when I first met him and I am so glad that I didn’t! The week that followed picking him up at the airport was quite special. Pan created and painted with a freedom that I have never seen before. Bold application of paint to canvas using a plethora of tools– bubble wrap pieces, palette-knives, brushes, hands and more. He had no intimidation of blank or otherwise occupied canvases and doesn’t think twice about recreating what is already there.
One of my many “Aha!” moments was when Pan began talking to us about tension.
“What do you think about tension?”
We all had words that came to mind, and most were negative: conflict, avoidance, stress, fighting.
Tension is also what makes us grow. Ohhh yah! I’ve come to realize that I am one of those annoying people that cries out to God to, “change me, mold me, grow me!” and then whimpers, “please save me from this God! This is so hard, I think I will surely die!”
Yah, that’s me. I can only imagine God responding with His incredible love, but first patting me on the head and saying, “Carla? I love you too much to take you out of this situation, but I am right here with you.” In the suffering, the discomfort, the pain we grow. And? God meets us there.
I shared a little bit about my journey with this Thai artist, Pan. The next day he asked if I could find some clay. Physically those words came out of his mouth, but for me the way they hit me? I felt like they came straight from God.
So I did. I went online. I found a pottery studio in Chiang Mai.
Like an alarm clock buzzing and needing to be slapped off– as soon as I was able, I got onto my motorbike and went to that studio. Well I tried. Very near the beginning of this adventure I got lost. Then the rain started hitting me while I drove slowly around Chiang Mai on my motorbike looking for this studio. After getting completely soaked, I still didn’t find the place and had to return to the office.
Not easily deterred, I went online again. This time I drew a better map on an old envelope I found.
Then I found the studio. I bought some clay from this generous potter and an old slurpee cup he generously filled with slip for not much money. With a silly grin quite larger than my face, I drove home with 50lbs of clay in the middle of my motorbike.
Initially, my hands remembered how to do things that my mind did not. Coil, roll, score, press. Repeat. Then my hands coaxed my mind into remembering. Late nights in this Visual Arts classroom now turned studio transported me back to college times in a clay studio quite far away. Though six years have passed since I’ve been in that studio, I still felt like the same Carla. The time passed and wealth of experiences I have had since those days didn’t seem to matter. I still found a lot of the same insecurities, questions about my worthiness and talent and uncertainty about the future.
Building with clay had nullified time and transported me to a different place. My elation, my joy, my silly grin began to fade as the night wore on. After everyone except me had retired for the night I began to experience the pain I had pushed aside and stuffed down so long ago. The pain was there waiting for me. I put this into the pot I made. The use of my hands instead of a mechanized wheel yielded wobbly results and as I tried to reconcile the pot’s imperfections I realized this was a war that raged within me too. I’m always trying to reconcile my imperfections– oh. Somehow I didn’t realize until that moment.
A passion of mine was reawakened, and I was remembering a part of me that I had long walked away from: the artist part.
I am an artist. I forgot. I ignored that part. I rationalized it away. I doubted. But there I was and here I am. I am an artist. I missed my friend clay. And so? I am continuing my journey with God and art and the art school and clay. Deep breath and here we go!
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