Sacred objects

Two shows at JRB Art at The Elms explore the spiritual.

click to enlarge Sacred objects
JRB Art at The Elms / provided
“Moondance 3” by Melodee Martin Ramirez

For its November show, JRB Art at The Elms, 2810 N. Walker Ave., transcends the normalcy of daily routines, giving viewers an opportunity to turn their attention inward for a moment of tranquil reflection. Spirit Masks and Sacred Show subtly challenges the psyche to consider the true importance and meaning of one’s own life in an aesthetic display of insightful works.

Spirit Masks is a solo presentation by Diana J. Smith and will be held in the gallery’s main room. Sacred Show, on the other hand, is a collection of pieces by five different artists, all renowned for their dedication and creative endeavors.

“The great part about this show is that everybody showing is a very well-recognized artist,” said G. Patrick Riley. “This is not an amateur kind of show. It’s very professional.”

Riley, a prestigious artist whose works have been displayed at museums like Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., will present never-before-seen pieces in Sacred Show.

The idea for the exhibit came from Dr. Joy Reed Belt, owner of JRB gallery. Witnessing the world around her riddled in a state of anxious distress, she thought to put together an exhibit that would inspire people to think about their lives in a way they might not normally consider.

“I have always thought that it would be good to have a spiritual or a sacred show — not any particular religion or anything, but just a sacred show — to give people time to reflect on beauty and wholeness and something other than our 24/7 lives,” Belt said.

click to enlarge Sacred objects
JRB Art at The Elms / provided
“Eagle of the Blue Consciousness” by G. Patrick Riley

Spirit Masks

Belt has known Riley since she and her husband opened JRB, and the two contacted artists they thought might be a good fit for the show and its theme. She also needed to find someone she could feature for the monthly solo display. At Belt’s request, Smith agreed to showcase her work as part of the exhibition.

According to Belt, Smith had been wanting to display her masks for some time. No stranger to JRB, Smith was asked just what she would want to include in the show. She then decided to showcase her collection of masks.

Combining natural materials like fur and feathers with porcupine quills, shells and a variety of other found objects, Smith creates a series of masks representative of spirit bundles traditionally carried by medicine men. She describes the bundles as treasures that hold certain significance to their carrier, which she then translates to the form of a mask.

“It’s all the things that are important to that, and that’s kind of the feeling of it to me; it’s like they’re a shaman and they’ve got their spirit bundle there with them,” she said.

To Smith, nature and its beauty appears to be one of the most sacred parts of her life — a sentiment clearly articulated throughout her work.

“I just think the objects themselves are beautiful. And working with them, it’s just peaceful. It feels very natural,” she said. “I just feel like art should be beautiful and you should enjoy looking at it. It’s completely inspired by nature and my environment.”

The masks, forged in a process involving clay and the found objects she collected, can take at least three days to finish. Having to keep up with the JRB project and another gallery in Santa Fe, Smith kept busy over the months, trying to finalize her pieces. Still, she acknowledges the process as her favorite part of being an artist.

“The honest truth is the process is the pleasure,” Smith said. “It seems like every time I finish one, that’s my new favorite.”

Images of her masks will also be included in the display, paintings she describes as “a kind of spiritual type thing.”

“Her stuff is very magical-looking,” Riley said.

click to enlarge Sacred objects
JRB Art at The Elms / provided
“Mask 68” by Diana J. Smith right

Sacred Show

Despite Spirit Masks acting as a display of its own, it blends nicely with Sacred Show. Rather than showcasing each artist in a different area separate from one another, each room branching off Smith’s exhibit houses a series of works from the artists blended together in a calculated fashion.

“You could enter different rooms of my gallery and kind of have a different experience,” Belt said. “The subject matter of the works in the Sacred Show have been created to affect the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.”

The gallery spaces mesh the artists’ interpretation of “sacred” into a cohesive unit that tells a story of their own. There, viewers can find the works of Claudia Wiley, G.L. August Loessberg, Lanny Fiegenschuh, Melodee Martin Ramirez, Marjorie Atwood and Riley.

Riley explains Wiley’s work will be a demonstration of colorful boxes and pinball machine parts put together to represent a virtue such as wisdom or strength. Instead of pinball parts, Fiegenschuh uses car parts in addition to pots and pans to make objects resembling those from Mayan and Aztec culture with a twist of humor. 

Ramirez utilizes a more traditional approach to capture her concept of the sacred in nature. A well-known Dallas artist, her contribution to the show will consist of a number of oil paintings that romanticize the great outdoors with her landscape aesthetics.

Loessberg’s photographs will be intermingled with the others’ sculptures and paintings. Often, his photography includes pictures of spiritual altar pieces.

Riley himself will have sculptures of 10 totems incorporating pieces of musical instruments to illustrate the sacred melodies across the globe.

“I love sacred music — sacred mantras from India, sacred chants from the American Indians, Gregorian chant from the Catholics, spiritual hymns,” he said. “I love all of that. I’ve made some sculptures with trombone horns and flute parts, stuff like that. I put them into the sculpture to represent the music is sacred.”

His works are not restricted to music alone. Those who attend will be in for a pleasant treat when they get the chance to explore the other totems offering a unique message to viewers.

Before investing hours in a new piece, Riley finds it useful to meditate and turn on his creativity to allow for a free-flowing stream of consciousness that results in something meaningful.

To Riley, “just letting the universe flow” is one of the most important practices of being an artist.

“In the world, you have a lot of things to do, and so you can’t be creative and balance the budget and pay the bills and raise a family all at the same time,” he said. “So when I start making my art, I like to sit down and meditate a little bit on my creative self — what’s inside of me that’s creative. … If you don’t practice being creative, you never get to experience it.”

He said he hopes people walk away from the show with a newfound understanding of themselves in terms of what they truly hold sacred and what that means to them on a personal level.

Riley expressed the importance of this regarding the future of humankind.

“If we all went around treating people sacred, we probably wouldn’t have a lot of problems that we have in the world today,” he said.

These same thoughts are echoed by Belt, who hopes to communicate a similar notion through the JRB display.

“I want them to walk out with a renewed perspective of the world,” she said.