COELEEN KIEBERT - INSPIRATION MADE MANIFEST
“The most seminal experience that threw me into this body of work was no doubt the death of David. I could not continue to do art if I was not honest about what was happening in my life at the time. Painful as that was, I thought I might as well stop doing art altogether if I can’t do it about this reality.”
In January, 1996, Coeleen Kiebert flew to Rome to bring home the body of her young son who had died under mysterious circumstances that have never been fully explained. Feeling despair and seeking understanding of what had just happened, Coeleen asked to see “The Pieta at St. Peter’s Cathedral.” On the way to St. Peter’s, her driver suggested she note in particular Mary’s total focus on Jesus’ body. While Mary is depicted in this way, gazing at her son’s head and face, she also has her left palm up, he said. And that’s exactly what Coeleen saw, Mary with her palm up—in a gesture expressive of the question, Why?
“That really stunned me,” Coeleen says. “That piece, The Pieta, and the question, Why?
Months passed before she could resume work in her studio. However, “I knew when I did,” she says, “it would have to be many Pietas.”
In the interval, she fell into a tailspin of grief and agony. How could David not be here? Where was he? Why couldn’t she communicate with him?
Seeking to understand how it was possible to communicate with energies on the “other side,” she sought solace in her Christian faith, but turned as well to works by Emanuel Swedenborg, Hindu and Buddhist texts and read everything she could about death and near death experiences. How might one communicate with energies on the “other side?”
When at last she returned to her studio, she says, “my work reflected my search at that time.” Coeleen went on to produce a series of intricate and embellished torsos, ceramic sculptures at once mysterious and powerful in their reference to archetypal imagery.
In 2006, speaking of Coeleen’s “Return from Rome,” critic Maureen Davidson wrote, “Here was a Kiebert sculpture that is the essence of ceramic art— the artist's fingers pushed here, pulled there, the glaze reveals the earthy body underneath. The piece, ["Return from Rome,"] is grief, not a depiction of it.”
There are now more than thirty ceramic sculptures in the Bardo Navigation series. The BARDO NAVIGATORS are those who explore that realm between this lifetime and the next.
Early works from the *Bardo Series were shown in 2006 at the Felix Kulpa Gallery in Santa Cruz, where I first saw them. Later, some in the series were exhibited in the show TIME AND PLACE/THEN AND NOW at Santa Cruz’ Museum of Art and History (MAH). A Gavilan College exhibition, PASSING THROUGH, included works from the series in a show about grief.
More recently, selections from the BARDO SERIES were exhibited at the American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA) and in coming months will be on display in multiple venues:
PATCHWORKS. ARMSTRONG GALLERY, Pomona, California, Feb 10-April 4, 2009.
ASSEMBLAGE, COLLAGE AND CONSTRUCTION, MUSEUM OF ART & HISTORY, Santa Cruz, CA, a sculpture collaboration with custom classic bike and automaker, Michael Leeds January 20-April 12, 2009.
FELIX KULPA GALLERY, Santa Cruz, Recent Navigator pieces, January 20-April 12, 2009.
And what of the word Bardo? Bardo is a Buddhist term for that realm between this lifetime and the next. Kiebert’s BARDO NAVIGATORS explore the unknown and yet play, making brazen "tongue in cheek" statements about that which still remains a mystery. Perhaps this exploration is about the soul after death. 0r perhaps it is about life's struggles in the here and now. In any case there’s humor in gearing up these figures with navigating equipment (like the camera packs) for a successful traverse.
VOCABULARY OF THIS SERIES:
BARDO NAVIGATORS represent she who is doing the traveling, equipped with all the navigating tools she finds necessary for a hopefully good traverse between here and there. They are "hooked up" to the energy of many different realms.
BARDO STATIONS are vehicles for long distance travel into these strange realms.
BARDO ANGELS are the guides who know this process well and have always been there to watch over the Navigators. They are enlightened and "hooked up" also, but to God.
At a showing of Coeleen’s NAVIGATOR SERIES, I couldn’t help asking, “What do you understand by the word ‘compassion’ and to what extent do you believe art can convey or somehow manage to touch on the experience of compassion?
“In my own work,” Coeleen replied, “I’ve not ever attempted to express someone else’s suffering. Although I have expressed my own. Perhaps that’s where it begins. I suppose that the Pietas I’ve done are an attempt to express the suffering of Mary, but that was clearly a conscious projection. I think that compassion for Mary led me to be able to express compassion for myself.”
INSPIRATION MADE MANIFEST
This flowing forth of ceramic art had its origins in New York, where in 2005 Coeleen attended an exhibition at the Cooper Hewett Museum titled EXTREME TEXTILES. The exhibit included clothing worn in space by astronauts, suits and equipment that along with communication systems had helped them survive and then safely return to earth.
Coeleen drew inspiration from these items as well as from the small space capsules and other paraphernalia on display.
“I was particularly taken with their gloves and saw them as beautiful sculptures, the way they were sewn.” She began by sketching with the idea in mind of reproducing those gloves as ceramic sculptures.
Back in her Rio Del Mar studio, itself a work of art high up on a cliff with a panoramic view of Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay, she began by making a series of ceramic replicas, including gloves, valves, gauges, and an American flag.
“All this led,” she says, “to making the astronauts themselves, and as I became more involved in these creations, I realized I was doing my own traveling into outer space and this seemed very like I was traveling the space that David is likely to be in.”
Letting go of the idea of reaching her son, Coeleen took on the journey for herself, traveling into the Bardo, a region fraught with danger. “My studies in Hinduism taught me that the better I might do in the Bardo, the better I’d do taking a rebirth. Hence the need for navigational equipment, which led to the space ships to assist in the travel and, after thirty or so of these ceramic pieces, I was gladdened to discover that one had become an angel. That perhaps there are angels out there to help along this treacherous way. And the tall standing gloves are now like sentinels showing the way.”
“They are strange and distinct beauties, featuring antique industrial dials, pipes, sharing the artist's signature curly headed, bow-lipped cherubic Rubenesque painted faces,” says Maureen Davidson. “Some angels bend against the weight of sacksful of lights — this is a profound and luscious idea realized with rare technical command. How can the clay and the metal so closely fit?”
As for the imagination necessary to produce these pieces, she may owe something to her father, an inventor. “His shop was in our home,” she says, “and I remember well seeing the final aesthetic importance of a part before it would fit into its exact place of function.
“And so, I have a feeling of appreciation of having ‘saved’ these fine objects from this nearly lost craftsmanship, by including them in my work with some regard.”
Coeleen was born and raised in Minneapolis and like her University of Minnesota teacher, the potter Warren MacKenzie, Coeleen’s work is “comfortable and tactile, each [piece] imbued with an aesthetic integrity that comes from practice and from the seemingly effortless coalescence of form, surface and color”. I’ve lifted these words from a Ceramics Monthly review, “Warren MacKenzie: Legacy of an American Potter”,
(August-September 2007) but word for word, what is said here, applies to Coeleen Kiebert’s art as well.
Though a mid-westerner by birth, Coeleen links herself to the California ceramic sculpture movement, in which personal expression is foremost and challenging the material essential. “This was the great break-away from producing and teaching functional ware,” she says.
In truth, she has sought to pursue her spiritual life through art and has done so for the past 30 years. And, like Warren MacKenzie, she is a powerful and influential teacher. “My students are fellow seekers,” she says, “and we travel together to Japan, China, New York, Santa Fe, Holland, and Alaska. The teaching involves philosophy as much as technical training.
And something more because this is an artist who lives by her words. “We're not here just to become better artists. We’re here to become better persons."
In her book, “All of a Sudden: The Creative Process,” she writes, "The object is to see that our creative life has a story to tell that is quite separate from the stories entwined in our families and friends. It will be in the telling of that story that the vocabulary of our creativity will appear."
Looking back thirty years, she says, “My work was compartmentalized from the rest of my life. But I now know that it must be an expression of who I am and a vehicle for discovering where I am. The most seminal experience that threw me into this body of work was no doubt the death of David. I could not continue to do art if I was not honest about what was happening in my life at the time. Painful as that was, I thought I might as well stop doing art altogether if I can’t do it about this reality…awful as it was.”
Technically speaking, Coeleen's sculptures are made of porcelain clay. After they are bisc fired to cone 05, they are washed with rutile and red iron oxides. A high fire glaze is applied and the pieces are fired to cone 6. There is a last lustre firing at cone 019 after which the found objects pieces are inserted with glue and putty. At the very end, a patina of acrylic is applied to unite the whole sculpture and add a timeless quality.
The author Robert Sward writes from his home in Santa Cruz, CA. His current projects include a series of animated poems and videos < http://www.cruziocafe.com/placetostand61808-final2.html> and a collection of illustrations and poems featuring dogs. Sward’s Collected Poems, Black Moss Press, Canada, is now in its second printing as is his latest book, God is in the Cracks: A Narrative in Voices.
Coeleen Kiebert is a sculptor working in both ceramic and bronze. She exhibits her work nationwide in museums and galleries and is represented in numerous private collections. She has a B.S. in Art Education from the University of Minnesota and an M.S. in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. In addition to a major interest in the psychology of the creative process, Coeleen has pursued the effects of oriental philosophy upon western art. Her search for the spiritual in art has taken her to extensive travel in both Japan and China and has left a decided impression upon her sculpture. These pursuits have become a powerful influence as she digs deeply for personal and spiritual meaning in her sculpting process. Coeleen teaches ceramic sculpture in her private studio and through the University of California Extension Division, Santa Cruz. She is also author of ALL OF A SUDDEN: THE CREATIVE PROCESS, an exploration of the psychological stages of creating.
Causes Robert Sward Supports
Audubon Society, National Geographic, "Green," the Environment, SPCA...