As I lounge in the warm desert sun of Baja Mexico, reflecting upon earth, not as in ‘the world’ but as in earth, dust, soil, clay…. I ponder on the subject and all it’s weightiness and I realize that ‘art’ is in the heart of the word earth! A closer look as I write the word heart and yes indeed, heart and earth are the same word just scrambled! This is all just appearing before my eyes for the first time as I write them down.
Perhaps the heat of the day is making me feel more delirious about all this than it should be….but that ‘art is in the heart of earth’ feels like a profound discovery! Earth makes chalk, ochre, gold to gild and lapis lazuli to illuminate with boldness. From earth springs indigo to form the deepest, saddest inky blue. Lichen for lively lemon green.
Mix the elements of earth with water and fire you get terra cotta.
Strike sand with lightning heat and it transforms to glass.
While all artists have ideas, concepts, inspirations, metaphors and messages in their heads, they must choose the medium in which to express themselves. For us artisans the material itself is part of the story. Yarn is spun and dyed, clay molded, paint mixed, cloth stretched, marble carved, bronze cast. Of the earth.
‘Subterranean’ by Heather Ross
Of course in modern times we have the allure of some pretty exciting man made ‘synthetic’ materials too… acrylic, plexiglass etc.
But it is the earth derived materials that excite me most. This is not to say that the materials cannot be sophisticated, elegant, opulent, refined…especially once transformed, altered and manipulated into another form.
A Venetian mirror came from grains of sand.
The most delicate Chinese eggshell porcelain & loveliest of pigments came from a rivers edge. The tallest Swedish armoire from limbs of trees.
In the Baja earth abounds. It gets between your toes and into your soul. Red earth, dry earth, dusty white earth, sandy soil, charred smoky dirt.
When I was younger I was a potter. I would cut huge slabs of clay with a fine wire and knead and knead the air out of it [ the opposite of making flaky pastry when you want to add the air into the dough ] Then I would wet the clay and form it round and round on the wheel, feeling it’s rough yet slippery texture course through my fingers. So tactile, so sensual. Round and round till a pure simple form would emerge. Then it would dry. Then it would cook. Then it would be dipped in glaze [ more earth, water & minerals combined to a perfect formula ] then it would bake again in a kiln so hot the silica in the glaze would melt to glass and create it’s silky casing on the pot. The process was arduous but so satisfying. So hands on, and yes so earthy.
So the next time you are choosing tiles, windows, mirrors, beams, vases, bowls, stop for a moment and reflect on where they came from. What elements were brought together to make them so? What it is about them that you like, love perhaps? The matt texture of terra cotta, or the deep bronzed hue?
The glassiness of the mirror, the silver itself, or just your lovely countenance? Materials do resonate with us for different reasons, and each has their own inherent properties and purposes. As I write my feet rest on the stone path, my hips rest on woven raffia, my eyes look upon adobe, plaster, cement, iron, wood and foliage.
As I breathe I take in the smell of the heat rising from the clay terrace, the hot soil and the fires burning in the distance. All around me there is the texture of life called earth.
All photographs copyright Heather Ross.
Shot on location at the lovely home of artist Patricia Larsen in El Pescadero and at the Hotel California in Todos Santos plus the gorgeous beaches of La Paz.