Title: According to the Order of Nature (We Too Are Cosmos Made): Art and Text for Gay Spiritual Sensuality
Author Name & Publisher: Stephen Mead
Publication Date & Length: January 24, 2016 – 158pgs
“According to the Order of Nature (We Too Are Cosmos Made”) is a mixed media series of paintings and montages begun in late 2009 and completed by New Years 2014. The title refers to all of the laws which weigh against LGBT individuals globally, only this project reverses the persecution, exploring LGBT sensuality for its spiritual roots and profound bonding, more so when people risk their lives in order to have and to hold love. While specific pieces present graphic erotic gay sexuality, by incorporating organic matter such as moss, hair, leaves, spices, rose petals etc., they go beyond the realm of titillation for the viewer to celebrate (or be challenged by) the validation of earth-centered sensuality. Juxtaposed with the larger mixed media series are small 8″ x 10″ images depicting outlines of the naked male form in traditional yoga poses. These independent paintings are then merged with various star, earth, and weather pattern imagery to create the sense that, looking at the night sky, a person may connect the dots, draw pictures in the clouds, and find not just Orion or The Big Dipper, but an innate sensual energy directly connected to the heavens. I envision the combination of all these images, as being exhibited on one wall, the text which eventually evolved from them forming underneath letter by letter: forest green on rose marble.
There are bits and pieces from a multitude of spiritual and religious practices, and I was pleased to recognize a number of sources. I loved the way holiness and sensuality are not separate entities here but intertwined.
This is one worth reading more than once because each time is likely to have a different effect or spark some new thought. Although I can’t directly relate or speak to it because I’m not a man, I think it’s worth reading for anyone who has struggled with identity and spirituality and the ways we’re often instructed to separate the two.
From childhood on, one of my biggest struggles has been how to deal with the disillusionment a person experiences while navigating through the channels of a less than perfect world. In other words: how could I keep my spirit alive and vibrant, continuously growing instead of diminished by the harsh truths reality often deals out?
At an early age I found myself gravitating towards art and writing instinctively, almost like a blind sprout slowly feeling its way through a cracked rusty can. It wasn’t until my early twenties that it began to dawn on me that creativity was not just some sort of eccentric character flaw or outlet, and it wasn’t until my late thirties that I began to realize that this quirk in my nature served a valuable purpose: care for the soul.
Daily, in our modern day culture, a great majority of us have our senses bombarded with stimuli that is, more often than not, toxic, toxic and artificial, rather than a way to establish substantial roots. Greed and envy can be bred from what the televison sells, what the advertisements push, that and a prevailing subliminal miasma whose message is this: You are just not good enough.
Surely there is nothing new about me pointing this out. Surely many others must find it odd that in our newspapers running next to real tales of genocide and warfare, there are also ads for clothing and cosmetic surgery.
How to make sense of that??
Gravitating to the arts, and also to “day jobs” predominantly in Human Services, often as a direct caregiver, was my attempt to do precisely that, to not only reflect, but to clarify what it means to recognize and feel every facet of existence, both light and its opposite. Still, existing in a vacuum, the artistic spirit can not always necessarily thrive. To live in a shell can be healing but also, at times, cramping, and the only way to keep staying fresh is to try and find out what others are up to, what messages their spirits carry.
Do we need one another for the articulation to occur? Do your bones resound with an answer of “yes”?
I am in my mid-forties now, working mostly in mixed media and enjoying the experimentation process. Glues, glitter, bits of jewelry, buttons and stickers and fabric in addition to paint…These have become part of my tools as much as simple ink scribbling across paper. These are the means to childhood doorways seen with new eyes, and I notice so many others who are also after the same knowledge by similar means.
They are busy making scrapbooks and photos, haunting craft stores and yarn shops. They are passing down recipes, journaling for truth, jotting down home and garden tips. They are getting their hands dirty and laughing, breathing sighs of satisfaction.
From that the spirit rises cleansed and ready to go again, thriving amid chaos.
I wrote the preceding as a short essay a couple of years ago and gave it the title “Maintaining Spirit”, but I still view those words as a statement on a constant theme in my books.
“Where Time Goes” is somewhat “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman”, and is set in the 1970s. The burgeoning Women’s Movement of the time exists mainly peripherally however, for I was very interested in exploring the inner lives of the main characters, how they beat to their own drums simply because to do so was in their natures. Looking back it’s odd to realize how many young women I went to High School with in the late 1970s believed there was something “Jezebel-ish” in having a sex life, though young men at the time also reinforced the double-standard that it was okay for boys to sow oats. I find it equally strange that I still meet people whom, despite the success of pop sensation, Madonna, and television shows like “Sex & The City”, somehow carry more than just a vestige of such thinking within. I had half-hoped “Where Time Goes” would throw some reflection into the mix.
My next novel, “Hang Onto Your Teeth”, in many ways, was equally idealistic. Dealing with a gay character and a father attempting to come to terms with his son’s sexual orientation in the early 1990s, I believe I was aiming for some cross-over book. I wanted the book to engage dialogue and help build a bridge between the GLBT community and the “straight” one. Given the fact that we are now in the year 2009 and much debate occurs yet on LGBT rights I still feel the message of “Hang Onto Your Teeth” is a pertinent one. After it was published and I actually got around to telling a person or two, a poet friend of mine wrote to tell me she found the writing “seminal”. Luckily I realized such kind words did not mean I could run out and quit my day job!
“Selected Works” is a bit of a retrospective. Over the years, being an individual who engages in both writing and art, often combining the two, I have frequently been asked which comes first. The truth is that there is nothing consistent about the pattern. At times I have been at work on an art piece, often based on an image or narrative which has haunted me for years, and lines for a poem take shape from the experience. In other instances I will be re-reading, revising a poem, when it occurs to me how it correlates to a painting I’ve done. There’s a sense of de ja vu about this. It’s as if I am recalling a dream which became a reality, though I can’t quite put my finger on the when, how or why.
In “Selected Works” I paired some of my more lengthy poetry pieces quite intentionally with the art, instead of using poems that had been published with individual paintings since the year 2000. I included Two award-winning e-books “Heroines Unlikely” and “We Are More Than Our Wounds” in the “Selected Works” print edition for their strong theme of spirituality. I also continued with the self-publishing route as the majority of agents/publishing houses I contacted told me how expensive it is to mass produce color plates without the guarantee of a mass audience.
The truth is I prefer privacy anyway, and have found a comfort level in the knowledge that I do not have the inclination or finesse to write action-packed, blockbuster types of books. Car chases induce reverse peristalisis. I am much more interested and invested in exploring emotional terrain while trying to expand what media or mediums I might want to try. That’s the fun part of creativity even if the subject matter delved into may be serious. Almost by instinct I found myself experimenting with making short art films for DVDs (Indieflix.com) and recording mp3s with music for a CD of love poems. In 2009 this cd was re-mastered for Amazon and released as “Love Lullabies”.
My latest project, “Our Book of Common Faith”, took a decade to complete but I needed that sort of “immersion time” with the paintings-in-process to find out what they were trying to tell me about world cultures and religions, (including atheism as a form of faith), to find the uniting thread. “Our Book of Common Faith” is the voice of diversity as a chorus.
Apparently I have not entirely lost my idealism, the notion that another’s life can be changed, (hopefully for the better), by a painting or a book.