When I am doing art, I am gone. I’m not in my head. I’m not circling ’round the buzzard pile of scary what-ifs and mind-eating worries. I’m not spinning out disaster scenarios and emergency response plans. I’m in another country. The place where I can live and breathe. What is the meaning of art? Who knows? Art is a thing that leads to other things, a connector, like a psychological typewriter, something that communicates with deeper wordless parts. A bridge.

Sanctuary Box. Collage by Rita J. McNamara

How lucky I am to be an artist. When I was a kid I fell in love with crayon names. Sepia. Magenta. Vermilion. Prussian Blue. Crimson Lake. The way they rolled on your tongue and tasted like honey. I started drawing before I could write and I still remember those first drawings, I remember them as though it was yesterday. It was my way to see and love the world. Drawing, making marks, the mystery of light and shadow and color. It was bred in the bone. My way of being with and being in the world, of being with my own mind. How do other people stand being inside their skin? Artists, writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, dancers- we all have a little touch of Houdini, I think. That bone-deep need to escape, disappear, be elsewhere. Elsewhere and yet more “here” somehow. It is a great paradox, this disappearing act, being visibly invisible.

Sanctuary Box. Collage by Rita J. McNamara

Some people think that art is painting, making pictures, slapping little gobs of clay against an armature to build a sculpture. That’s not art. That’s doing art. Art is a way of life, a way of seeing, a way of knowing, a way of being, a way of breath, an obsession, like love. It’s a kind of prayer between the hand and the eye. Doing art is the way to the way. Doing art is my shelter and my refuge. It is my stillpoint, my listening station in a loud and angry world.

Sanctuary Boxes. Collage by Rita J. McNamara

And so when I received an invitation from Ginger Mason to contribute a piece for her upcoming show in British Columbia, a show she wanted to center around the idea of ‘Sanctuary,’ I knew just what I wanted to do. What does sanctuary mean to you, she asked. Is it a physical place or a state of mind or both? Is it possible to describe it? Do all living things require it? Explore your expression of sanctuary and show me, tell me what it means to you, she wrote. I wanted my piece to be three-dimensional, something that expressed both space and feeling. I wanted it to be simple and quiet but multi-layered, too, and festooned with the glyphs and secret signs that float up from the deep river when I am doing art. I wanted to build a Sanctuary Box.


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