Tribal epiphanies in graffiti tunnels

"Texas Bones Mask" from The Earthen Body photography series by Melissa Weiss Steele 2007

So back to the story of how The Oracle of Initiation divination deck was created…in 2008 I had  made the biggest geographic move of my life {other than a youthful jaunt in Italy} to New Mexico. This relocation occurred six-months before The Painted Body series emerged for the deck. I had been working on the deck for over two and a half years and had been stymied by what the artwork would be. Because I am so visually oriented, having grown up in the art world, it didn’t seem “real” to me until I could show people the images. There had been many dreams about humans and animals shape shifting and the creatures on the cards actually moving around. I had no idea how I would do that. I had considered 3-D cards or transparent ones to layer, (LOVE the Transparent Tarot by Emily Carding!!   Holla), but nothing was settling.

I had fallen in love with monotype printing, a very painterly and instantaneous process of working directly on a plate and then running it through a printing press. I spent one of the most joyful days of my life printing with my father and his collaborator Uncle Walty Lieberman at the Pilchuck Glass School-I was hooked. I got to make art in the woods-how does it get any better than that??? When I arrived in Santa Fe I threw myself into monotype courses at the community college and created a series of totemic creatures. The problem was they didn’t have the movement and  power I was seeking. They were flat. I wanted lush, evocative and mysterious.

My work tends to come through epiphanies. An image or an idea literally flashes in my mind’s eye, and if it’s enticing enough, I follow the inspiration. The series that made the The Painted Body work possible happened this way. The Earthen Body photographic series emerged in 2007 out of three years of travels across the west experiencing the intuitive horse world. That is another pivotal piece of the story-much love and honor to the horse spirits as carriers-but more on that later. The Earthen Body series began when I was teaching women’s workshops with horses on a ranch in west Texas. I had found the most incredible mask-like bone I had ever seen, and had a vision of myself lying nude on the land with the bone. Maybe those Santa Fe Opera posters from my childhood with Georgia O’Keeffe’s skulls floating over the arid landscape had sunken in. I had never done anything like this, and was both excited and intimidated by the thought. Everything is prickly in the desert, and I was still a neophyte. Those photographs sent me on a yearlong trust walk that completely changed me.

See Texas Bones Mask above-the very first image in the Earthen Body series.

Part of the adventure travels reopened a profound connection I have felt to nature since I was a child. The red earth called me to New Mexico, and I spent the first year ambling around exploring every road I could find that lead into a deserted looking mesa or canyon. I had learned to simply follow, and be guided to locations during the Earthen Body process. I had gotten good at this.

During these travels I found some amazing graffiti in hidden waterways and tunnels. For some time I had been considering how to incorporate my profound love of Hip Hop into my work, and this became one of the ways. I had been musing over some especially beautiful graffiti pieces I had just found with pastel colors whose vibrancy  literally resonated within my body.

And then the epiphany came.

I saw myself painted tribaly, dancing in the tunnels with the swirling aerosol rainbows.

I was stunned.

I think on some level this was what I had always been searching for. I had been drawn to shamanism years before because of a core need for ritual and ceremony. I had never found the creative aspects  of sacred ceremony  combined with the depth and intensity I intuitively sensed I needed within the groups I knew.I had taken all of the Earthen Body photographs alone, and found I could open up and be more expansive by myself. This was how I woke up before dawn on June 27th 2008 and went down into a tunnel, alone, beginning this transformative journey… to be continued…


3 Replies to “Tribal epiphanies in graffiti tunnels”

  1. (Pardon, trying to stay subscribed. Was unsubscribed after a successive confirmation email came through)


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