In the world of “art toys,” juxtaposition is almost a rule of thumb. Gentle paired with violent. Innocence blended with the grotesque. Light crossed with shadow (in the Jungian sense if the word).
I love to work with this concept in my own pieces. Take the Death Bunnies for example. A cute/grotesque monster who dons an adorable bunny costume that is adorned with skulls.
At the time of its creation, I simply thought the contrasts were funny. But recently, I got to wondering why? Why am I and others so increasingly drawn to the art of opposites?
I once heard mythologist and storyteller, Michael Meade, explain that in the world of myth, whenever two opposing forces come together, there is a third, spiritual force seeking to come into being. This, Meade says, is why the third time’s a “charm.” That is to say, magic. And it’s in this moment of magic when the Divine reveals itself to us.
Think about that for a minute.
When I do, I have to admit that some small piece of me not only takes pleasure in, but seeks out the tension of opposites. I, in some strange way, enjoy repeatedly being surprised when my story of how things or people are supposed to be, aren’t. It's why, despite my complaining about it, I'm always logging onto Facebook, unconsciously hoping there will be some bit of drama to get excited about.
Sometimes those surprises are simple and no big deal in the scheme of things. Other times they ignite a fire within me I scarcely know was to do with. And I like it.
I come alive.
I feel purposeful.
And I catch a glimpse of something within that is so much larger than my literal self.
Moments like these are gifts and the price of admission is a willingness to sit in the tension of opposites long enough to see past the literal folly of the players on the stage and into an understanding of what their mythic or metaphoric messages are.
I live for this space and these moments.
This is the essence of the Bardolands.
That uncomfortable gateway that lies between what is and what wants to be.
So the next time you find yourself squeezed between two such contrasting forces, perhaps you will soften your gaze, step into the mythic territory and ask yourself, “What Divine truth is seeking my attention in this moment?”
Until next time…
Yours in service,
Caption R M Trotta
Pirate King of the Bardolands
Have you ever seen a hawk fly from its perch?
Inevitable, they lighten their load before lift off (if you catch my drift).
People on the other hand, tend to carry their extra baggage long after its usefulness has expired.
Whether these outdated stories, life strategies, or personal identities where originally picked up as a way to survive, or even if they were consciously chosen, when we begin to feel limited by them, it become easy to recognize the decrease in joy that accompanies their strangle hold.
My latest story-keeper, entitled "Flight," has been made for those seeking to build a practice of releasing old warn out identities and life strategies and embracing new, more spacious one's. Ways of being and thinking that allows you to feel the movement of life under your wings and declare to friends and family, "This is who I am now!"
And so, even with the new year well on its way, it's never too late to allow yourself some time and space to consider what's next. What do you need to release so that you can take flight? What do you desire to take hold of? Who are you capable of becoming when grounded in love and joy?
From me and the rest of the rebel-rousers here in the Bardolands, Happy New Year!
Yours in service,
The Pirate King
Every totem I sculpt, is for me, a multi-layered adventure that follows its' own natural, initiatory path. Like all such journey's into the unknown, this one began with a call to adventure in the form of my friend Jenny.
“Hey,” she said, “Can I commission you to make a totem for me? I want to have one made but I wasn’t sure if it would be something were interested in.”
Jenny gets that in order for me to take on a commission, there has to be something in the request that calls to me, the artist. Something that intrigues me enough to answer with a wholehearted, "Yes!" Because in saying yes, I'm committing myself to at least a full week or two of edge pushing fun and frustration.
“What are you thinking?” I asked.
“Well,” she said, leaving a pause, “I want an albatross. They mean a lot to me for a variety of reason but most especially because they have taught me about how to fly. How to spread my wings and glide with life, rather than against it.” I didn't really need to think about this one.
Step 1: Research
Continuing with the language of the heroes journey, I suppose you could say, this is the stage where I gather allies and figure out who the enemies are. I typically begin with a Google search to gather images and watch videos. I seek information on the creature's biology and physiology. I'll also seek out mythological connections. During this process, an awareness of what the challenges might be start to show themselves and I begin to adjust accordingly.
Step 2: Sketching: A Search for the "Thread."
With reference material at the ready, I normally spend a few days sketching out ideas in my notebook. Nothing formal. Rarely anything beautiful. They're rough I tell ya. Like, 60 grit rough.
Here, I'm trying to build a relationship to the animal. Sketching with pencil and paper, along with a few other practices I won't go into this time around, becomes a sort of meditation, allowing me to find what I have come to refer to as, "the thread." Once I find the thread, my guide, movement begins to happen. I'm avoiding the word muse here because I'm not certain it's the same thing and it sounds kinda cheesy.
Either way, I get it if this all sounds pretentious, but it's exactly what happens. Without the thread, I don't have enough motivation or clarity of vision to move forward. With it however, I can pick up some clay and start to sketch three dimensionally. In the case of the albatross, I spent a few hours roughing out a general shape until I had yet another thread to add to the bundle. When I was satisfied with the shape, I decided to switch to a firmer clay as I had failed to recognize that the first clay wouldn't have the strength to hold up when it came to the wings. So, I had to rough out the shape all over again. Still, the bundle of threads where beginning to form a rope that began to bind me to the complete albatross waiting at the other end of the journey.
Step 3: Sculpting
Someone recently asked, "When does a sculpture come alive for you?" The short version of my answer was, "The sculptures have several births throughout the whole process. And for the most part, those births occur in tandem with a death."
The albatross had many deaths and births on the path to its completion. With each one, I had to let go of what I thought should happen so I could learn something new. Interestingly, there comes a point in the process of sculpting, when the piece says, "You've found me. Now return to the surface." And that's what I do. I begin the often long slog back to the surface by starting the process of mold making and casting.
Step 4: Mold
Unlike clays used in ceramics, the clays I use cannot be fired in an oven. Therefore, a mold of the sculpture is made and castings are produced.
Now even though this albatross was just a fraction of the birds actually size, making a mold of the sculpture was going to be expensive compared to other pieces I've done. So, I decided to try a new method that would considerably reduce the amount of silicone needed. Long story short, It was a complete disaster; adding days and expense to the process. Remember when I said, "long slog..."? Yeah, well, this was it.
Below was the attempted money saver. Instead of making the usual block mold which I ended up going back to, I made a thin mold "supported by a plastic-fiber shell. The grey bits are where the casting leaked resulting in a very distorted end product. So, back to the drawing board!
In the end, I returned to the tried and true methods I have learned over the past year and added to my skill set, the ability to cast the sculpture in pieces. Thus, the photos of a wingless albatross. I also "invited" a way of using a mold frame that used blocks of wood to take up the space that would have otherwise been expensive silicone, thus the "steps" in the wing molds.
Step 5: Casting
While this is hardly the final step in the process, it's the one where I get to find out if the many challenges that were met along the way were in fact successfully overcome.
I often use a two-part, urethane resin to make my castings. It's a durable material that can be glued, drilled, sanded, and painted. I enjoy working with it, so long as the casting comes out clean. And you can never be quite sure until you pull that first casting from its' rubbery womb.
And now for your viewing pleasure... A video of the first casting process. Fingers crossed!
WARNING: I can be a salty sailor.
Step 6: Putting it all Together
It came out perfectly. In fact, one of the best to date. With a successful casting behind me, I needed to cast the wings separately before I could join them to the body, then the body to the stand, and finally sculpt the legs.
To join the wings, I used a heavy duty epoxy followed by a two-part epoxy clay to cover up joint lines and add extra strength. I used a heavy gauge armature wire for the legs. One end of the wire was glued into holes drilled into the albatross' legs while the other end mounted into holes in the stand. Once dry, I used the same two-part epoxy putty (magic sculpt) to form the legs and feet.
Almost home! The photo below shows the complete cast with wings in place and waiting to be pointed to its base so that legs and feet can be made.
Step 7: Paint - Almost Home? Well... Almost
With the sculpture all in one piece, joined, reinforced, sanded, and cleaned, I gave it a coat of primer. In most cases I use a black gesso. Sometimes white. Sometimes grey. Then it's back to reference material for color.
When it comes to paint, I've been doing a lot of experimenting. A few years back, I fell in love with milk paints. One of the oldest kinds of paint we have, milk paints employ a milk based protein as a binder for the pigment. Unfortunately, you can't save unused portions as they go rancid. Plus, they're hell on brushes. Still, I've always loved them for their flat, old-world look.
Fortunately, I've discover chalk paints. A more modern paint with all the coolness of milk paints minus the stinky after smell or taste! And so the albatross marked my initiation into the world of chalk paints. I couldn't be happier with the result and look forward to working with them in the future.
Once dry, I apply a clear coat and some tinted wax.
Step 8: In search of the totemic meaning: "Goonies Never Say Die!"
First off, if you're still reading this, you just may be a Goonie! Good for you for hanging' in there.
The day after I finished the albatross, I sat down to write a reflection on the piece with the intention of identifying the lessons I gained from from the process and to name the deeper meaning imbued within this particular totem. I wasn't sure where to begin.
I thought of what my friend Jenny told me. I thought of all the hard lessons and set backs I had along the way. I considered the The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a poem in which a sailor kills an albatross, inciting the anger of his shipmates who saw the bird as a symbol of hope and salvation. But still, I wasn't certain. I just needed this final thread in order to call the piece done.
So, I typed the word "albatross" into my search bar once more just as I had almost two months earlier (Sorry Jenny. But you did say "however long"). Among the listings that came up was one for "Albatross - Goonie Bird."
'Goony Bird,' I thought to myself. As in Goonies? As in The Goonies? One of my favorite childhood movies in which a group of awkward teens set out to rescue their homes by literally going underground in search of pirate treasure? A true heroes quest and initiation if ever there was one? 'No... Couldn't be,' I thought.
But as I read further, the description of a somewhat clumsy, awkward bird, who had the ability to fly incredible distances with great ease... well, I knew I had found the final thread I was looking for.
The albatross or goonie bird, though odd to some in many ways, is a symbol of the unrelenting spirit of youth and innocence. It is a symbol of the courage it takes to stand up for and protect what is most important to you. It's belief in one's self and the forward facing character that shouts, "Goonies never say die!"
As you may recall from my July update, or, If you had a chance to peek in Vault 13 on Sunday, you'll know that I've been dancing with devine destruction these past few months.
Nothing has gone as planned.
Chaos around every corner.
One step forward, two... make that three... steps back.
And as is often the case, it all began with a story involving a trickster. In this case, a raven.
Without offering a half-baked or epically longwinded play-by- play, I'll simply say the story does a pretty good job of demonstrating what's been going on in my studio. It also drops a fair amount of wisdom and insight regarding what's happening in the world today, on a mythic level.
If you've found yourself troubled by talks of nuclear weapons, acts of racism, hate and generalized small thinking, I encourage you to accept this gift from the ancestors, handed to me from the elders of the Bardolands. Personally, I found the story to be a healing balm and perspective shifter for when things in the world feel profoundly out of balance, externally as well as internally.
If you CLICK HERE, you'll find your way into Vault 13 and have access to the story. Yes, I know, Vault 13 is supposed to have disappeared. Well... I jammed a rock in the doorway which should hold it open for a few more days, just for you!
Though I promised not to go on and on, I do think a small example of the behind the scenes chaos is worth sharing:
Raven sculpture #3 (because two ravens is merely attempted murder -get it? Attempted murder? two ravens... never mind), raven #3 was meant to be small, simple, and super easy.
Oy! To hear me say that now...
The sculpt itself, as simple as it may look in Photo A, was deceptively complex and took several days to complete. But when it was done... I was admittedly very pleased with both it and myself.
Then, I set out to create the mold.
As per the very explicit instructions from the company who makes the silicone, it was to be put in a pressure pot in order to create a mold that would be able to withstand castings being made under pressure and thus create perfect, bubble-free castings.
This procedure completely warped the clay sculpture and resulted in castings that were anything but perfect! Furthermore, while I may have been able to redo the sculpture and pour a second mold, at a considerable expense I might add, I was so deflated, I could hardly bare the thought of starting over.
Literally at the edge of taking the once funny little clay bird and throwing him full force into the barn door, with my arm cocked back, I gave him one last look good-bye.
And that's when it happened.
Just like in the story, though I was far less cool than the old woman about the whole thing, my vision grew.
Right before my eyes, the raven shape-shifted into a new version of itself. The one, I think, it was meant to be all along.
To be clear, it didn't literally change shape, but visually, I saw what it was meant to be and my capacity to understand it three dimensionally, grew.
So, I set to work to make this new vision a reality.
Several days later I finished the sculpture, which could only mean one thing; time to make a mold. Again.
The fact that this latest version was considerable larger only meant I was looking at the possibility of a far more expensive mistake. Success however, was also a distinct possibility.
This time, I chose to create a mold using a process that made way more sense to me, in spite of the fact it went against the manufacturers suggestion. Their logic was off and I knew it. I knew it before too, but I didn't trust myself enough to take the helm and steer the ship in the right direction.
Like any pirate king worth his weight in gold, I took back the ship and sailed straight toward a new horizon.
The final products, each born from their own chaotic experiences, will be ready for release with the eclipse of the sun this coming Monday, August 21st. Like I said, there are three very special and distinct versions of this harbinger of creation, each ready to bring its' new owner some very good medicine.
Yours in service,
Capt. R. M. Trotta, Pirate King of the Bardolands
In Death, Seek Life
This is the credo of the Death Bunnies.
Their mission: To help people find hope in the paradox that lies between impermanence and immortality and to find moments of beauty in loss.
But how do the Death Bunnies live this mission?
What evidence do we have of their existence?
How do we, as they suggest, seek life, in death?
It's my hope to give you a glimmer of what I know about the Death Bunnies and their magic. Fore it has been with great difficulty that I've tried to explain these little critters to others. These little monsters with whom I've danced since the very first time I entered the Bardolands. So perhaps, that's the best place to start...
...It was three months after my twelfth birthday when my father died unexpectedly. I was at once thrown into a place of confusion, fear, and despair. In an instant, death was a great black wall that surrounded me on all sides. And then, within the hour, the first death bunny hopped unapologetically onto the scene.
My mother, grandparents, and several of my fathers siblings where upstairs, sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by the very same darkness that surrounded me. I was downstairs sitting on a couch with my cousin. Both of us silent.
The phone rang a long, cold, metallic ring from the kitchen wall. Its alarm could be felt as it traveled through the walls of the house.
I heard the familiar voice of my Uncle Donald, my father’s oldest brother and my cousin's father, answer the phone. “Yes. Yes. Okay. Okay,” he repeated over and over. His voice speeding up and becoming less stable with each repetition. Then, he hung up.
For just a moment, there was an absolute silence followed by his frantic screaming. At first, the darkness grew somehow blacker still. What new horror had come to pass? But with some effort, I began to understand what he was trying to explain to everyone at the table and the darkness was pushed back like a veil.
For the three plus decades since that morning, until the time of his own death, my Uncle Donald swore every time he was asked, that it was my father on the other end of the phone, clear as day, calling one last time to let us all know everything was going to be okay, he was sorry he had to go, and that he loved us.
Now, If you knew my uncle, you'd know he was the furthest thing from what people today might call, “woo-woo.” He wasn't one for believing in ghost stories. No, he was as practical and pragmatic as you get and he could have quite an edge to him at times. To illustrate my point, when he was once told he would have to go to another check-out counter at the grocery store because he had one more than the allowed twelve items, he took his thirteenth item, a jar of mayonnaise, and hurled it up and over his shoulder. Just as the glass jar exploded on the floor behind him he said to the clerk, "There! Now I have twelve!" and proceeded to put the rest of his groceries down to be checked out. This was not a man keen to discuss energies and auras.
So, for him to swear on his life, that it was his dead brother on the phone that morning of October 13th, well, it was enough to make anyone who knew him take a pause and wonder.
For me however, it was an invitation to take more than a pause. It was a chance to look behind the veil.
"Perhaps," I thought, "death is not what it appears to be". That thought, that curiosity, sparked a fire within me which has burned ever since. I credit the Death Bunny clan for making it so. They're the ones who opened the phone lines between impermanence and immortality on that day. Of this, I am certain.
It’s been more than 30 years since my fathers transition. In that time, I have had the honor to witness the Death Bunnies work their magic all over. They show up where endings begin. They ease the pain and suffering that comes with our resistance to allow what must happen. To see their work first hand, one only need soften their vision and look for the trail of clues they leave behind.
Within hours of pulling the very first Death Bunny sculpture from its mold, my phone rang. Unlike the clunky wall phone of my childhood, this one, a tiny sleek monolith, capable of things few of us could have imagined 30 years earlier, jumped quickly to voicemail. The message was from my mother who wanted to let me know my grandmother had just passed away.
How odd it was, that these tiny talismans of death, should be born just hours before the woman who gave life to my own life-giver, should die.
Boarding a plane the very next day, I thought to myself, In Death, Seek Life. And for the week that followed, I saw Death Bunnies everywhere and became certain the Bardolands are far closer than any of us realize.
Yours in service,
Capt. R M Trotta
Pirate King of the Bardolands
To my great pleasure, many of you wrote to me after my last top-secret email in which I shared the story of my out of body experience.
Turns out, some of you are quite well versed at what I now know to be called, "astral projection."
Oh, man! Talk about opening Pandora's box. This kind of magic isn't entirely new to me but my understanding of it is sure getting deeper. New worlds have literally been opened up to me. So, thank you for sharing your experiences as well as for all the kind words.
My intention for telling the story of that nights' expereicne, was meant to be more of a metaphorical translation of what the Bardolands are. But I think I may have missed the mark, just a bit. So let me see if I can clarify.
The Bardolands are not only that in-between astral plane, they are to my mind, any place of in-between. That is to say, they are a space, or a moment, or an experience where people go spiritually, emotionally, and mythically, in order to become and transform.
Traditionally, our ancestor created rights of passage for this purpose. They understood the significance of shifting identities and the dangers of not shifting when the soul called for it. We'll for me, I've come to realize that this place of becoming, just so happens to be deeply reflective of my Original Medicine or genius.
Now, I know, to talk about ones own genius to the unfamiliar ear, can sound egotistical. However, in ancient Greece, as well as in many other cultures throughout history, it was quite common for people to discuss their genius as the spark of God within. To build relationship to this spark was to build relationship to ones own super power, and my super power is that liminal space of transformation that I call the Bardolands.
For a long time now, my personal mission in this world has been to create a world where all people live deeply connected to their Original Medicine, their genius. Through art and stories, I seek to help people gain access to that space of transformation so they too may know and live from that spark within.
And that my friends, is the story behind the Bardolands.
You know, it occurred to me the other day that I've never really explained what the Bardolands are, or is, or however you say it.
So, let me try to explain with a true story. No alternative facts, I promise.
One night this past summer, I went to bed later than usual. I was both physically and emotionally exhausted from a long, full day of trying to figure out how I was ever going to know the sort of success I wanted as an artist. It's the kind of work as you might imagine, that requires one to sort through and question the fears and beliefs that don't do much in the way of helping.
In any case, I think I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
In what felt like hours later, I heard the call of a screech owl just outside my bedroom window. I rose out of bed. No. I mean, I really rose out of bed. Like, there I was, in the air, looking down at myself sleeping and the strangest part about it was, it felt like the most ordinary thing in the world.
The owl called again, so naturally, I flew out the window after it toward the huge oak tree at the end of the driveway and perched myself right next to him. We sat there together for a while, under the electric moon lit sky. I remained silent while he whinnied his sad, eerie song. The next thing I recall was climbing back into my body and resuming sleep.
I awoke to a blinding morning light streaming through the window. A different set of birds had taken up their shift and sang songs of gratitude to the rising sun. I had one of those long morning stretches that accompany a good night's sleep. Then it hit me, "Holy shit! Did that really happen?!"
Now, before you conclude I was dreaming or even lucid dreaming, let me assure you, I am well versed at both. This was no dream. There was an owl outside my window that night. In fact, I continued to hear the same owl call for several nights after, in the same tree, before going to bed.
I am certain I left my body that night and for a short period of time, existed in what I can only describe as a place in-between worlds. I really don't know how to explain it any better, except to say that I have the sense I had become more sound then flesh. As though the molecules of my body defused into everything else around me. It was both weird and amazing and to this day, I can still recall, in a very sensory way, every second of the experience.
Now, if you're rolling your eyes at this claim, I get it and I don't blame you. Not one bit. I'd have a hard time understanding it too if it hadn't happened to me personally. But really, it doesn't matter if you understand or even believe me. What's important, and something I know you already get or else you would be reading this, is the significance of that "in-between" space I now call The Bardolands.
This is a place of liminality.
It's a place of becoming.
And it's pure magic.
Just a week after this experience, while thumbing through the Tibetan Book of the Dead, as one does after such an event, I came across the concept of the Bardos; a multi-staged and layered field that exists between life and death. And while that's about the only connection my use of the word has to the Book of the Dead's, I finally had a name for where I went that night. The place I go to become, create, and support others to do the same. A place in many ways, I have been visiting most of my life unconsciously, until now.
Cool, right? I think so.