In the Hands of Alchemy
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Duponis Magazine
Interview by Caressa Bolden
July 24, 2004
See this article on the Duponis Magazine Web site

Duponis: You don't need to be a baby boomer to have heard about the generation of "flower children," free spirits who cast their need for wealth and position to the wind for a simpler life. Would you consider your move to strip yourself of money and material possessions akin to what some people of that generation did?
Jerry: There may be some small impulse where there is a similarity between my journey and to the movement of the 60’s —some sense of possibility and freedom that may have been intuited. However, I also feel there is a difference. My journey has been more the result of deep and alone listening and the perception that there was something stirring in the collective requiring a new kind of attention.

The spirit of the 60’s was something of a free for all -- a bandwagon with mixed results. As a “movement,” which occurred mostly on the surface, the 60’s were ungrounded and most of us were not able to sustain the vision we originally were so attracted to. However well intended, when we jump into any movement we inevitably abandon our personal connection to the mystery in order to fit in with the larger plan. Somewhere along the way, the shadow of that abandoned entity will come back to haunt us. In this case, it has come back to haunt the larger society. The way in which the shadow of the 60’s is living itself out is in the way we have gone excessively in the opposite direction. We have placed our faith in the things that money can buy-- the comforts and distractions. We have abandoned the ideals of peace and have replaced it with a false sense of security, which includes even smarter bombs for protecting our investments and our indulgent way of life. For the most part, it is the 60’s baby boomers who have abandoned the ideal all-together, and have sold our world down the river.

With the exception of a few real wisdom keepers who were able to maintain the vision and transcend the false sense of freedom that came out of the 60’s, the potential of that time was lost on most of us. It is all very different now. We are in a collective reality shift where the change required of us - the zeitgeist - is demanding change at a much deeper level. The shift is more internal -- less celebratory and obvious as it was in the 60’s. What is required of us now, is deep and courageous listening and a response to the quiet inner promptings we perceive. Then we can create new language for ourselves and for our world. Artists will create art -- poets will create poems, but something new will come through. Rilke describes this point well in a passage from his poem, * Dan bete du, wei es dich dieser lehrt (To that younger brother):
“I return to paint upon the altars
Those old holy forms
But they shone differently,
Fierce in their beauty”
For whatever reason, in 1979 I felt the need to turn away from the larger forces of external influence. Rather than looking for support from what was going around me, my journey led me to the most undesirable and uninhabitable areas of both the personal and the collective psyche. Inspiration was and is a mystery. In a sense, I was exploring the science of inspiration. In other words, what were the conditions surrounding that quantum leap that brought an inspired moment to life? And then—how could I give all of my life to the experience of inspired freedom? What went on with the flower children may have begun innocently enough and there was in fact, a kernel of inspiration at the core of the quest for freedom in the 60s. However, sustainable freedom is hard earned and for the most part, avoided by most of us due to the inherent discomfort and loneliness of the journey.
Duponis: What enabled you to let go of your identity as an artist and make this faith-filled journey?
Jerry: The studio was a kind of laboratory for me. Having dabbled in the mystery of creation and more specifically, inspiration I came to understand a bit about the strange reality of this very illusive gift. I began to trust and work with something larger than my will, intelligence and good intentions. My identity as an artist seemed puny in comparison to what I intuited life could be. I felt if I were to fully give myself to the formless allurement of inspiration I was sensing, it would completely transform and inspire both my art and my life. In 1979 this is what I gave myself to when I let go of my identity as an artist (by destroying my art) gave everything I owned away and decided to trust life completely without interference. The interesting paradox, which I believe speaks to the element of inspiration in this choice, is the fact that I have been given more attention and have touched the world more as an artist as a result of destroying my art than I ever received for creating it.
Duponis: For some, trust in any form is difficult. In terms of "unconditional trust," what were some of the life-altering lessons you learned during your ten-year sojourn?
Jerry: The greatest lesson I learned was that I was not in control and that I could trust and co-create within some larger harmony. This level of trust allowed reality to unfold in ways more significant and beautiful than I could ever have strategically arranged for myself.
Duponis: Your sculpture, The Alchemist, with its intricate details and varied working parts seems to speak to the multiplicity of self. Does it in any way reflect your own personality and how?
Jerry: I don’t feel there is any real or significant personality interpretation to be made with my current artwork. I suppose the world will always look for this in relation to an artist’s personal psyche and I welcome the attempt, however I feel there is a more collective expression coming through my work at this time.

My earlier paintings revealed much more about my personality, and more importantly, about my process. With the earlier work, I would paint into the areas of my psyche where I felt limited or afraid, and in the process I would find liberation and freedom from the original impulse - which may have been to run. For example, I had visited an insane asylum when I was younger so in the 70’s I did a series of paintings on the insane. These old paintings are now on our web site -- being seen for the first time in public. Because I saw something of myself in the eyes of the insane, they frightened me. Painting was a way to turn and walk straight into those areas I found most disturbing. The paintings I did at that time were very literal and dealt mostly with the surface expression of insanity. This particular series of paintings expressed all of the fear and repulsion I experienced in my attempt to translate my encounters with insanity. Doing these paintings allowed me to enter insanity at a soul level where

I eventually saw the innocence and beauty of the people I had painted. The liberation came in knowing those I fear are like me and that it was okay.
Duponis: How would you compare The Alchemist to your other work?
Jerry: I don’t know what kind of significant comparison there is to be made between The Alchemist and some of the other art pieces, except to say it is a little more involved and complex than some of the others. It has a steam engine activating a variety of noisy and mechanical actions in the piece.

Marilyn, (my wife) and I were exploring alchemy and the lives of some of the 17th century alchemists when I began this piece. A friend visited one day and asked if I could repair a toy steamroller he had in England as a child. I was fascinated with the way the steam engine worked and decided to make one. This was the humble beginning of this rather comical art piece.
Duponis: And, how has your creative evolution -- from painting to creating the interactive boxes affected (?? is it “affected” or effected??) your overall work?
Jerry: I would say levity is the most significant affect to come out of my evolution from painting to creating the interactive boxes. Marilyn also says my current work is far more “embodied,” which I agree.

My life as a young painter in the studio was a very serious and ungrounded affair. I was extremely driven and determined to find some essential meaning to it all. I often say about that time in my life, if I could have painted my way to heaven I would have done it because I tried hard enough! As I said earlier, inspiration is a gift, not an accomplishment so I don’t take my actions so seriously any more, nor do I try and force the gift. Accessing this gift effortlessly, with more efficiency has become the holy science of my creative attention. The creative process includes everything now; from the way I get out of bed in the morning to the unexpected interruptions in life - everything counts! I have come to realize that tending the natural flow of life’s details offers a far more effective foundation for creation than any controlling strategy.
Duponis: Explain the interactive boxes and what compelled you to create them.
Jerry: It is only now, from the vantage point of retrospect, that I am able to explain the allurement to creating the interactive box series. The focus of my journey both as an artist and as someone seeking greater understanding has been to face my fears. The boxes are spooky and very coffin-like, often invoking the response of fear for some people. The boxes stand from 6 to 8 feet high and are wider at the top than at the bottom. They are carved and weathered cedar and include electric motors, mechanical devices and many found and altered objects. These added components are mostly made of brass and copper. All of the boxes have a main upper chamber, which open like doors and have life sized carved figures or masks inside.

What I have come to see, after creating interactive boxes ten years, is that the coffin-like art pieces offer the viewer a confrontation with something that might be interpreted as death. If one can get past the initial fear of this response and actually interact with the art pieces they offer many gifts and surprises. They all have secret compartments, some of which dispense talismans and other objects, some offer divination. Some of the art pieces offer an element of surprise, some shock into wakefulness while others simply entertain.

The boxes express three dimensionally, the gifts that are available to us when we can find the courage to confront those aspects of our lives that might otherwise frighten us and cause us to turn away from the experience.
Duponis: How has your artistic style shown in your paintings evolved from the "exploratory" phase of your earlier work to where it is now?
Jerry: The artwork has become three-dimensional. The last paintings I did before destroying my work were similar in size to the current interactive boxes. The paintings were life sized interactive figures painted on both sides of 6 X 1foot strips of canvas. One side of the panel was painted with a dark figure, the other a light figure. The paintings hung from a string and constantly moved and changed from one figure to the other. The paintings were also involved with the dualistic and paradoxical nature of life and the human experience.
Duponis: How has your union with singer and adult education teacher, Marilyn Strong, affected your sense of self and your outlook for the future?
Jerry: I don’t know that it did have an affect on my sense of self. A large part of the work I did, after giving up the world, was establishing a sense of self separate from any human validation, influence or dependence. For 12 years I remained celibate and did not pursue relationship. It was after years of personal, inner work that life opened outward to include a personal relationship. When Marilyn and I met she was coming out of a painful divorce and I was just beginning my return to the world so neither of us were interested in personal relationship. We were friends for quite a long while before opening to the possibility of relationship. It was the conditions created by a good, solid friendship and the fact that neither of us wanted anything that allowed for the possibility of a relationship to gently emerge.

Being in relationship with Marilyn however, did affect my outlook for the future. One naturally thinks differently when involved in a committed relationship. Once we were together we began to also create our work together, which involved vision and a reach into the future as a couple. More importantly, we created something larger than both of us; something beyond our ideas and expectations of ourselves or our relationship -something Robert Bly poetically calls “The Third Body.”
Duponis: Jerry, what do you and Marilyn seek to impart on people who attend your lectures and workshops?
Jerry: More than anything else we are responding to what is asked of us by others. It is clear to me from working with many individuals that reality is shifting and changing for many of us at this time and it seems to be happening in radical ways. Our old way of being on the planet is no longer working nor is it sustainable to the earth as a whole. Many of us are being forced through circumstances, often beyond our control, to create and focus our lives in new directions. This new way seems to ask of us a greater, more all-inclusive and harmonious way of being on the planet.

I feel what I have to offer others who are opening up to this collective change is my story and what I have discovered living the life I have lived. My once strange story has more recently become useful to others going through similar experiences. It has offered an alternative point of view to others experiencing the loss of an old identity that no longer serves them. It is often the more sensitive and creative people among us who respond first to the shift going on in the collective.

Our work together has grown out of helping others make this shift. Within the last three or four years we have been doing this work in varied workshop formats in different parts of the country. In our workshops we share tools for this archetypal journey, the myths and stories that support it, the writings of those who have explored it in depth, such as Carl Jung, and those wisdom traditions that provide a template for the process such as the Hermetic tradition, otherwise known as alchemy. Our programs are generally experiential and weave together a variety of teaching modes. We try to create a rich and well-rounded learning experience. In each workshop we use drumming and chanting, presentation, discussion, storytelling, personal sharing, sacred ceremony and artistic expression to create a safe and nurturing community in which to affirm our unique gifts and plant the seeds of transformation in our lives.