The art of being
Claire Elek’s paintings have names like, “The Hero’s Journey into the Bone Forest.” In a Soul’s Code exclusive, Elek reveals her own heroine’s path of self-discovery
The color-infused canvases of Toronto-based artist, Claire Elek, will float you into a world resplendent with dreamy, mythical images.
A catalyst for Elek’s highly-collectible art (one of her drawings is owned by Canadian author Margaret Atwood) were her Gauguin-like travels through South America and Southeast Asia.
Soul’s Code checked in with Elek, for an exclusive Q&A interview:
SOUL’S CODE: You often sound more like a spiritual teacher than a painter. Do you offer counseling?
Claire Elek: No, I don’t offer counseling except through Tarot readings when I channel messages directly to the person asking for advice. I created the first “Hero’s Journey” painting as a myth, or fairy tale with a moral ending, a tale of spiritual adventure, and the others evolved from that idea. As we develop psychologically, we also develop spiritually. Our happiness depends on how we are able to deal with emotions like anger. I’ve learned to deal with my demons by using self-examination and meditation.
Many ancient tribal people believed that there is spirit in everything, animate or inanimate. Everything is alive and has consciousness. We are seeing this in quantum physics now. When we’re involved with personal pains and struggles, we can’t reach that part of ourselves that is pure consciousness and is part and parcel of every other consciousness.
When we are able to detach from these emotions, we connect with this consciousness — and that’s enlightenment. I have evolved characters like that in many of my paintings, like the “Green Man” in “The Hero’s Journey into the Bone Forest” (right) who is part of nature and spirit.
Another is the “Trickster” (below), who reminds us to laugh at ourselves — and that life is not real but just a game we created. “The Goddess in the Garden” (the image at the top of the page) is derived from the Strength card in Tarot, which speaks to transition.
SOUL’S CODE: Do the goddess-like figures in your paintings reflect your personal spiritual practice? Are you a card-carrying member of the Goddess Movement?
Claire Elek: I don’t engage in any one spiritual practice or follow a single belief system. However, I do follow certain Buddhist pratices such as meditation. Lately I’ve taken journeys into the Akashic Records to learn about my past lives, and to release karma in this life. I often receive visual aid and guidance from what I believe to be Spirit, during my painting.
I believe Spirit contacts us in many ways, through our dreams, through inner work and through our imaginations. I often receive angelic guidance during my channelling. Myths activate the realm that Jung called collective subconscious, where all knowledge resides and where we all meet in spirit.
SOUL’S CODE: Speaking of spiritual teachers, who is your favorite out there today?
Claire Elek: There are many, but one of my recent discoveries is Eckhart Tolle. His theories have come into play for me. The female or anima in the garden needs to balance her animal nature and her human nature in order to be whole. Jung called this “individuation,” the union of the animus and anima. In my painting, “The Garden of the Goddess”, the goddess is the evolved female.
SOUL’S CODE: Does interacting with children as an elementary teacher impact on your art work and spirituality?
Claire Elek: I love working with younger children because I feel that they still express themselves spontaneously and lovingly, without censoring themselves. They are able to reach those places of the imagination that we as adults and artists have to work hard to reach.
I see in their art, especially in kindergarten, an intimacy with Spirit and to their own spirits. They create these stories and myths effortlessly. I love to watch them lost in their play. To them, it’s all just play until someone tells them that it’s “work,” and that they need to do things a certain way.
From that indoctrination, kids learn to be judgmental of themselves and others. And as a result, they lose their authenticity and their connection little by little. These young children remind me that I have to keep my “innocence,” and recapture my childlike authenticity, to be close to spirit.
SOUL’S CODE: Where did shamanism enter the picture for you?
Claire Elek: The opportunity of a lifetime came up when I got to travel to Mexico, learned about the Mayans, and their myths and visited the pyramids in Merida, Mexico. I saw wonderful stone reliefs of their rituals. Five years later, I took an extensive trip through South East Asia, and absorbed incredible Indonesian theater and art. I realized Jung’s archetypes were alive in those works.
Suddenly my eyes were opened as I connected contemporary Jungian archetypes with the ancient spiritual and tribal characters in these artistic and dramatic creations. When I came home I engrossed myself in books about Shamanism, especially, “The Way of the Shaman” by Michael Harner.
Through a synchronicity, I attended a workshop he gave and learned to “journey” (dream in a deep meditative state, induced by a monotonous drum beat). Later, I joined a Shamanic Circle and did other healing workshops.
In these experiences, I received personal healing messages for myself and others through “power animals,” kind of like the creatures you see in the movie The Golden Compass.
SOUL’S CODE: How did you integrate those spiritual experiences with your painting technique?
Claire Elek: I was in this period of drawing and painting my plants. I set them by windows where the sun created beautiful patterns on their leaves and my tables. I used light to create interesting shadows behind them on the canvas. One day, I’d left a painting of a jungle scene on my drawing-table — and I decided to play with illusions.
I set some plants in pots up in front of the painting, and started a new drawing of the plants and the painting together. Well, all of a sudden the pots seemed really superfluous. And my drawing became a dense jungle I called “Crazy Rhythm,” inspired by the Jazz age in 1920′s America.
This experiment freed me. It released my imagination.
SOUL’S CODE: If the act of creating is a form of therapy, how did this professional breakthrough help you personally?
Claire Elek: My next big turning point was a trip to Costa Rica and the rainforest. I’d read a lot about shape-shifting in shamanic trances. Depicting myths about transformation, I came up with “The Garden of the Goddess” (the image at the top of this page). It shows a female hero shape-shift from animal into human form — a classic trope in shamanic folklore.
At the same time, these myths became a sort of personal therapy for me, as I struggled to find the courage to face my fears of the unknown. They helped me reach down into my authentic self, and begin to express my strengths and weaknesses in relationships.
Adults sometimes have a more difficult time moving into unknown territory because of certain childhood experiences.
Sometimes these dangers may feel so scary that we believe our psychological survival may be threatened by a kind of death of our sanity.
Meet Claire Elek inside her virtual gallery.