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

garden of the goddessThe color-infused canvases of Toronto-based artist, Claire Elek, will float you into a world resplendent with dreamy, mythical images.

She has the depth of a spiritual teacher when talking about shamanism, Jungian theology and female archetypes — and not surprisingly, they are powerful influences in her paintings.

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.

hero’s journey

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.

trickster

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.

circle of power

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.

snakeman

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.

claire elekMeet Claire Elek inside her virtual gallery.

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37 Responses to “The art of being”

  1. First of all, Claire, THANK YOU for your art! It is beautiful. I am sure even more so in person than on this site. You journey is taking you far. Your art is not only beautiful but can be a way in to the realm of inner awareness you describe here, integrating into a Whole Consciousness. Art is a great pathway. It’s as if (and probably just is) the Collective Unconscious seeks to express itself through art so that we can each grow in awareness and live consciously, no longer fractionalized within or separated from each other.

    Thank you!

  2. Thank you David, not only for your aesthetic appreciation of my art, but also for your understanding of it… Yes, my journey in self development, spiritual/psychological,through spiritual practises, self-examination and through self expression in my art has taken me far and continues to do so.. I believe we never stop learning and growing…. And as I meet spiritual people in and outside Facebook, and getting each person’s perspective on my paintings, I am learning so much more about the meaning in these paintings. I am very grateful for these insights and seeing how they inspire others artistically/spiritually/psychologically.

  3. I love that you pointed out how the children are our teachers. And I love the way you look in your picture. I can see the love in your eyes.

  4. Thank you Anne, what a nice thing to say.. yes, we can learn a lot from children if we just take the time to observe them.

    Blessings,
    Claire

  5. I love your work Claire, and look forward to meeting you in person in a couple of weeks. I appreciate your imagery of strong female characters in your paintings. We need more of this! Thanks for your beautiful, gentle spirit and your art work. Your spirit shines through in all of your pieces. I can’t wait to see them!

    All the best,

    Cyndi

  6. Incredible art. Is there someplace she has her works on display or is there a show coming up? I would love to attend. Let me know.

  7. Vibrant colour, vivid and striking imagery. How large are some of the pieces? I’d love to see them in person.”

  8. ..Wonderful, insightfull. healing work…so grateful to have you in the comeunity spreading your seeds…create a spendid day…p.s thanks cyndi ingle for bringing me here…namaste to all beings.

  9. Jim, Alex, Michael.. Thank you all for your wonderful, appreciative comments. The paintings and folding screens I haven’t yet sold are in my studio/loft in Toronto. If you’re in Toronto and would like to see them I would be happy to arrange a viewing.
    I am also planning to hold another open house this year to display the whole series before they get further broken up..

    Michael I’m glad to be in this community where I keep meeting interesting, spiritual people. When I joined Facebook I hadn’t imagined how far this journey would take me in just three months. I feel very blessed..

  10. Faith Kamau(lafoi) Reply 04. Feb, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Great pieces of art work Claire.I like the theme in your paintings.Especially because they speak for and to the soul and the deepest part of us.Good work Claire.
    lafoi

  11. Hi Cyndi,

    It was great talking with you as well. I too am looking forward to meeting you in person. Thank you for your heart-felt comments. Yes, we do need more strong females in art and in life. I believe more women need to let their light shine and reveal their inner goddesses… I am looking forward to showing you my paintings… Thank you for the opportunity to talk about them in your publication.

    Blessings,
    Claire

  12. Thank you Faith for your comments and your support. It means a lot to me..

  13. Gorgeous…Very vibrant and each one tells a story…Thank you x0x

  14. Dinah Tarot Reader Reply 05. Feb, 2009 at 6:17 am

    Very Gauguin…beautiful colours…

  15. Thank you so much for your appreciation of my paintings, Muriel and Dinah..

    Blessings,
    Claire

  16. Karen Cornelisse Reply 05. Feb, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this…what a fabulous artist.

  17. Thank you Karen..how nice..my pleasure, I love sharing my art..

    Blessings,
    Claire

  18. This is a truly beautiful article of inspiration and movement towards wholeness that is seen so clearly in these bright, colourful, emotion-filled, ebullient paintings that are always firmly grounded in draftsmanship. We can sing and be wild and dance and meditate and be together in these paintings, Claire. You offer a vision of the world to the world where imagination and the mysteries of the psyche and the extraordinary world we live in that is profound. Having spent my early years in a jungle in Africa, and getting to know quite well the local Witch Doctor, I resonate with your imagery and the lush fertile vibrance of nature at its most rampant, as well as with the inner journeying towards healing ourselves, each other, and the planet itself. Thank you Soul’s Code for this article on and interview with this brilliant painter…

  19. Thank you Brenda for this beautiful tribute to my journey and to my art..and for your appreciation of my “jungle” and for acknowledging that my journey into the unknown is a lot of peoples’ journey… Your poetic words always move me..Yes, I feel very fortunate to have been able to tell my story in this spiritual, but open-minded magazine.

    Blessings,
    Claire

  20. Christina Resell Reply 07. Feb, 2009 at 10:11 am

    These pictures are wonderful!

  21. Thank you Christina.. I’m glad you like them.

    Blessings,
    Claire

  22. Genius…there are a few peole in this world that channel pure genius and that is something that runs through all your work Clair you are Genius, thank you for your being here, All good blessings, ariel

  23. I do always look at your work and pages, they are so beautiful…
    Clair You are a very special soul.
    love and light
    Solange

  24. je suis ici car jai bien aier vs dessin
    jai chercher votre lein pour voir vos oeuvres
    splendide claire
    c’est tres beau
    bon contuniation
    mes amitiées les plsu sinceres
    zineb oulidi
    artiste peintre et poete marocaine

  25. Very lovely. Really enjoyed my visit.

  26. I love these images. They arise from a deep place of commitment to expression.

    We are privileged to have Claire’s art and creative courage.

    Claire, please post in this thread about upcoming exhibitions of your work!

  27. I’m sorry I haven’t visited my interview article for a while so I hadn’t realized some wonderful comments and questions that have been left here. I’ve also had a very difficult year…First of all thank you to everyone who took the time to leave a comment and to view my art on my website.
    Let me address some of these comments and questions now some left over a year ago.
    Ariel,.. what a surprisingly wonderful thing to say..Solange very sweet.. I like your visions as well..Zineb merci beaucoup..Casey I’m glad you’ve enjoyed your visit..
    Paul thank you for your acknowledgement of my creative struggle to express my visions on canvas.
    I will have another exhibition in my studio perhaps in the spring if I complete the large water garden painting I’m currently working on. If you’d like to see the progression of this painting I invite you to visit my Facebook Page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Claire-Elek/26521491510 and I will certainly post the date of my next exhibition here and on my Facebook Pages. The reason I have been showing my art in my studio is because a few of these, some of the main paintings of this series are very large 97″ x 72″ and difficult to move in and out. I may be showing them in other locations though in the future if I get a longer show perhaps in a larger space. I am also planning to work smaller perhaps reduce my canvases to 48″ x 36″ or so once I complete this large painting.Thank you for your interest.
    If anyone would like to learn the size of my paintings in this series the sizes are posted under the paintings on my website and on my Facebook Page..

  28. Hi Claire… am a Tarot reader and Reiki master…love doing sketching,painting. Thanks a lot Claire for sharing such wonderful thoughts. Paintings are amazing and pushes one to go deep inside themselves…namaste

  29. Thank you Jaspal.. my pleasure..I agree with you as I’ve always felt that my paintings were a sort of therapy for me.

  30. Angela Davis
    reddawnnart@sky.com
    http://www.artshamanic.co
    Hello Clare, I found your article today. Thank you I relate to everything you have written and enjoyed your beautiful work. I use the drum before I paint annd find the shamanic experience continues as I paint, like you it goes deep and is an evolution of the soul. It is embracing to find such a connection and comfirms the flow. I long for fellow artists connection quite alot of the time. Have you ome aross Meinrhad Craighead
    her recent dvd is inpiring…..I expect you must have.
    Angela uk

  31. Thank you Angela. It’s interesting that you use the drum before you paint. Yes, I agree that it’s an evolution of the soul. I’ve been working recently on several paintings, including a large water garden with a guiding lantern in it,which is on my website, a painting I’ve titled “The Garden of Life”, which is almost complete and currently an evolving drawing I call “Structures and Integration”. It is Shamanic and Jungian in content as far as natural cellular structures are emerging and dream-like images are beginning to flow into one another. I’ve featured these on my Facebook Page http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/pages/Claire-Elek/26521491510 if you’re interested.
    I will also check out your website and the DVD you mentioned.

  32. Hello,
    I just wanted to update you on my artistic progress and spiritual/psychological progress since my last correspondence. As I told you I had a difficult two years since two of my closest family members passed.As a result of these tragedies taking place one after the other, my physical and psychological well-being were affected and I felt I needed help. However, these tragedies have taken me into new and exciting directions. Through synchronicity I met a Jungian/Shamanic facilitator called Andrew Camargo http://www.hermeticshamanism.com and began therapy sessions with him. With his guidance I started doing inner work,learning to decipher dream images and communicate with and draw archetypes in order to befriend them and be open to have them transmute. We’ve been examining my dream messages and my art images, dealing with the Shadow and contacting spiritual allies.
    Through this work I began a deeper healing journey and have been able to remove some blocks that have prevented me from drawing deeply from my unconscious and from receiving an unobstructed flow of messages from spirit during drawing and painting. I’ve completed two paintings, one of a water garden, the third in a series of water garden paintings which I had begun before starting therapy and in which I wanted to symbolically show the three levels of the psyche, the lower, the middle and the upper level. In this painting the guiding spirit is represented by a lantern in the upper middle of the painting. The next painting I created I call “The Garden of Life” as it is a healing garden, a garden for the healing of the heart. In it a surreal image of a stitched human heart represents human healing.
    My psychological/spiritual healing journey continues. Recently I began a drawing of two trees. My aim as in previous paintings of nature was to enjoy the forms and patterns in nature, the sensuous beauty and movement of tree roots and branches as and the texture of their bark. However, I was open as usual to whatever wanted to come through. Well, I was greatly surprised when I realized that this drawing was becoming much more than I anticipated. It took on a life of its own with skeletal forms in between the roots, insect-like and crustacean forms in the lower part, tiny particles of matter that seemed to be building blocks in pod-like forms higher up and then wavy lines in the upper part. I had an inkling that what I might be experiencing might be partly a picture of my psyche.I derived that from the fact the bottom part of the drawing contained skeletal forms and hollow funnel shapes as well as archetypal reptilian and crustacean forms in womb like hollows. I had learned that the lower part of the psyche according to Jung is where the unconscious is located. To me the skeletal forms seemed to be symbols of death in this realm. And I also knew from my knowledge of the meaning of some images in the Tarot and from Shamanic journeys that reptiles and crustaceans live in the lower realms.But how did these relate to the tiny particles that kept repeating, what I thought might be building blocks of matter?
    I didn’t understand the complete meaning of the drawing until one day after drawing a snake into the drawing. Perhaps this archetypal image had opened my mind, I don’t know. The I Ching says that if you’re aligned with the Universe you receive what you need. Perhaps that alignment took place at this point.
    By this time I had entitled the drawing “The Tree of Knowledge”, being sure that the large tree I created was like the Tree of Knowledge, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tree_of_life, bringing me important information not only about myself, but about the human psyche and the cosmos. I noticed that I was seeing tree branches upon tree branches,some appearing fully formed with texture on their surface, others appearing as lines ,forms flowing into other forms and some of the waves turning into forms with the aid of tiny particles. I also noticed that there was continuous creation of forms and some created forms developing other forms and reaching upwards. I suddenly realized that I was experiencing a miraculous process,the process of creation itself. Through the psychological/spiritual work I had been doing somehow I seemed to have aligned myself to the Universe, and truths, layers of reality and alternate realities were being revealed to me.I realized that I was a part of Universal creation and my heart beat was beating to the rhythm of the Universe. In fact, I realized That I had always been part of this creative force, just didn’t know I was because of the blocks in my psyche created by wounds from my past obstructed my mind.
    As soon as I complete the drawing or take it as far as I want to take it, I will embark on a series of paintings examining the messages I’ve been offered in the drawing. This is an exciting journey I eagerly anticipate.
    If you’d like to view the completed paintings I mentioned and the developing stages in this drawing, please feel free to visit my Page on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/?sk=app_291549705119#!/pages/Claire-Elek/26521491510

    Blessings,
    Claire

  33. I just wanted to let you know that I no longer have my website online. If you want to view my artwork and its progression,feel free to peruse my Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Claire-Elek/26521491510

  34. You’re work is very beautiful and compelling. It’s great to gaze into this world through the lens of your mind.

  35. Thank you very much George.

  36. My painting The Tree of Knowledge that is being transformed by my conscious, unconscious/spirit is progressing. If you would like to see the stages of progression I invite you to my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Claire-Elek/26521491510

  37. My artwork can no longer be viewed on mobileme website but on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Claire-Elek/26521491510?ref=hl and in my video on Youtube http://youtu.be/H3cyzy7bAyk