“The Compassion Mythology” project emerged as artist Karen Wilcox stepped back to reflect on the more than 40 sculptures and paintings she had created since 2000. She had amassed a portfolio that included a hybrid of human and serpent figures that expressed everything from betrayal to ascension.
“I felt compelled to create them, but I did not understand where they came from – it was almost as if they sprung directly from my subconscious,” she says.
As she worked to bring together a cohesive theory about her portfolio, a re-envisioning of the mythology of creation developed for her.
“All mythologies that I researched began with a creation story – most from a masculine viewpoint,” Wilcox says. She envisioned a creation mythology that reshaped traditional patriarchal myth. “It became obvious to me that half of the story was missing. I envisioned my own creation story that evokes feminine strength, compassion and wisdom.”
Wilcox printed images of all of her artwork in this series on 4-by-6-inch cards. She created word lists, mind maps and flow charts and, with the printed art cards, arranged them on a large board. A collage took the shape of a branching tree that grew to be 52 inches tall by 106 inches wide. She added symbolism from her study of world religions and mythologies.
“It’s like a family tree,” Wilcox says. “It infers the tree of life, Scandinavian mythology, Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah, Hindu deities, sacred texts’ illustrations and tapestries.” She created more paintings to fill in the gaps of the story line – female and male supreme deities, an earth goddess, a sky god and the ancestor of humans.
Titled “Parable,” the work offers an “alternative to traditional belief systems,” Wilcox says. “It mocks the patriarchy with an equally biased matriarchal view of creation.”
Wilcox believes that we all have a personal mythology. “Most of us live by a basic moral code and then continuously adapt it to fit our personal circumstance,” she says. “My personal mythology is: How do I view myself and my place in the world, as a female growing up within a patriarchal culture?”
A healing nature
Wilcox credits her rich inner life to having grown up on the prairies of Nebraska. Her family roots are in farmland, where you “can see the horizon,” she says. As a girl, she spent a lot of time in nature and in solitude. She and her sister were encouraged to draw and paint.
She came to the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, to study fine arts, illustration and photography, and then later, continued her arts education at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). She attended the Women’s Art Institute (WAI) in 1999 and 2000, and in 2001 was the teacher’s assistant at WAI. A member of WARM (Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota), Wilcox has been both an artist mentee and a mentor. She’s currently the communications manager for the Minnesota chapter of Women’s Caucus for Art and the project coordinator for the upcoming “Women and Money Project.”
The quote, “We are our grandmother’s hands” was running through Wilcox’s mind as she created “Flora” – the artwork on this month’s cover – to honor ancestors. “The grandmothers worked so hard to survive,” she says. “They worked the land with their husbands and children. They sustained their families and also brought beauty and grace into their families and the world.”
Wilcox used images of flowers from her garden and other elements as symbols of feminine creative energy, healing and fertility in this artwork, created with chalk pastels and watercolor pencils. In her research she had learned that Flora was the goddess of fertility in Western mythology. “She is a contemporary ‘Flora’ from a feminine view,” Wilcox says. “She’s entwined in nature. The power of creative energy is coming from her.”
When she is not creating art, Wilcox works as a studio manager assisting other artists to organize their studios and manage their paperwork and digital files. It’s her nature to organize and categorize. But, she says, her first “job as an artist is to be a creator and a communicator – to open a dialogue. Together we can come to a deeper understanding of each other and the world we share.”
Karen Wilcox recommends these books by women authors on feminine spirituality and mythology.
The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects by Barbara G. Walker
Dancing in the Flames: The Dark Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness by Marion Woodman and Elinor Dickson
The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe by Lynne McTaggart
The Living Goddesses by Marija Gimbutas
The Moon and the Virgin, Reflections on the Archetypal Feminine by Nor Hall
The Once and Future Goddess: A Symbol for Our Time by Elinor W. Gadon