Monday, February 7, 2011

The Creative Word

The Clay Tablet Series: "Creative Word #4"
2010, Mixed Media: Clay, Gel, Pigments, Acrylics, 15"x17"x2"
Artist: Anthony Vodraska

As an artist, two aspects of the Creative Word of God have always intrigued me.  First, that the Creative Word brought all of creation into being and remains the underlying animating force that sustains, renews and governs all that was, is or will ever be.  Second, whether through successive Manifestations of God progressively revealing His Teachings across the ages, countless gifted souls sharing their experience of the transcendent, or the efforts of each person striving to make choices that express the divine in everyday life, our understanding of the Creative Word is being continuously transformed.
The artifacts of human history document the efforts of embodied souls using objects, images, symbols, language and actions to bring us closer to understanding and experiencing the transcendent.  I use seemingly indecipherable symbols and marks that have a rather personal intuitive meaning or expression to represent the Creative Word.  I have used these symbols and marks to create ceremonial clay sculptural objects that could have been artifacts unearthed from some lost civilization.  Though the symbols and scripts may no longer be understood, their use convey a story of the connection between those people and the transcendent. 

This interest in clay ceremonial artifacts evolved into the current Clay Tablet Series.  The clay tablet is more of a clay-wrap than a flat tablet.  A thin clay slab is manipulated, folded in on itself, fired, readied for surface treatments and ultimately hung directly on a wall.  It merges my interest in carving, marking and manipulating clay with printing on acrylic gels to transfer on to 3D objects.  "Creative Word #4" also explores my interest in shadows as a metaphor.  The significance of shadows for me will be discussed in more detail in a subsequent blog in relation to another work. 

In this particular work, the left and right edges of the clay tablet have a complex texture made by impressing natural objects on wet clay.  This seemingly chaotic surface is intended to convey the complex surface appearance in nature that often conceals the hidden structure underlying nature.
Behind the shadow image are indecipherable symbols impressed into clay that represent the hidden Creative Word which is both the animating force and underlying structure of the physical world.  In this sense, the Names of God are embodied in His creation.  The symbols are barely visible when viewed straight on but become more apparent when viewing the work obliquely suggesting that an inner spiritual vision is needed to pierce the veils and see the true nature of the world around us.  The shadow image is a pigment print on gel which is laminated onto clay using a gel medium.

Anthony Vodraska               

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Life's Many Changes

It has been six months since my last posting and much has happened and changed in our lives.  While our art work has been an important and constant thread throughout this period, life's other sorrows and joys have frequently needed our undivided attention.  My Mother's deteriorating health last Summer and her passing in August 2010  weighed heavily on us.  We are grateful that we were able to return to the Midwest in 2007 after many years overseas in order to spend these last three years with her and my siblings.  May her spirit enjoy a myriad heavenly bounties, joyful reunion with family members that have gone before her and an enduring peace in God's loving and compassionate embrace.  

In September and October we took a two month road trip to the East Coast to visit our family.  Our oldest daughter and husband living in the metro DC area were blessed with a beautiful baby girl, Olivia, in January.  Our granddaughter is an absolute joy to be around and we are counting the weeks until our next visit.  We then traveled up to Boston via the Berkshires to spend a few weeks with our youngest daughter and her fiancĂ©.  We thoroughly enjoyed helping our daughter reorganize her studio space and immersing ourselves in the Boston art scene, visiting several galleries and museums. We eventually found our way to Wisconsin to visit my brother and his fiancĂ©e.  All the while, we were treated to gorgeous fall colors.  Once home, we labored hard to finish Fall harvests and prepare our gardens and the acreage for the approaching Winter.

We both had time to reflect upon the direction of our respective art work and how that meshes with our personal and shared life goals.  With another grandchild on the way and concerns over our distance from our daughters and our advancing years, it is not surprising that life's many changes will affect our art work.  During our long road trips, we had hours of discussions on art and creativity.  We found that creativity and the creative process were central to our concerns.  We visualized a continuum between two poles: "Create to Live." and "Live to Create."  No matter where one finds oneself on this continuum at any moment in their lives, there will assuredly be opportunities, constraints and risks.  We felt that where we were along that continuum needed to change. 

When one creates to live, they seek to use their creativity to earn a living.  Certainly, a noble pursuit which benefits many and is the source of much innovation in art, science and business.  Somewhere further along the continuum a person may be content to just to earn enough from their creative endeavors to defray the costs of pursuing them.  When we returned to the Midwest, we thought that we could create works of art, first and foremost, that we enjoyed and enough would be sold to cover the costs of materials and maybe even earn some income.  In a tough economic climate and a challenging market we were devoting more energy and resources to selling the work.  Increasingly, we felt our inner compass shifting to making art work that was more appealing and affordable to fewer buyers.  

Some may dream of living to create as a pure expression of their unencumbered creative spirit.  Many artists struggle with living to create by choice or circumstance doing their art work as time permits while caring for or raising families or working in jobs that utilize little of their creative energies.  Others take pauses in the pursuit of a living wage to pursue residencies or devote themselves for a period of time exclusively to their art work.  Still others, like us, in their later years, find the means, make the hard choices, and channel their energies, resources and time to create as long as their health and time on this earth permit.         

After much discussion, we have shifted our focus further along the continuum toward "Live to Create."  I am focusing more on mixed media pieces that resonate and better convey deeply felt spiritual insights through content, materials and techniques.  Anita has paused her work in clay and has returned to exploring her artistic visions through oil painting.  For now, we are not exhibiting our work locally or regionally as we build new bodies of work.  That may change in the future once we feel our new work has matured and is ready.  You can keep track of our new work through this blog site or our new website at which is still be populated with our older work.  You can also get to our website through or  More on the website in a separate blog.

The next posting will present a recent mixed media art work that explores my interest in the Creative Word as it finds expression in nature and mankind's pursuit to understand the ineffable and the unknowable.  

Anthony Vodraska   


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Veil Series: What is in a name?

Veil Series: 5
2010, Photo Composition, 23"x46"
Artist: Anthony Vodraska

Should a work of visual art be freed of names?  Is narrative, subject or the artist's own thoughts about the work necessary?  How far can the work depart from the familiar and still engage the viewer?  Is it sufficient that a work be evocative, as opposed to provocative?  Or is there a place for the transcendent in work and how can a viewer experience that anew freed of common symbols or references designed to evoke emotions, memories and associations?  

As the Veil Series matures with subsequent works, these questions are emerging as important to my understanding of this body of work.  The art of blending has effectively obscured the source images that I took of Frank Gehry's architecture which was used to create "Veil Series: 5."  I developed a narrative for the Veil Series after completing the first piece in this series, entitled "Burn Away the Veils."  Does that make the narrative incidental to the work of art?

The most common response when people see work in this Series is to make a nautical reference to sails blowing in the wind.  Is that association any less important than the narrative that I have come to associate with the work?  More importantly, does the spiritual content of my narrative in itself make the work transcendent?  Probably not.  But it does motivate me to carry on developing this series.  And so I will.   

I am fortunate to be married to fellow artist, Anita Gilbert, and enjoy long discussions over coffee pondering some of these questions.

Anthony Vodraska


Monday, May 31, 2010

The Art of Blending - Part Two

"Seeds of Life"
2010, Digital Composition, 30"x18"
Artist: Anthony Vodraska

Inspiration:  In March, I began exploring more explicitly my thoughts and practice of blending as a source of inspiration in my creative process.  In this blog posting, I will develop this further.  The work entitled "Seeds of Life" began as a series of photographs of late afternoon reflections on the water surface taken off a dock at Emerson Bay on West Okoboji, Iowa.  I am drawn to water reflections (along with shadows) as a source for inspiration.  Their ambiguity serves as a tool in eliciting creative thoughts and visions.

The pod is a metaphor for that pre-existent spirit.  It is immersed in a field of creative potential awaiting to be individualized at conception as an embodied soul to begin its earthly sojourn.  Each is unique and latent with potentialities awaiting to become capacities that are expressed in our lives.  At least that is the narrative that guided the development of this work.  But like all narratives, it may only carry a grain of truth.     

Source Images: This digital composition started from just two water reflection images. I went down the "rabbit hole" and teased out a figurative element from the water reflections floating in a sea of dreamlike energy streams.  Fellow artist, Anita Gilbert, upon viewing that work in progress, suggested that the water patterns may look interesting on the surface of a seed pod. That sent me down yet another path of blending and conjuring new visual metaphors from everyday images.        

We collect seed pods and have many images to select from but in the end I was drawn to aesthetic beauty and simplicity of Andy Goldsworthy's negative space cairn shape, part of the Three Cairns outdoor sculpture installation at the Des Moines Art Center which I photographed in 2009.  As the intermediate images developed, I felt a need for more defined lines that implied a simplified structure (and visual tension with the preponderance of organic curvilinear forms) as an expression of intentionality in the organic order of things.  I blended in lines from a panel out of my triptych entitled Veil Series: 1 "Burn Away the Veils" inspired by the architecture of Frank Gerry and discussed in an earlier blog posting.  These were my sources and from there everything else flowed.

Conceptual Process:  Previous blog postings have discussed the technical aspects (e.g. tools, techniques) of blending images.  I will focus in this blog on describing a possible conceptual process for blending.  The external world presents a vast range of potential perceptual experiences.  We navigate our world by filtering out from conscious awareness most of what is potentially there to experience.  What we consciously experience is the result of complex largely subconscious processes that filter (i.e., veil), select, and frame the set of stimuli that we eventually become aware of and respond to.

With practice one can be more mindful of some aspects of these processes operating at the preconscious level of awareness, sometimes experienced as intuitions.  These intuitions can guide our response to experiences and for visual artists this may guide their efforts to capture/create images linked to those experiences.  For me, there may be no clear intention as to how I will use these images, just a compelling desire to record some aspect of the experience at that moment.

Back in the studio, in a very limited and controlled environment separated by time (weeks, months and even years) from the original experiences, I review the images.  The tool (i.e. Adobe Bridge) becomes a necessarily limited surrogate for the external world and some of the original intuitions and responses are experienced again, filtered and shaped by many other intervening experiences.  I usually select two or three images and start a process of blending them with a software tool (i.e., Adobe Photoshop) usually starting with a set of favorite blending techniques that I continuously expand upon. 

Once again, I try to be mindful of my intuitive response to the emerging blended imagery looking for what it evokes in me.  This is an intensely creative process constantly shifting between analytical, aesthetic and metaphorical responses that lead to further adjustments and blending of the images.  The search for meaning drives my work.  Eventually, the elements of a narrative develops and becomes a lens for how I view the work.  This lens then guides the final blending and refinement of the image.

Once the image is printed and made available as a work of art, it becomes a part of the world of potential experiences.  Others may contemplate or ignore the work based on their own filters, intuitions and memories.  Whether the work evokes anything of the original narrative intended by the artist is actually secondary to the creative response it evokes in viewers as they construct their own meaningful relationship.   

Anthony Vodraska

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Art of Blending

2010, 23"x39"
Artist: Anthony Vodraska

Inspiration: The impressions of a day are often blended into memories like precious found objects that I hold in the pocket of my mind to rediscover and caress over and over. Last Fall, Anita and I traveled to Des Moines, Iowa with Bill Lieb, a sculptor, to visit the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park and the sculpture garden at the American Republic Insurance building.  It was a day full of impressions that I return to often during quiet moments.  Only recently, I have started to tap them for visual inspiration.  Fortunately, I took many pictures.

The piece entitled "Cognition" is the first in a series of new work that have at their core a homage to sculpture.  Sculpture can stimulate creative flourishes in the viewer that travel down paths that even the sculptor could not have foreseen.  I photographed elements of the sculpture that resonated with me on that day and allowed time for those images to blend in my own mind before sitting down to work with them.  When I finally brought them into a creative tool, new relationships emerged with surprising metaphorical and symbolic meanings.  I imagined a visual representation of my higher self looking down on my embodied mind - cognitive structures connected yet floating over a surface of pulsating brain activity awash in waves of emotion and desire.  The experience of contemplating, manipulating and blending the source images allowed my deeper concerns and interests to find expression.

Process: The source images for this work started with these three images:

The selective image of the Pomodoro sculpture represented the elements of drives, instincts and sensory systems while the Regier sculpture reflected higher cognitive structures of thought and control systems.  The image of a reflection of a tree in an office building window took on the appearance of neural dendrites in a medium of pulsating energy.

All of the compositing, transforming blending, masking, coloring, and editing of the images was done in a Photoshop CS3 environment. Two great resources that I have relied on in the past to build my skills are books by Katrin Eismann, Photoshop Masking & Compositing, and Susan Ruddick Bloom, Digital Collage and Painting.  But when I am in the creative mode, though, I like to work with what I know rather than loose the thread of my inspiration while developing new skills.  

I develop a dialogue with my creative tools in which each movement of my stylus over the Wacom Intuos tablet is like following a path that can lead to new possibilities or dead ends.  Adjusting blending modes, opacity, levels, hues, and saturation on many llayers can leave me filling lost down the rabbit hole at times.    Using test prints, I further calibrate the color and observe how my eyes flow over the surface image and settle in one area or another.  Depending how this enhances or detracts from the visual experience, I further edit those areas.

The work is printed on demand on satin fine art paper using an HP DesignJet Z3100.  The surface is further enhanced with a Golden Gel Topcoat w/UVLS and Golden Archival Varnish w/UVLS.  The prints are mounted on hardboard.  

Anthony Vodraska


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Technology's Embrace

 "Star Maker"
23"x46" Digital Photomontage Print on Hardboard
Artist: Anthony Vodraska

Inspiration: I sometimes see the nearly complete work in my "mind's eye" and then set about realizing this vision.  Frequently, though, I discover the work during the creative-technical process somewhere between image capture, digital compositing and post-print surface treatments.  At some point the work connects with me in a certain way and I feel that quickening wind of inspiration guiding my every action.  

The inspiration for "Star Maker" occurred deep in the process of digitally manipulating and blending several images to create a photomontage.  Each successive refinement (force lines, enclosed symmetry, veiled inner workings, primordial essence and subdued colors) revealed a sense of foreboding over mankind's embrace of technology to unleash forces we dimly understand.

Process:   My work is deeply anchored in the places I have lived and my imagination uses those local impressions and imprints to transport my creative vision to new places. In this instance, the several images used to create this work were drawn from the architecture, atmosphere, textures and animals of the Midwest region.  Remarkably uninspiring source images were transformed into something all together captivating.  Even the choice of those source images may go beyond visual interest and carry their own hidden meaning to the work.        

As described in more detail in the post "Burn Away the Veils," I used Photomatrix Pro  and Photoshop software to create the final composition. The work is printed on demand as an open edition print on satin fine art paper using an HP DesignJet Z3100.  The prints are mounted on hardboard.  

Anthony Vodraska

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Burn Away The Veils

Veil Series: "Burn Away The Veils"
Triptych - 73"x48", Digital Photo-Montage Prints, 2009
Artist: Anthony Vodraska

"The Hand of Divine power will, assuredly, lift up the veil, and expose to the sight of men that which shall cheer and lighten the eye of the world."    Baha'u'llah

Inspiration: The word "veil" has multiple metaphorical uses in sacred texts, especially in the Baha'i Writings. The notion of veils as concealing, protecting, obscuring, or dimly revealing spiritual realities is intriguing to me as artist.    The Veil Series is an abstract exploration of veils in which changing blended layers of luminosity, color, line and form are used to suggest possible meanings.  Sometimes the title of the work hints at one interpretation but hopefully the viewer is free to creatively explore and find their own connection with the work.     

Process: Serendipity stimulated this particular work.  A chance visit to the Weisman Art Museum to view Frank Gehry's splendid architecture produced some interesting images of exterior stainless steel surfaces.  Back in the studio, I  process three or more different images in Photomatrix Pro software [more typically used for bracketed images of the same subject to create high dynamic range (HDR) images] to create a unique blended image that can suggest ideas for later photo-montage work.  In this instance, the resulting preliminary images suggested translucent veils and the next direction to take.

After more systematic HDR blending of images in Photomatrix Pro, the composite images became layers for further blending, distorting and fine tuning using Photoshop software. This process allowed the structural surfaces to be transformed to refine the expression of the metaphor's meaning - the interposing nature of veils changing over time, thinning and revealing hidden meaning as expressed in the sunlight reflecting off the stainless steel surface.  The scale of the work engages the viewer to create their own individual experience with the work, which may be much different than my conscious intent.   

The work is printed on demand as an open edition print on satin fine art paper using an HP DesignJet Z3100.  The surface is further enhanced with a Golden Gel Topcoat w/UVLS and Golden Archival Varnish w/UVLS.  The prints are mounted on hardboard.  

Questions about inspiration or process can be posted in the comment box below.  Inquiries about purchasing the work can be made via e-mail by clicking on the artist's name below. 

Anthony Vodraska