My contemplative and creative practices are intertwined. My daily practice consists of silence each morning, sitting meditation followed by singing, and from there into art-making. Of late, my sitting practice has been focused on experiencing the body and in particular the pelvic bowl. I'm interested in reconnecting with my body as a mode of experiencing my connection with the planet and the divine feminine.
When I enter the studio, I light a candle and offer incense. I prepare my materials and then sit, with my paint brushes, ink, and paper ready. Each pouring of ink, each blowing of the ink around the paper, each brushstroke is made in intimate connection with the breath. As my sitting practice deepens into my experience of the body, so my studio practice is also increasingly stemming from the womb. The titles of my paintings come from Buddhist sutras. These are references to the sacred poetry that I memorized while living at Green Gulch Farm Zen Temple on and off for four years.
While my current sitting practice is not strictly Zen, my time studying Zen continues to reverberate through both my creative and contemplative practices. In 2007, I moved to Italy to unify the two parallel paths of my creative and spiritual lives. This took the form of a monumental life-as-artwork: the Art Monastery. The project aims to cultivate a community of contemplative artists that applies the collaborative and intentional “social sculpture” of monastic life to art-making. With a team of collaborators, I reanimated historic monasteries throughout Italy into international arts production centers. In 2016, we made the transition to the U.S. and today the Art Monastery is located on seven farm-and-barn acres along the Connecticut River in Springfield, Vermont.
My time dedicated to the Art Monastery social sculpture has affirmed the daily link between my meditation and studio art-making practices. Practice is a commitment, repetitive and prolonged, a disciplined and sustained effort that yields perspectives that are undiscoverable any other way. Regardless of the stated goal, practice in itself reshapes the practitioner over time, whether gradually or through bursts of inspiration and insight. By engaging the repetitive rhythms of practice, my work also aims to reshape my life as an artist.
Betsy McCall is a social sculptor, painter, facilitator, author, and full-commitment smiler. Garnering degrees from Yale and San Francisco Art Institute, Betsy founded her life-as-art social sculpture, the Art Monastery, in 2008. A non-profit arts organization, the Art Monastery aims to cultivate personal awakening and cultural transformation through contemplation, community, and creativity.
Betsy’s abstract paintings have been exhibited from San Francisco to London. She practiced Buddhism in residence at Green Dragon Zen Temple on and off for four years. She focuses her spiritual growth on studying the land, shamanism, and her own intuition.
Betsy currently lives at Art Monastery, Vermont.
More on Betsy McCall's work can be found on our Links page.