What it means to be human
Artist Judith Brey taps inner stillness

Judy Brey relaxes in her studio among some of her smaller pieces of artwork on Tuesday morning./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

by Jules Masterjohn

The muse: the enticer of possibility, the tempter of visions, the imagination. Goddesses born in ancient times, the muses came to earth to inspire Greek songwriters and poets, and soon their purview included all the arts and sciences. To be “tapped” by a Muse was considered a sacred event, and these touched individuals were highly regarded in the Greek culture.

Today, muses rarely appear as young and comely goddesses dressed in flowing gowns. Rather, their voices are heard by artists through experiencing nature, travel and the other art forms. For Durango artist Judy Brey, the muse “taps” her through poetry. A favorite poem of hers is a verse by Franz Kafka: You do not need to leave your room … / Remain sitting at your table and listen/ Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait,/ Be quite still and solitary. The world will freely/ Offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice./ It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

Brey’s affinity to this poem is revealed when one views her most recent body of ceramic sculptures, figures standing in repose with tranquil expressions on their faces. Perhaps this is owed to Brey’s five-plus years of cultivating her own inner stillness. “My meditation practice calms the intellectual ramblings of my mind and helps me see and feel more clearly. Because I have a decrease in mental rambling, there is more room to explore, for interest and imagination to grow,” she told me recently.

Explore she has. Over the last few years, her sculpture has evolved from child-sized figures engaged in playful activities like juggling and tumbling, into seated figures with contemplative gazes holding items such as a real turtle shell or a brass scale of justice. These works display an introspective quality that reflects a gentle mental engagement. Brey’s most recent works, a bit larger in stature and standing erect, embody a psychological stillness that is not present in her earlier sculptures. Though these sculptures are not self-portraits, Brey said, “my own inner stillness is being translated into the figure.”

Her interest in the human figure has been informed by her work as an occupational therapist as well as a degree in psychology. “It is a natural consequence that my chosen subject matter is usually the human figure. As a rehab therapist, I saw how the body falls away. I’ve studied psychology, neuro-psychology, Buddhism and art – all of which informs the whole. There is a highway that has run through my life devoted to the study of what it means to be human.”

When inspiration calls, Brey embarks on a journey of self discovery, and often the art created reflects the insight gained into her own humanity. Her creative process has been her teacher as it has introduced her to other aspects of her personality. “During my work, I meet my internal critic, the storyteller, the judge, the planner and the distracter. However, given enough time, these voices fall away, and there is just the work and the worker. When that happens, there is a stillness and what has been incubating can come forward.” Brey refers to this state as a “studio moment,” and though it does not happen regularly, it occurs often enough to encourage her work.

Like all artists, these moments of insight and innovation are interwoven with challenges, and Brey has developed some wisdom and strategies for encountering these trials. “Walking the tightrope between staying true and focused on my vision and getting out of the way so the piece can be completed can present a challenge. Sometimes ‘my voice’ or what I want to express gets lost or sidetracked and is not on target. Usually, it seems I am setting goals and become more interested in the outcome than the process. At that point, my work feels dry and has lost its juice. I find it important to take the time to step back, possibly work on several pieces at once in order to create space around the work and let the process unfold.”

The intuitive working process that Brey engages in is totally supported by her choice of construction material, clay. The malleability of clay allows her sculptures to be easily influenced by her intentions; the clay is almost effortlessly workable and readily accepts impressions from her touch. She explained, “I love the physical nature of working with clay; how, in the process of construction, there is a dance and interaction of the material and builder. The feel of clay or brush in my hand is an extension of my awareness that brings joy.”

A melding of Brey’s past and present have influenced her attitude and choices and plays an important role in her creative process. Raised in a small town in Minnesota, her childhood was uncomplicated, playing imagination games and drawing. Informed with self sufficiency and visually surrounded by the vast expanses of farmland in the Midwestern landscape, Brey recalls, “I did have simplicity and the space to be creative.”

Today, Brey’s creativity incorporates more than the figure and clay. Poetry, not solely her muse, is also one of her creative offspring. This verse by Brey, written to accompany her standing figures, offers the sound of her poet’s voice and its relationship to her visual art: They are garbed in earth./ Clay, gathered from the belly of the world, draws the baritone voice from the trees as nature welcomes the figures home./ Every ebb and tide of the fluid world runs through their beings./ The dusted gold sun invigorates their quiet ways, but it is the seashell painted moon that makes them dance.

Judy Brey’s work from the last decade can be seen at a showing and sale held on Saturday and Sunday, August 6 & 7 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at her studio. For directions call Judy Brey. Her standing figures can also be viewed online at www.luminagallery.com.



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