Kaleidoscopic Mandalas: an interview with yogic artist Anne-Françoise Potterat
Gatheryoga.com, January 22, 2015
GatherYoga: What’s the story of you came to create your art?
Anne-Françoise Potterat: Many steps took place before the birth of the Kaleidoscopic Mandalas — Stars. I always desired to create images that had a yogic impact, connecting all the parts of me to the wholeness of the authentic Self, to the breath that connects me to everyone and everything, to the mysterious spark of life, filling me with the awe, like the one experienced in nature, expressing symphonies of harmony like the breathtaking workings of the human physiological systems, pointing me to the true loving mystery of life, celebrating the bliss within.
I studied fine arts, digital art, and photography when I went to the School of Visual Arts in NYC, in 1988. The first KMS were created in 1996. Around that time, I was creating textile designs combining drawing, watercolor, and digital art. I lived close to the Twin Towers in NYC and experienced an overnight split with oil paint immediately after September 11, 2011. Until that day, oil paint was
the medium of choice to express my attraction to and fascination with light and colors. I felt it had a multi-dimensional richness and a shimmering depth that seemed unsurpassed by any other medium. I then went on to explore different media: fabric, crocheting, tempera and watercolor, painting blindfolded using my hands instead of paintbrushes, icon painting, drawing, sewing… I always took pictures to capture the infinite moment of being present to all that is, like the space between the in- and out-breath. Photography was like my sketching tool. It helped me understand the play of light, space and colors. The Kaleidoscopic Mandalas — Stars resurfaced through the making of an Easter card in early 2010. In the Fall of 2009, I moved from a very large living/work space to a living nest. I had been teaching 14 to 16 yoga and art classes a week. Now I was teaching five yoga classes a week. It was fascinating how everything happened so fluidly. I had more time to pause, wander, and wonder. I also had paradoxically gained more space. My studio extended far beyond the walls of my nest: it became the world. I enthusiastically started to walk with my camera through the streets of NYC, the concrete jungle of lights and intense energy including its beautiful parks, Central Park, Wavehill, and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. I felt like infinite details were calling for attention. It was exhilarating. I was on an endless high. Each time I returned to my nest, I downloaded the images in my digital photo library and was awed by their light, colors, and textures. Each photograph became a palette from which I extracted a vibrating detail, using a stylus and a tablet, like I was dipping a brush onto a palette covered with oil paint. Each vibrating part cut from the photograph behaved like a drop of egg tempera paint imbued with the breath of truth, ready to blend on the surface of an icon.
As it was all digital, it took no space in my nest, satisfying my prolific aptitude. There was no disagreeable smell and no material cleaning-up. The technique satisfied my creative buds and imagination. It felt like anything was possible. I decided to continue to make more images as they became the fruits of all that I love: walking, taking pictures, and computer. I conceive each mandala with an intention. It is always about an aspect of truth, a quality of the soul.
GY: Who are your influences?
AFP: Niki de Saint Phalle, for her authentic freshness and unique voice; Méret Oppenheim, for her blunt vulnerability and feminine originality; Alfred Jensen, for his fascinating and mysterious visual language; Friedensreich Hundertwasser, for his colorful playfulness; Pipilotti Rist, for her whimsical, brilliant, multi-chromatic, moving images and enchanting installations; George de la Tour, for his magical depiction of the light of a candle; Egon Schiele, for his poetical and floating figures; the Hudson River School painters, for capturing the awe and grandeur of nature; Boris Vian, for his powerful inspiring voice and amazing imagination; Olof Palme, for his visionary voice and actions; Desmond Tutu, for his beautiful and magnanimous smile and presence; Nelson Mandela, for opening up to the spirit within; Sri Nisargadatta, for voicing the truth so succinctly and beautifully; Angela Farmer, for giving yoga a true feminine voice; V.S. Desikashar, for reminding me that the gold is within; Jeremy Narby, for being so trustworthily authentic, aligned to integrity and such an inspiring true visionary; Jesus and Mary Magdalene, for their beautiful and inspiring collaborative partnership; Mother Mary, for her true love and admirable dedication; my grandmothers ,for their inner strength and determination to act on who they were; friends and family, for being who they are; roads-subways-trains-highway workers; fast-moving vehicles, from cars to trains to planes; people working behind the scenes, for their steadfast humility and immense contribution; watchmakers, for their masterpieces and magical movements; people who give voice to the invisible, for encouraging adventure into the unknown…
GY: Where do you find your inspiration?
AFP: Nature and urban walks. Meditation. Everything that creates a delightful visual and sensational jolt within me. Indian and Persian miniatures, for their poetical colors and intricate patterns, the breathtaking light and colors of mosaics in mosques, nature, life, art, yoga, shamanic experiences, beauty, light, the truly revealing and empowering spirit of Ayahuasca, my soul and spirit, true love, freedom, peace, silence and space. Things that are not noticeable, that are mundane, such as soap bubbles, an object dropped on the streets. I recall once walking in NYC down Bowery Avenue after a gospel choir rehearsal. It was dark and I was awestruck by the loud silence of a cherry blossom. It was so poignant. I was bathed in infinite space, silence, and peace.
GY: How does your work complement or define your yoga experience?
AFP: I have practiced yoga regularly since 1994. I have been a certified yoga teacher since 1998. Yoga contributed to the creation of the KMS. The images are very yogic, in that they invite the union of all the parts. I meditate with the KMS. They have contributed to the lengthening and strengthening of my spine and the regulation of my weight (I grew 1 1/5 cm and lost weight with ease and no depriving diet).
I took my first yoga class, in 1991, with Ruth Lauer Manenti, from Jivakmuti Yoga at its original location in the East Village. I met Ruth at SVA. Our studios were next to each other. In Tehran, Iran, where I lived from 1992 to 1994, several of my Iranian friends were practicing yoga and praising it to me. When I came back to NYC, I practiced yoga at my gym regularly.
I now see the KMS as the fruits of my yoga practice, artistic development and expression. Yoga connected me to my inner strength and wisdom, to the authentic voice within me and to the magical well of energy.
Thank you, yoga, everyone who practices yoga, and every one who teaches yoga.