of the imagination

Joan Relke

Speaking Silence

speaking silence
bronze 43 cm high

This portrait of a woman in meditation was inspired by traditional Indian sculptures of the Buddha.

  When carving this from a solid block of plaster, I had no mythology in mind, no intellectual idea or philosophical thought. The image came to mind spontaneously and I simply copied it from my imagination.

Hand positions in various cultures indicate spiritual states, such as prayer, blessing, honouring, and supplication. The hands here are in a position not confined to any particular religious tradition. Rather, they are meant to cross religious boundaries and communicate a spiritual state which flows through all faiths and religious aspirations. These notions came to mind as I was working out the subtle tilt of the hand position and facial expression.



FirstWord facing right



first word

Bronze 46 cm high

Like Speaking Silence, First Word originated in a mental image which had no particular intellectual or mythological origin. Some see in the bird mask are reference to North American West Coast Native art. Since I am from Canada, it is possible that I have been subconsciously influenced by the Native North American art, which like Aboriginal art in Australia, has become increasingly noticed in Canada.

First Word front view

Others have said this piece has an Egyptian feel. I designed this piece shortly after seeing the Gold of the Pharaohs exhibitionat the Art Gallery of New South Wales in the late 1980's, and so an unconscious influence may have been working. As well, at the moment I am writing my PhD thesis on Egyptian prehistoric art, so undoubtedly that exhibition had a formative influence on my mind.

First Word back view

As far as I can remember, the only preconceived notion I had at the time was to create a portrait of a winged goddess of fertility, hence the egg.


fertility goddess #1

fertility goddess #1

Bronze 20 cm high


This is my first goddess. She was originally carved from a plaster block cast from a one litre milk container. The elements of my other imaginary goddesses first appear in her -- the hands, the egg, the closed eyes. While I often thought she looked more as though she were going to pitch a curve ball, over time she has grown on me. Her lack of conventional prettiness, appearance of age, and non-Caucasian face reminded me of recent feminist conceptions of the old crone -- the wise woman, the good witch, the final in the three phases of female life from maiden, mother, to crone. But all of these interpretations came later; I just saw a face in the block and carved the excess away.



  fertility goddess #2

fertility goddess #2

Bronze 20 cm high

This is the second in the imaginary Fertility Goddess series. Modelled on the first, she moves towards a more Asian appearance. Her inspiration came from some of the Southeast Asian Bodhisattvas. As the aspirant Buddha figures moved east towards China, they became increasingly feminine. Chinese Buddhism eventually incorporated their Kwan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, with the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Avalokitshevara, to form the only female Bodhisattva in Buddhism.



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3/08/09 jr