Artist in focus - Vilas Silverton

Cross-posted from www.srichinmoycentre.org

Vilas Silverton has been a student of Sri Chinmoy for approximately two decades. He is an accomplished artist - cultivating a unique and soulful approach to ceramics. His work has been extensively displayed throughout Great Britain. In this short interview, he talks about some of his artistic inspiration.

Could you tell us a little about your art?

I specialise in Ceramics, but also enjoy painting and drawing. My ceramic work is made up mostly of figures, heads and busts of fictional characters. They come generally from my imagination but refer to artists and styles that inspire me, as well as things I see around me every day. As I am drawn to different influences over time, my work also changes. Yet there seems to be a recognisable style that pervades my output. It is not something I try to control, it just comes out that way.

This is probably because my artistic work comes from a place inside me, and this is a place I am trying to get to know better through my inner life of prayer and meditation. I have been practising meditation actively for over 20 years under the guidance of my spiritual master, Sri Chinmoy.

His approach is to base one’s practice on the spiritual heart, an energy centre in the centre of the chest. I find this to be a place of peace, stillness, love and oneness with others. It encourages a childlike simplicity and spontaneity in my life which then guides and shapes my artwork.

For yourself, what is the link between your art and your spiritual life?

For me, the link between my spirituality and art is everything. When I consciously started on my journey of self enquiry, I realised that if my art had no underlying foundation of deep conviction, it would be only a shallow attempt at producing amusing distractions.

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Although my work may appear childlike, I am not trying to be childish. I am committed to producing things that make the world a better, happier place. This conviction comes from deep inside as a result of my spiritual practice but also from seeing unhappiness, misery and suffering around me. I have no desire to comment on society or use my art as an outlet for dissatisfaction and angst. Nor am I inspired to produce representational art, i.e. drawing what I see before my eyes. I am trying to offer a positive contribution to the world by offering things of beauty that do not yet exist on earth. My works come from a realm inside my heart that is both simple and beautiful, happy and positive. It is these aspects that I try to bring to this physical world through my art and life.

To try and make things of value, I treat the making process with utmost respect. I try to meditate before working so that I am in a good space and commit to trying my best. While making I also try to keep thoughts to a minimum with no distractions from the radio or chatting with others. When I finish a session of making, I again meditate. This time I offer my gratitude for the gifts I have received, and I try to unconditionally offer my output to the earth atmosphere for its improvement and peaceful happiness.

What do you hope to achieve/offer with your art?

When I have finished a piece and offered it as mentioned above, I loose my claim on it to determine its role in the world. As a result, I don’t have any set notion of what I hope to achieve with a piece. I realise that fame and fortune do not determine the value of work. For me, the only thing that matters is how successfully I have been able to translate my hearts inner cry into physical form, be it a painting, drawing or piece of ceramics. I can tell if I have been successful in this regard by the joyful feeling I get in my heart when something is good, right and true. If I can offer my goodwill to the world through my artistic output then I am more than happy and grateful for that opportunity.

Who are your main artistic influences?

My main artistic influence has to be the practice of my inner life as mentioned above.

In terms of outer influences, I grew up reading comics and watching cartoons and so I associate that type of art with happy childhood memories. I try to translate this simplicity and clarity of line into my three dimensional work in particular.

My influences in the fine art world are many and varied. For drawing skill I love Degas and Ingres, Daumier and Rembrandt. For power and emotion I love Zurbaran, Goya and Massacio. For playful inventiveness I love Miro for his capacity to transfer his creativity with integrity across Painting, printmaking, Sculpture, Ceramics and beyond.

In the world of Sculpture and ceramics, I am especially fond of the tomb figures of the Japanese Haniwa period. They have a simplicity and charm that I find fascinating and endearing. I am also fond of English 18th Century slipwares that display a warmth and humanity in decoration.

As my interest in spiritual enquiry developed, I started to look more closely at different world traditions and came to love Indian folk art. This includes the  ritual objects left under village trees and painted decorations that permeate and enrich living spaces. The themes of simplicity and devotion really capture my heart in such works and inspire me to make works that have a meaningful depth to the best of my ability.

Apart from art, what else do you enjoy doing?

Since my youth I have loved cycling and continue with the sport. Due to some long standing injuries, I have recently changed my focus from racing short distances to riding long distances. This has brought me new perspectives on dealing with life situations and is giving me satisfaction and fulfilment in taking up new challenges. In Sri Chinmoy’s spirit of self-transcendence, I am trying to ride further/faster and yet keep cheerful, positive attitude, even when things get difficult.