Kintsukuroi: the art of being broken

By Mariel Clayton

I suppose it's only appropriate that, as I sit here inking the cranial sutures of a Conquistador skull with broad axe trauma (in Aztec Gold of course) ..that what's blasting on the turntable to irritate the neighbours is some 'Alternative-Progressive Metal'.

Music, Skulls, Art, Science, Sake, Traditional Crafts, Metallurgy, Poetry, Osteology, Whisky.... this merging of everything is creating a monster project, one I’m not entirely certain I have under any sort of control.

Still, the brush gently daubs an occipital bone, and my subconscious disengages to meander off-leash. It’s those moments of ‘meditation’ when everything is intensely focused, and yet, simultaneously unencumbered, that are like breaking the waters surface.

Kintsukuroi – lit; ‘Golden Repair’ is the Japanese art/craft of taking broken pieces of pottery and joining them together with poisonous Urushi lacquer and powdered gold. This gentle, deliberate process of repairing that which would be discarded, and transforming the toxic into the treasured.

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Artist Mariel Clayton. Exhibition Kintsukuroi: the art of being broken at 10C Shared Space. Image courtesy of KyRoJo Photography Studio

It’s become a visual metaphor for my own journey into and through depression, anxiety, and a slow process of personal evolution.

I’ve always loved Osteology and Anatomy – as well as Japanese arts & crafts. Having travelled through Japan many times, absorbing as much history and tradition as possible, it seemed natural to transmute something as graceful and reverent as the tea ceremony and kintsukuroi into my drawings of skulls.

The chawan, the tea-bowl, is reminiscent of the human skull. Incredible delicate, uniquely beautiful and both containing a precious substance that holds within it so much meaning, potential, veneration.

In Japan, the value of a chawan is so high, it is often passed down through generations. Should it fall and break, the pieces are never discarded. The value of the bowl transcends its broken state, it’s just a different point of view.

So it is delicately and skillfully repaired, with love, care and patience.

In this vein I see the similarities between our life-experiences and potential, thoughts and dreams – all encompassed within our skulls, and that of a precious tea bowl, mended with dedication and craftsmanship. The repair adding infinitely to our stories and value, transforming us into something stronger and more beautiful than before. The cranial fissures as delicate repair lines.

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'Memento'. Image and Artwork by Mariel Clayton

None of us make it through our lives without a little breakage. All our experiences can chip away at us, fracture us into pieces, we can choose to throw the experiences, the pieces away.. or we can put them back together and slowly heal ourselves.  As with any form of healing, the longer you practice it, the more skillful you become, the more skillful you become, the more it shows in the end work.

I try as best as possible to be anatomically accurate, to respect the subject matter –  90% of all the Skulls drawn are actual Paleopathology specimens and it feels only right to honour these human beings and their remains.

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Works in Progress. Image and Artwork by Mariel Clayton

The duality and intersection of life and death, of art and science, of destruction and repair - that is what drew me to illustrate broken skulls as a way to express all the emotions and sensory overload in my head while trying to understand my own journey and process how to sort out all the fragments left behind.

I wish I could say it was some sort of a profound Hallmark movie… but more like an HBO series, with lots of swearing and violence, however, unfortunately not enough male nudity.

The evolution is ongoing, and so I keep drawing, and working on the other half of this project, a photography series called ‘Anim’.

Where the skulls are the tangible constructs, the photography are the metaphysical – rooted in Jungian Theory and the concept of the Anima and Animus and their connection. Hopefully, all will fit together like the pieces of a skull.

“Life is too short NOT to create something with every breath we draw” – Puscifer.

Please keep evolving, keep breathing, keep being.

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