Show and Tell #10 - Vilas Silverton

Illustration and Clay with Vilas Silverton
07 September 2017

Vilas Silverton is a Ceramic Artist that will teach the Illustrating Clay workshop here in January 2018. His work is based upon and flows from his inner life of self enquiry that encompasses prayer, meditation and service. In his practice Vilas concentrates on the spiritual heart, which encourages a simplicity that guides both his life and work.

In recent years, this output has expanded to include paintings, prints and the use of digital media. These developments have enriched his ceramic practice in which he's still drawn towards figurative and narrative pieces.
However, Vilas is still deeply in love with clay. He's particularly inspired by the infinite number of ways it can be shaped, treated and used. Its limitless potential continues to engage and inspire him.

Vilas speaks about his current work - New Ritual Objects and Zen Rogues:

"My recent ceramic work has developed from a series of iPad drawings called ‘Zen Rogues’ that I started in 2011. 
Drawing upon a love of religious statuary, devotional imagery and my own inner practice, I am keen to show alternatives to the accepted western view of what constitutes spirituality. 

I have been inspired by the brush drawings of Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769) who portrayed everyday characters in a sympathetic, profound and yet often humorous way.

Rather than repeat and reinforce traditional depictions of holiness (for example haloed saints), I have tried to show vulnerable characters whose innate goodness may not be readily apparent.

My characters may thus be seen as works in progress, ‘saints-in-the-making’ rather than finished, perfected beings."

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To be enthusiastic in the moment without expecting anything in return.

What lies at the heart of your own desire to do your creative work?
On one hand it is a need to create for its own sake, as I feel it is a part of what makes me whole as a person. On the other hand it makes me feel my place in the world has some meaning when I am able to offer what I make for others.

What are the first things you do in developing an idea in response to a subject?
I tend not to work from prescribed subjects as a rule because my best work does not come from ideas as such, but as a spontaneous inner inspiration of the heart. This inspiration is accompanied by a surge of energy that compels it to see the light of day. It is a state beyond the mind which I access through my meditation. Before working, I try to make my mind calm, quiet and tranquil so that I can faithfully listen to my inner voice and make what I am meant to make to the best of my ability. I will use the mind at times to work out technical or logistical elements of the piece as necessary, but for most of my time I will try and remain in the flow of the heart. Whilst working I try and be in a good space, and for this I work without distractions like music and chat. When I have finished, I again meditate for a brief moment in gratitude for my gifts and to offer my work to the world without a desire or expectation for what will happen or how it will be received. I try to be detached, but they are still my creations and I am very fond of them!

Choose 1, 2 or 3 of your all-time favourite artists.

Sri Chimnoy
I have a spiritual master and meditation teacher by the name of Sri Chinmoy who I will choose as number 1. Amongst other things, He was very artistic with a prolific output of drawings and paintings. His drawings often took the form of birds which he called ‘Dream-Freedom-Peace-Birds’. They are quickly drawn spontaneous works that I find beautiful and charming. His paintings (usually acrylic) are similarly spontaneous and map the dance of light that exists behind all things and as such appear abstract to the outer eye. To the inner eye and heart however, their significance becomes more apparent.

In the ceramic world, I have quite a few favourites, but I will limit myself to two.

Haniwa pottery

The first is Haniwa pottery from Japan, ritual terracotta figures that were used during the Kofun period (3-6 Centuries AD). The individual makers names are not recorded but these tomb figures are quirky and charming, simple and honestly made but with a power and ‘directness’ that I really love. I feel that today, both Yoshitomo Nara and Iwamura En have pleasing elements of ‘Haniwa-ness’ in their work.

Scott Garrett

The second is Staffordshire slipware of the 18th century. I particularly like the simple production of everyday wares, with slip trailed decoration and pie crust edges, warm glazes that run and bleed the oxide colours underneath. In our present day age, we are not used to seeing the wobbly lines of handmade production, and even those who are proficient in producing slipware today can be in danger of decorating with an accomplished affectedness. Thank goodness people like Scott Garrett have embraced the medium and are making contemporary slipware with a generous heart.

From your favourite poem – could you give us a few lines that mean something to you?
Every night I inwardly recite a poem that my master wrote called ‘the Absolute’. It is about reaching a plane of consciousness where one is united with the deepest part of our existence. Some might call it Nirvana or Samadhi. It reminds me of the goal which I am still moving towards and encourages me to keep going. Here are two verses:

“…. A realm of bliss, bare, ultimate, 
beyond both knower and known.
A rest immense I enjoy at last; 
I face the one, alone…..

…..My spirit aware of all the heights, 
I am mute in the core of the sun.
I barter nothing with time and deeds;
my cosmic play is done.”

If you were to die and come back as a person, animal or a thing, what would it be?
Well I believe in reincarnation, it makes perfect sense to me, and so I am pretty sure I will be coming back anyway, like it or not. It will also probably be as a human unless I really stuff things up. To be honest, I’m not that bothered in finding out who I was in the past as I can’t change that, and I’ve got enough to deal with now trying to be a better person and grow spiritually without concerning myself over what will happen in the future, so I have no desire to speculate on that. I will just try to be happy and peaceful in the present moment.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Does chocolate count?

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Which artwork/film/book has most inspired you?
When I first found a book on meditation by my soon-to-be spiritual master, Sri Chinmoy, I had a nice experience where I felt everything ‘made sense’ and fell into place. From time to time though I do go through periods where my inspiration isn’t great and I often turn to an old library book about Joan Miro by Jacques Dupin. The text is in Spanish which doesn’t help me much as I don’t understand it, but it is a very precious book because of the photos. It has page after page of beautiful black and white images of Miro working in a bronze casting studio. Mostly the images are of the workbenches, tools, moulds and works in progress, devoid of people. There is some kind of magic there, a special, sacred air of creativity and industry that always makes me want to get to work again:


Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
There is no such thing as impossibility

Piece of equipment you can’t live without?
Hands, eyes and heart are pretty essential.

Best recent read?
Night Boat by Alan Spence. A story based around the life of a historical personage, Hakuin Ekaku, an 18th Century Zen Monk from Japan.

Night Boat

What is your final word?