BY LYNSEY G.
It is early November, which means that Halloween is over. What happens after Halloween in New Orleans?
Well, the New Orleans cycle of life shuts down over the summer because it gets the hottest then. And Halloween is sort of the restart of festival season. People are putting out new albums right now, and shaking off their summer slumber. And then Thanksgiving happens, and then it’s the holidays, and then it’s Mardi Gras, and then it’s JazzFest, and then it’s hot again. And around and around and around!
There’s also VoodooFest, which started out as this local, weird, circus-like, jazz festival. And now it’s this gigantic electro-rock fest. But there’s also an actual voodoo festival called Voodoo Authentica. And the New Orleans Healing Center has a music-and-water prayer festival with talks about water conservation and a ritual to bless the water. And we have Pagan Pride Day, and there is a Wicca Ball, and there is a Vampire Ball, and there was…Some other kind of ball, too.
New Orleans is not a very big city, though. How do you have so much art exploding out, and rituals, and spiritual-ness happening in such a concentrated space?
Oh, tradition! One of the reasons New Orleans has it is because so much real, real stuff happened here. Slavery brought a lot of traditions here, and because of that, [the city] had a cultural presence as a space to grow and take root, and interact with the Caribbean and the rest of America…Here, Mardi Gras and the Carnival tradition—which are part of a large, global Carnival tradition—happen and reinforce that kind of ritual culture as a city-wide experience. Second lines happen, or people dance in the street behind the band to celebrate, as a ritual. There’s all kinds of those traditions.
As an artist who values ritual, is that part of what drew you to New Orleans?
Oh, for sure! I grew up reading a lot of Anne Rice novels, too, so that’s how I first fell in love with New Orleans. So it’s always had that mystique in my head, and it’s definitely lived up to it. There’s a normalcy for mysticism here, which doesn’t exist everywhere else and which is really therapeutic for me, having grown up in suburban New Jersey. And it’s not just the strict pagans or ritualists or whatever. I mean, it’s a Catholic city! Catholicism has so much ritual, so much paganism with in it, and holidays and altars and parades. It kind of allows for and buffers everything that exists underneath it.
When someone approaches you on the street and asks you, “What’s your deal?” What do you tell them? How do you identify with all these “isms?”
If someone’s approaching me on the street it means that I’m out selling art. So I’m an artist, which I feel is the most accessible term. Everything else gets complicated. I usually just say artist. Or thinker.
But maybe I would say artist/witch. Maybe artist/healer/witch, because they’re not all necessarily in the same space.
And I would say witch. I don’t really like shaman, because that word is too broad, but I will say that I practice shamanic healing techniques, because that word in that arena makes sense to me. It’s like pagan: I feel like that word is a response to Christian as normal and pagan as other, but I sort of see them both in the same circle of love.
Can you tell me about your journey had in becoming an artist/healer/witch?
I was raised Catholic, but I was allowed to wander around libraries on my own. And I found all the occult books and mystical books and spirituality books. I read a lot in middle school and high school—whatever I could find on alternative spiritualities, and stuff that could blend Christianity and mysticism. They were all really helpful in finding my sense of self as a person growing up.
Then I was very lucky to find a teacher, a woman who was a spiritual healer and a feng shui artist, and I worked in her shop and sort of followed her around. And then I worked at the New Jersey Renaissance Fair and met a whole bunch of other people who were mystically minded, ritual-y people.
And then for a while I went a little wild and was taking a lot of different trainings, like massage therapy, and magic with a teacher, and meditation, and I was just kind of stumbling my way through, which is how a lot of people start because there’s no real direction or centrality in this kind of thing.
And then I moved to the Pine Ridge Reservation for three years as a volunteer teacher, and then to Chicago where I went to craniosacral therapy school, and then I moved to New Orleans. All of that was just sort of taking random trainings and figuring out that I’m not a crazy person for being sensitive.
But then I moved to California and started at the California Institute of Integral Studies spirituality department for a masters of philosophy. I got to be in an epicenter of people who were women, who were shamanically, mystically minded and talking about the intersection between spirituality and racism and classism and how all of those problematic things affect how you can access spiritual culture. I got a much better sense of Western spiritual culture having ancient goddess roots, and how that whole sense of culture got uprooted in building up the modern capitalist state.
The program really helped me ground myself into where my own spiritual pieces interface with modern spirituality and culture. And the teachers showed me where the discussions were happening, and who’s worth reading, and it occurred to me what I hadn’t read, what I had read, and what gaps there were in my learning.
I also did a sound-healing certification where I heard people talk about sound as a ritual, shamanic instrument as a normal thing, which was so beautiful. That’s why I do a podcast about sound now, because I still think it’s beautiful.
So that all helped me mature my spiritual self. And that whole journey made me realize that I’m not a paper-writer. I really wanted to be painting. So I got into the CIIS MFA program in Creative Inquiry and I got to spend a couple of years working on my MFA. I was exposed artistically to so much feminist art, and to ancient goddess statues. Some of them came from places where my roots actually land in Europe. I had been doing abstract paintings of female shapes, and I saw them reflected in the goddess statues! And I thought, “Oh! I’m heading in some sort of direction with this! I should do this more!”
I did my MFA thesis as a series of river maps that I turned into paintings, which then got turned into altars. Looking back now, I see that my project was a practice of discovering my own artistic language to express and demonstrate my connection to the Earth and to my own creativity. I felt like I had just been given this huge vision of my life and its worth and its relevance to things in the universe.
I knew I was going to come back to New Orleans the whole time, because this place is so much fun, and California is so expensive. So I ran from there, and came back here, and I wanted to develop a practice. I wanted to grow as an artist, and in order to keep painting, I was hoping to find a way to sell everything I made. So I started painting these little skeletons—these little Beautiful Bodies—because they were transportable, and because I definitely needed some grounding, and I believe that your skeleton—focusing on your body—is an act of grounding.
I was so grateful for having just gone through this whole life change, and I wanted to do something that honored ancestors, so the Beautiful Bodies project has some of that in the back, too. And also, here you go, everyone else! Catholics, I know you love some bones! So come buy some skeletons! And mystical people, too!
And so, it has worked, and continues to work, and I love watching people come out and laugh, and really get into my paintings! They fall in! It’s cool to watch people get caught, and then smile, and then turn to me and tell me that I’m awesome.
I’m struck by what you said about finding people who were already doing work with feminist art and goddess scholarship. So much of what we do as women is difficult because we can’t see where we fit in with the larger scheme of things. The women who came before us are not celebrated widely. They aren’t considered heroes. The feminists, the writers, the artists, the movers and the shakers…
…they’re not easy to find!
Exactly! It’s really interesting how your art plays on that idea of predecessors and ancestors. It makes it corporeal. You deal with shapes and bodies that pull that feeling of ancestry and history and physicality all together.
And healing. I approach everything as a healer. Which is different, I realized in my MFA program. Not everybody does that. I want to be offering something that has a healing quality to it, and I think I that our bodies respond palpably to images of themselves.
And that’s why I’m doing my Goddess Abstractions project! I’m so glad people are good at getting paid to write scholarly books about goddesses, because they’re doing it, and it’s amazing. Because people don’t know about goddesses! I didn’t know! I was lucky to fall into this community which teaches me, but a lot of people don’t know.
And so my intention with this goddess painting project is to signal-boost a bunch of goddesses. I don’t want to explain or teach, but people will be able to look at these ladies who have the facts. This is my practice, as a super-sensitive person: I have very bodily experiences of energetic things and spiritual experiences. And painting is one way that I can translate that outward.
I think it’s wonderful that your work is so involved in the feminine and the sacred feminine, but that your Beautiful Bodies skeleton pieces—which are your main sellers—don’t have a gender.
Nope! Gender is a projection!
And also, I live in women’s-spirituality land. I was pretty saturated when I started this project. I wanted something grounding and something relatable. And everybody has a skeleton and a heart, and sometimes we need to be reminded that they’re both there.
That being said, my color palette choice of black, white, and red was very specific. I had read Women Who Run with the Wolves while I was in California. Somewhere in that book—and it’s something I’ve heard from other shamanic sources—the author said that red, black, and white are shamanically considered womb colors. And so, I was also connecting that to anchor my womb energy that was woken up in California. And so the project is also about that. It’s kind of like the secret layer of my Beautiful Bodies project.
Let’s talk about your sound-healing practice. You’re a sound healer, and that’s a big part of your painting practice. But they appear to be separate from the outside looking in. How do they all fit together?
Well, the sound-healing thing was initially about finding a myriad of tools to balance and ground my life. I use sound to work on my nerves—I’ll do some chanting or toning to shake my body out and to ground myself. I use that a lot for my sanity’s sake.
But the thing about sound—one of the things that I find interesting about it—is that it’s a tactile way to talk about energy. Because sound waves are the closest things that we can feel that’s like energy. It is energy. And I feel like it opens up this level of energetic awareness that we don’t bring into conversation normally.
So how I live energetically and artistically, and how I live with and make sound, are very linked.
Tell me about the sound-related podcast you’re doing as part of Collabo Industries!
Collabo Industries! That’s me and Virginia Brisley’s name for the collaborative thing we do!
It started as just us talking about sound, because we’re both big sound geeks. We did the first few podcasts just talking about some thing that was happening with us, or we’d discuss the history or theory of sound, and that was really fun.
And then we decided that this year we wanted to bring other people in and see what their sound stories were like, because we were having so much fun talking about our own. And so we started bringing people over for dinner and asking them how sound interacts with their life. I like having it over dinner because it’s cozy and it makes it feel like safe space for people to talk and relax in. And it makes people feel grounded and happy.
What kinds of things are you hearing from people? Are there themes that come up a lot?
It’s been surprisingly different. Everyone has different experiences. It’s interesting to get people to talk about their development, and what they remember about sound in important moments. People’s most passionate moments growing up, or the way people process their creativity in relation to sound. Talking about the creative process and being aware of sound tends to come up a lot.
People’s spiritual processes of their lives get kind of a general haze drawn around them, and it’s nice to talk about it.
It’s the kind of topic where, when you ask someone an initial question, they might just blink at you, but then when you get into the conversation, I bet they’re like, “Why has nobody ever asked me this before?”
People have literally said exactly that many times. Like, “I’ve never thought about this before, but as I’m saying it, that’s how this whole experience worked!” It’s been really gratifying.
So, what’s it like to be an artist-healer-witch with so much training in spirituality, who then has to learn how to sell things to people?
My first response is to say that I make art that sells itself, which is partly true. I think the paintings talk for me. They have work to do in the world and they will find their way there. I just facilitate that.
But part of it’s been allowing myself to learn to trust myself and to trust people. And just doing it, and having to do it routinely, has helped me build up that space. Asking people for money is awkward for a while, but then you get used to it. Having people give me money is weird, because I don’t want to start screaming and jumping up and down when someone gives me money, even though that’s how it feels when it’s a slow day. And then there are days when you don’t get any money, or validation. Getting compliments is sometimes enough—it’s not always enough, but on some days when you don’t get money or compliments, that’s an emotional problem.
Knowing when to recognize that I’ve hit my limit for the day on the street has been important. Knowing to recognize when I hate everyone and I need to go home, because I have to take care of myself. Having good limits and boundaries about burnout and not working too hard is very important.
And also one thing I’ve learned a lot from my teacher Francesca De Grandis is that a lot of marketing—especially around art, which is very personal and which comes from my core—is about reaching out to serve. I’m making this thing to serve, and to facilitate this space for you to have a beautiful thing. I don’t have to explain. I don’t have to justify it. I have to have faith in what I’m doing, which is a whole lot of work on its own. So I can just say, “I am offering this thing. This beautiful thing.” And just let it be enough. It’s a lot of self-care and a lot patience.
That’s really good advice. So many people—especially creative people, myself included—overextend themselves and burn out because they need validation. Being a creative person in the world where the Internet is a thing, if you’re not getting constant validation it feels like you cease to exist.
There obviously is something to the Internet and the social networking places within it, but you know, when you’re a freelancer, you’re not a corporate robot. You’re not a machine. You can’t be that. You’re allowed to be a human who works on a human schedule. And I work on that, myself. I’m trying to actively edit the corporate-robot sound out of my voice, because it’s there. I can do that! But then I hate myself and my work!
So I think my marketing strategy is to be as un-robotic as possible. We live in a society that overworks. The message is: “Work till you burn out, or you’re not good enough.” And, I don’t know, the best thing I could say to people trying to market themselves is that whatever you need to do to not burn out needs to be as much a part of your work as the work itself, and the marketing. Because the Internet’s not real.
Tell me about things coming up and where people should find you physically and on the fake internet.
Physically, I sell my art on Jackson Square in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and internet-wise, JenelleLeighCampion.com has links to my blog, my newsletter, and all my social media what-nots.
Can people purchase art from you on the interwebz?
If they see something they like on my website, they can send me an e-mail and we will get it sent!