Healing, Meditation and Spirituality in the work of Karen Donnellan

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Karen Donnellan’s work won first prize in the Art in Craft Media 2011 exhibition. The artist focuses on developing sculpture into forms, using shapes and her process to connect with her other passion: healing with energy and addressing the notion of spirituality. There are a lot of spiritual and healing references packed into this small exhibition of just four seemingly separate pieces. Yet taken as a whole, they are quite powerful.

Coming from Ireland, the idea of working with energies through meditative practice is not alien. Karen uses symbols of universal energy in her artmaking – the circle and the vortex are her dominant shapes in this exhibition. The circle is a symbol of perfection, divinity, universality and enlightenment. A vortex (think whirlpools or tornados) is shaped like a cone, wider at the one end and narrow at the other. In spiritual circles, vortexes are believed to have enhanced spiritual and psychic powers. Using a single wooden vortex form as template, she creates pieces that also represent the movement of energy within the body.

With that in mind, Karen, who is also a Reiki master and a practitioner of yoga and meditation, uses the ancient Asian spiritual teachings of healing through the chakras. Chakras are believed to be circular energy centers (there are seven in all) in our body through which energy flows and, when open, keep us balanced and healthy. If blocked these energy centers can be opened through sound, movement or touch, color and meditation. A Reiki practitioner would work on healing the charkas by performing a counter-clockwise circular motion on each or the out of balance chakra area. (Note in the video featured in the exhibition, Karen’s counter-clockwise movements of the material.)

These energy centers move in a circular motion when open and each is associated with a particular color. Karen’s use of the color violet represents the crown chakra, which is located at the top of the head and connects us to our or a higher power. The charkas are represented here by the 12 circular forms on the back wall. The number 12 could represent the annual circular rotation of the months of the year or perhaps the astrological chart that is also often used in holistic healing methods. They are not solid and give the appearance of the movement of energies flowing through them.

Karen also uses two other spiritually symbolic materials. Glass is the main medium she uses in her work in this exhibit (although she has used other materials in creating her vortex forms in other shows). Glass represents transparency, as well as fragility, purity, delicacy and beauty, not to mention its reference to light in reflection, refraction or letting light come through it, giving us clarity, vision and insight. The 21 glass vortex forms placed in a circle represent the 21 days that in Reiki and several other alternative healing processes are considered to be the amount of time required for healing, changing a habit, or moving into a new pattern of behavior. The one ‘grey’ form can be interpreted in a number of ways. What can you come up with?

Water, as seen in the video, is also symbolic for many spiritual and energetic symbols as well – change, flow, baptism and cleansing. In the video one can see Karen’s immersion of her hands and arm into the water and slow meditative movements she uses to create a gentle healing flow.

Sound is also a healing modality. Each of the chakras has a different sound associated with its energy flow, and when one meditates particular sounds are often used to stimulate the healing process as well through the sound vibration. The two solid pieces on the wall, appear to represent the vibratory nature of the sound.

The four seemingly separate pieces in this exhibit are actually connected to her vision, in my mind, with the very important notion of all being ‘one’ in that we are all connected, both individually – mind, body and spirit, but also universally connected to each other through the silence of space. Space too being the universal holding of all material things…

Lastly, the title given to this exhibit – Essentia – means a spiritual sanctuary for seeking enlightenment, health and happiness. Karen has given us that.


Kate Soudant is currently a docent at the Burchfield Penney Art Center and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. She was trained and worked as a homeopath in Ireland where she lived for a number of years prior to moving to Buffalo in 2006 and is interested, like Karen, in art, healing, meditation and spirituality.