Tuesday, May 28, 2013

SPIRITUAL ART PILGRIM INTERVIEW: Callahan Pope McDonough--Feminist Artist Engaged in Timelessness with Passion and Soul

CALLAHAN POPE MCDONOUGH (photo by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)
In the second week of May 2013, following Callahan Pope McDonough’s art opening of “A Sword of Moonlight and Imperishable Love” at Sight and Sound Gallery in the StudioPlex, I ventured to the Old Fourth Ward, to Callahan’s loft space where she works and lives.

Hallelujah for the light and spaciousness of her studio living space, for it elevated me to an altered state of consciousness. Afternoon sunlight illuminated her large colorful paintings, which spoke loudly and deeply to me. Callahan’s organic gluten free chocolate chip cookies and herbal tea kept me grounded as we engaged in the following interview.
LIGHT FILLED SPACIOUSNESS. Callahan's studio space in the Old Fourth Ward dazzles with its high ceilings and sunfilled walls, countertops, and floor! Her current work is now on exhibit at the Sight and Sound Gallery in the Old Fourth Ward, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. "A Sword of Moonlight and Imperishable Love" can be viewed until June 28, 2013. Original pieces of her work are available for purchase, as well as giclees at affordable prices. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Give me your personal definition of ART

CALLAHAN: Well, that’s like saying what’s my definition of God?

There are different ways to go about defining art. There is a lot out there today that’s called art, and it’s not art. In some ways it easier to say what its not, overall, it’s complex, subjective and mind boggling.

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: In this moment, how would you go about defining art? It’s okay if your definition is primitive.

CALLAHAN:  When I was in art school— the big “A” art was a constant source of debate. In my view, this big “A” art has to have some kind of relationship to art as it relates to art history. A sense of context, even if one is defying art history, you have to have it in your bones what you are making in relationship to the art, the history that’s preceded. Some exceptions to this would be naïve artists, like Howard Finster.

I guess, my definition of art is that it has relevance and impact beyond the meaning it has for me, the maker of art.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Explain relevance.

CALLAHAN: I don’t know how to explain relevance exactly but that everything is related and has impact. Relevance is another word for relationship.

But nobody can ultimately codify this relevance because it is a paradox. Most people who are artists are renegades. The nature of this paradox is that there are two realities, that seem to contradict but within the nature of paradox, both are true at the same time. My sense of it is: relationship + connection of all life forms.


CALLAHAN: Spirituality is something I have a sense about, what I consider a deep knowing based on my experience of it. It really defies description, but words are what we have and need to describe life, but of course words and our minds are limited. So that is my instinct/knowing; i.e., my sense is that there is something that is me and simultaneously greater than me which I am and we all are part of. I personally choose to call this God. And so this question is a little bit like your question, “What is art.”  

I can tell you what “spirituality” is not.

It is not some big guy somewhere in the clouds like a puppeteer, proclaiming: 'Here I give you goodies today and I withhold goodies from these other folks.' That is a no brainer. Those paradigms of a deity that no longer serve, they limit us and create confusion.

In my view "Religious" institutions have given God a bad name. Religions have been coopted for patriarchal agendas, money and control. There are some religions that are transcending this pattern, but if there is a dogma within a teaching that dictates how we live beyond, love each other and do not harm yourself or another, it's been coopted for other agendas.

There is no specific version of God. We make symbols to convey our pretty limited perceptions of God and that is where art can be profound, elegant, and diverse.  Art ultimately leaves the experience in the hands of the viewer.

For me, I can call spirituality God, or you can call it Mother Nature or M & M’s.  “It” doesn’t need you to name it. I do have a sense that there is something profound about Life itself.

In the book, Not God, which was Ernest Kurtz’s PhD thesis about the history of Alcoholics Anonymous, Kurtz describes that his research showed that Alcoholics who came into recovery and had lasting sobriety/recovery where able to make the shift from “I am God”  (be there a God OR NOT, whichever is so) to:  “I am not God”.

What that translates to is that none of us can "carry the worry" or "solve all the problems" or control anything completely. Frequently in childhood we imagine that’s our job and then that causes a sense of being alone, cut off from humanity, anything spiritual, our authentic selves.
In my generation, there was so much emphasis on finding identity. There was a kind of narcissism in the searching for me, me, me….

There needs to be a shift to include me+you+WE.

Know Now We Have Always Been in Danger Down in Our Separateness (1983)

But, we are not God. There is some Life Force. We can call it Love, or we can call Quantum Physics--whatever it is, life is more awesome than us or even or our ideas of things.

For myself, I come back to what is least complicated and has a kind of common sense to it. Love does make a difference. Of course it can sound trite, but acts of kindness DO make a difference. And of course both kindness and love when it is the most difficult to extend are the most important. It requires consciousness, moment to moment work. 

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: What is the connection between the ART you make and your spirituality?

CALLAHAN: I think that they are connected. My work is primarily intuitive and instinctive. There are times that I have something very concise that I want to express in a painting. I will think that I have something in my head, and it comes out the way it comes out. So I know of course I made that, but I stand back and think "Really, where did that come from?". I have a sense of a source other than myself + me concurrent.

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Can you explain a little more?

CALLAHAN: Yes. Take for example, my concern about our planet. We are in serious trouble. The lack of connection to nature, to each other,  is a cause for our getting to this current state of affairs.
The two spiritual ideologies I like the most are A Course of Miracles and the Kabbalah, along with a dash of Buddhism. These paradigms see our task in life to be to have compassion for others and our selves and as the course in Miracles states "to remove the barriers to Love".

The word “sin” is an archery term, which means “off the mark.” We messed up and are “off the mark.” We need to practice more and get “on the mark.”

People ask why did God let this happen. People think of God as being something so external to themselves. In my view if we could understand that we created so much suffering on this planet ourselves  that is ours to heal, and with some sense of inner Peace to accomplish this, we could have a world at Peace. A more humane way of life. This is possible. We can do this if we choose and unite.


CALLAHAN: Art is a different thing for me at different times. It can encompass the feeling of an archeological dig. It can contain both the ancient and future simultaneously. Art is a very ancient kind of sensibility with its tactile symbols. Some of my drawings are recognizable. You can see elephants, a horse, or a woman looking into luminous light, some are completely abstract. Still there are universal symbols and responses contained in each.

I have my favorite poems and books that I draw inspiration from. My work is about seeing the light and making the connection. It should be something you have to query or come to.

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: In what way does your ART enhance your SPIRITUALITY?

CALLAHAN: I am aware of what I call ‘the monkey talk’ in my mind. Every time I go into the studio, there are those demons and angels waiting for me. That’s the monkey talk, resistance, fear, when I face it and just move forward, one mark at a time, one stroke of paint at a time it goes away. It always mirrors other situations, thoughts feelings I am dealing with out it my life somehow so that it a transcend process for me. The gift of making art is to have a place to work all that out and create something in the bargain.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Has SPIRITUALITY always been a source of your ARTMAKING?  Why? If not, when did the SPIRITUALITY emerge?

CALLAHAN: If you said to me that my work has spiritual components, I would say more quickly that my work is feminist. I consider myself a feminist, which of course is a women’s movement for equality, it is also a human movement for universal equality.  Labeling my art Spiritual feels incongruent, even though clearly it has that contained within the work, perhaps it is my concern it will be interpreted to be some kind of fundamentalist thing, which it is not. I don’t even go to church, except the church called my life.

I have always been somebody who has been questing. These pieces (Callahan waves her hands to some images on her loft walls) look like holy cards. Growing up a Catholic, Northerner, daughter of an enlisted Navy man, in conservative 1950’s Brunswick, Georgia there were no resources for me artistically. But, I had the biggest stack of holy cards with images of Byzantine, Renaissance art on them. I would go into rapture when I looked at images of the Blessed Virgin. I loved ritual and felt close to her even though I flunked in catechism. My spiritual experience gave me a sense of safety and not being alone, and some of those were difficult years for me.

In the 60’s, the hippy days, we were questing for our souls. We were hoping to touch the hem of God. Throwing flowers at Ram Dass, who wrote: Be Here Now and Carlos Castaneda author of: The Fire From Within, and reading other teachers, Paramahansa Yogananda who wrote: Autobiography of a Yogi.

I am always trying to understand that “other” part. How does it all weave together?

For me, the answer is that is more about a person’s “is—ness” and “way of being,” and that comes out in what you do. Like in the book, Like Water for Chocolate, the resonance of who you are comes through in whatever you are doing whether it is cooking or making art.

My work has more to do with passion or soul. It takes me out of the moment and into this timeless place where I am so engaged I feel fully present and a kind of Peace. 

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Who (artists, authors, friends, etc.) do you consider influential in the way you think, act, and make ART?

CALLAHAN: CALLAHAN: I wrote them down in a list. It is mercurial. I think of women artists first Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, Frida Kahlo, Judy Chicago, Sonia Delaunay, Guerrilla Girls, Ruth Laxson, Alexander Calder, Howard Finster, Byzantine Art. A lot of the Renaissance art. I love the aborigine art. Eric FischlChagall, Kandinsky, Cy Twombly, David Hockney, Bonnard, Vuillard, Matisse, Julian Schnable.

When I think about this as I list these art mentors for me I feel like I am describing the love affair I’ve been having all my life with each one of them. So cool and lucky am I to get so turned on by their work.

That is the short list.

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: What is your purpose for making ART?

CALLAHAN: I would like to touch the lives of others in some way with my art. I don’t have a message. I am not saying, “Do this or be this or think this.”  I appreciate it if you have an abstract piece of mine, and you love sitting with it then that’s terrific. Or if you have something with more narrative composition, and it causes you to make some kind of inquiry, stirs you up, whatever, then wonderful.  I have always wanted my art to go out and be a part of people’s lives and in the world connecting somehow.
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: That's a wrap Callahan! I am so glad we had this opportunity to dig deep into your SOUL and feminist mind to learn more about your art making.

CALLAHAN: Thank you so very much for this interview Ruth, such a delight to have this level conversation with you and to connect. I love your enthusiasm and energy about life, art, our Soul's journey on this earth.

An honor for me for sure.
A Wrinkle in Time

HALLELUJAH TRUTH and CALLAHAN. This photo was taken of us at Callahan's opening “A Sword of Moonlight and Imperishable Love” at Sight and Sound Gallery in the StudioPlex. (photo by Tony Martin)

ARTIST TALK: "A Sword of Moonlight and Imperishable Love," May 22, 2013 at the Sight and Sound Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia. (photo by Hallelujah Truth)
Following Callahan's opening of "A Sword of Moonlight and Imperishable Love," our interview at her loft/living space in the Old Fourth Ward, my husband, Tony Martin, and I were delighted to attend Callahan's artist talk on May 22nd. Callahan is passionate and compassionate about life. Her art speaks for itself; however, it is fascinating to hear Callahan talk about the LIFE behind her work.
Check out her following websites:

Callahan's current work is now on exhibit at the Sight and Sound Gallery in the Old Fourth Ward, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. "A Sword of Moonlight and Imperishable Love" can be viewed until June 28, 2013. Original pieces of her work are available for purchase, as well as giclees at affordable prices. 

If you liked this interview, here are links to my other Spiritual Art Pilgrim Interviews:

1. Cecelia Kane (painter, drawer, performance art)

2. Robey Tapp (book sculptor, collagist, painter)

3. Karen Phillips (painter)

4. Carol Ruckdeschel (naturalist, painter, drawer)

5. Flora Rosefsky (drawer, painter, collagist)

6. Jesse Bathrick (collagist, painter, drawer)

7. Kenny Whitfield (Bahamian Wood Carver)

8. Ty Butler (photographer)

9. Tazwell Morton (drawer, painter, ceramicist)
Artist Talk, May 22, 2012
Sight and Sound Gallery
Atlanta, Georgia
"A Sword of Moonlight and Imperishable Love"
(photo by Hallelujah Truth)


  1. LOVE this woman...and all of her that you so beautifully captured, Hallelujah.

    1. Ronna! Hallelujah for good friends and for collaborations between us all! Thank you so much for your kind words of support!

  2. thank you for honoring my friend Callahan. She is such a remarkable, beautiful soul - so glad you've found her too!