Copper in the Arts

October 2016

Shahna Lax: Expressing the Sacred Through Copper

By Jesse Warner

Influence, by Shahna Lax.Influence by Shahna Lax.

Photograph courtesy of Shahna Lax. 

Artist Shahna Lax, who previously worked with clay, gained inspiration through copper to explore a material less fragile.

“I don't even remember exactly how I settled on copper except that I felt an intuitive draw to a material that shares the same symbol with Venus and the feminine,” Lax explains.

Lax cites a 1950’s book entitled Coppercraft and Silver Made at Home by Karl and Norma Kramer for how she discovered the principals of etching. Shortly after, she ordered her materials and began navigating the world of copper.

Etymology is a big part of influence for Lax’s work, especially a love for Hebrew and Semitic-influenced languages. She is not trying to convey a deeper meaning or agenda with her work, but perhaps simply expressing how she feels at the moment of creation.

“I have a sense that I am, perhaps, tapping into the symbolic language of an evolving human universal unconscious that is speaking to the present moment,” she says.

Perhaps the most striking and unique trait of Lax’s work is her use of Middle Eastern imagery. She even goes about naming her studio “Studio Moresca”, Moresca being a feminization of “Moresque” as in Hispano-Moresque. The feminized version of these Moorish geometrical patterns are an homage to a time when the Moors ruled Spain.

She explains that the period, to her, was, a time when fertile, intercultural collaborations between Muslims, Jews and Christians gave rise to extraordinary achievements in the arts and sciences.

“Major elements of the Moorish aesthetic include arches, symbolic geometries and exquisite calligraphies,” she says. “To these elements I have added intricate cutwork as a metaphor for seeing into a reality that exists beyond the apparent. Intricate cutwork is actually a shared aesthetic which can be seen in the mashrabiya grillwork of the Islamic world as well as in Judaic paper cuts.”

The expressions used in Lax’s work, however, are of her own interpretation. Her work is a more womanly portrayal of the more acute shapes in typical Moorish calligraphies and structures. These subtle semantics depicted are a modern representation of the traditional forms seen in history.

Revolution, by Shahna Lax. Revolution by Shahna Lax.

Photograph courtesy by Shahna Lax.

“The geometries that I incorporate are generally more fluid, verdant, and I would say, more feminine than the measured, angular and mathematically accurate Islamic geometries. I find myself drawn to variations on the lute rose – the decorative sound holes under the strings of a lute. Numbers as reflected in geometry are a whole language in themselves. I have found that people who don't believe they relate to art are attracted to geometric forms, maybe because we're made up of them.”

Although most of Lax’s copper is sourced from the online auction site Ebay, she is always on the lookout for an imperfect piece of copper. The final product typically ends up looking like an artifact, so she can use copper of any condition.

“Once I had the good fortune to trade an illumination for several handmade oriental rugs and a whole treasure trove of used copper counter tops,” she recalls. 

Copper for Lax seems to be a natural match, utilizing historical and modern inspiration as well as natural elements in how copper lives and breathes. She likens copper to a living element where electricity and blood flows through it. The vibrancy in what is created certainly shows.

“I love the ‘livingness’ of copper,” she says. “I love the way it breathes and changes. I love the way it goes toward the blue/green verdigris water colors or the red/orange/violets of fire. I love its soft strength, its conductivity, its necessity within the human body and relationship to the conversion of iron into hemoglobin. Copper feels to me like the perfect medium for expressing the sacred.”


Shahna Lax, Crestone, CO, (719) 256-5442

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