There she is among the splendor, a desert mermaid hanging from terra cotta beads, a seated mystic with clay birds nesting in her hair and hands, a Medusa whose dancing calms the serpents, an equestrienne whose head is thrown back in joy, a laughing beauty, an Earth Mother, a fertility icon, a dreamer...
These goddesses - and this lush grotto- are the creations of Anand Naren, He's Pan and Bacchus, head adorned with leaves and vines, a silver beard, flowing robes and a twinkle in his eye. He plays the part of the green man of medieval lore, a devotee and sometime consort of the great mother, the goddess. "To me, the goddess represents living life with receptivity, living life with an open hand rather than a closed fist, being available to whatever is happening in the moment," says Naren, a 60 something artist whose spiritual and artistic journey led him to New Mexico eight years ago. "The goddess is about laughter, about letting it be. I consider that the goddess and I are in a dance together. It's a love dance."
Naren's goddesses, range from tiny figures on sticks to statuesque sculptures standing several feet high. Intended for gardens, they are formed of richly textured, fired clay. These aren't skinny girls. The full, round figures are inspired by ancient images of goddesses, and by prehistoric are such as the Venus of Willendorf.. "It pleases me immensely to know that when I leave this Earth, there will be thousands of goddesses left behind in beautiful gardens all over the world" he says.
Naren was drawn to the goddess image as a young artist, born Thomas Pope, in North Carolina. I always wanted to be an artist," he says. "As a child, I played with dolls for hours on end. Looking back, those dolls were my first goddesses. The goddess has been a constant in my life since the beginning."
Naren received bachelor's and master's degrees in art from Virginia Commonwealth University in the 1960's, and began an odyssey that took him to Louisiana, California, Hawaii and Tennessee in search of his artistic roots.
"I was a gypsy sort," he says. "I tended to live in one place three years then travel on.
He changed mediums as often as addresses, working in painting, woodcarving, photography and silkscreen. Naren left art in the early 1970's to become a monk in a Hindu monastery in San Francisco. "I had always been searching for something," he says. "I happened to fall in tune with the teachings of an orthodox guru and spent seven years as his monk. Shaven head, vows of celibacy, obedience, poverty."
The life became too restrictive. "I couldn't do art," he says. There came a time when it wasn't possible for me anymore. I moved back into the world because I had to dance."