The artist, storyteller and philosopher Madelynne Engle is a master alchemist who transmutes difficult situations into extraordinary treasures expressed through her art. A visit with this modern phoenix leaves one humbled, awed, and inspired by her indomitable spirit.The 2007 wildfires vaporized Engle’s Fallbrook home and studio, including her life’s work of sculptures, paintings and poetry, leaving her with a disabled husband, a yellow Labrador retriever, a car, and her incomparable life force.
The native of St. Louis, Mo., who had relocated to California in 1978, says, “There’s a reason for everything … Every occurrence is an invitation to know life in a deeper way.”
Engle pensively quotes her Danish grandmother, “You can’t pour fresh tea into a cup that’s already full,” and acknowledges that her “vessel” had been full prior to the fire, which allowed her to create a new vessel to fill.
Engle, who in the 1980s renovated a 42,000-square-foot warehouse in San Diego for 48 artist studios, approaches the creative process as an inquiry rather than an answer. Fully examining and experiencing life as she’s living it, she says, “When I’m in the middle of something I want to record it, to translate it into my art.” She says of difficult situations, “They’re the illustrations for the story.”
A 2003 Sculpture Magazine article stated, “Engle’s … works … possess a poetic, even magic-realist quality that either lyrically or humorously spins the mundane world of appearances into visual riddles or poems.” Engle remarks that she often uses humor as “a back door into things that might become the sand that makes the pearl.”
To evoke emotion through her artwork, Engle follows the directive, “Create from a place in your soul that has something to express.” She reflects on emotional transparency, “Telling a story with emotion … evokes that emotion in the viewer. You don’t need to have the same experience to share the same emotion.”
She invites viewers’ involvement as part of her artwork’s totality and adds, “By abstracting thoughts and feelings, you allow the viewer to introduce their own life in that story.”
Engle often employs classical references in her work, which she interprets in a contemporary manner as she continues to explore the dualities of life. Her 85-inch obelisk titled “Rainforest, A Love Story,” currently on exhibit at the San Diego Botanic Garden, incorporates recycled components including semiprecious stones and objects discovered on her Fallbrook property after the fire.
She says of the recycled materials included in many of her works, “I am a user-up of discarded things; I find the transmutation of one thing into another to be an affirmation of life’s dualities and continuity.” Her life exemplifies this philosophy.
Engle has rebuilt her home and studio in Fallbrook, where she now works on a smaller scale, often repurposing components donated by friends. She smiles, “If you’re in my life, you’re in my art.”
Her obelisk “Rainforest, A Love Story” is on view at the San Diego Botanic Garden through April 15, 2013.
Learn more about Madelynne Engle at englestudio.com.