Exiles in Lower Utopia

September 1, 2009
Exiles in Lower Utopia

An Interview with Tricia Cline and Toc Fetch

To provide introduction to their show, which runs September 10th through October 31st, Toc Fetch and Tricia Cline participated in a conversation with Ricco/Maresca Gallery. They mentioned the importance of ‘love without mental interpretation’ – an integral part of their process, and itself a phenomenal idea.


It seems as though we are trained so fully in mental interpretation that it is second, perhaps, only to breathing. Answers have become a sort of currency – and the speed at which we can process them creates a hierarchy much like that of the mental equivalent.


The importance of any question and answer session, or, as this article presents to you, an interview, is not so much in the finality of an answer, but rather in the process, even the ongoing process. The discussion is meant to be delivered to an open mind, for that mind to play with, enjoy, explore, and carry further.


Just as Tricia’s students learn from her direction, they will ask her questions and yet additionally, turn them in to themselves and their work, to have, as she says, conversations which will allow the created piece’s existence.

They mentioned the importance of ‘love without mental interpretation’ – an integral part of their process, and itself a phenomenal idea.

Toc and Tricia offer up their work for each viewer’s personal contemplation, to interact with it on their own terms, and those of the image. Thus the relationship is created between viewer and subject, and the journey of questions and answers that this interview begins can continue in a myriad of ways, constantly influenced by every new contact, but never stagnated by the finality of a dictated, or even evaluated answer.


Q: Does drawing relate to sculpting? How or how not?
A: Yes, both drawing and sculpting are very elemental, very original to the hand. When our relatives used to sit about in caves on cold winter nights back in the beginning times they drew and they sculpted and they sang. Drawing and sculpting share an affinity in terms of their directness of observation.

Q: Could you please describe Lower Utopia?
A: Lower Utopia is our metaphor for living self-realized in this world of conflict and suffering. We carry the quiet of utopia within us wherever we go, and conjure remembrances of it in the viewer. To realize Lower Utopia is to recognize what is real. The only story worth telling is about what is real.


Tricia Cline

Tricia Cline sculpting a porcelain figure in her studio in Woodstock, NY.


The “real” is that which does not change – it is that which is unchanging. So, the question at the heart of our story and at the heart of each and every image is “what is it that does not change?” Nothing we say here is new. What is true was true long before the woolly mammoth stopped singing, and will be true when this earth is no more. But truth is beyond thought– it does not belong to the mind. It is neither a concept, nor an idea beyond all other ideas. It is an experience. It lives inside you and you live inside it. It is you. It is life itself. Truth is the non-dual reality or what Joseph Campbell and Aldus Huxley called the Perennial Philosophy, it is the observation of a universal recurrence of philosophical insight independent of epoch or culture, it is universal truths on the nature of reality. It recognizes that all things have, and are made, in their essence, of consciousness. A consciousness that is experientially beyond mind and matter, (the direct experience of which is the same to all independent of epoch or culture).



It is this experience that our images attempt to be a metaphor of, in both our visual language and narrative. We solicit the remembrance of the unchanging nature of reality that already exists within the viewer. We do this by direct observational narrative (realism) because we want our work to be readable to kids as well as abstracted adults. Tricia and I have found that animals express in their life, their form, and through their eyes that non-dual reality with the most perfect panache. Within the eyes of even the most humble house cat is that sacred radiance of God looking back at you.


Toc Fetch

TOC FETCH, Pope Joey, Or So I Feel (V.8, No. 1, Pg 25), 2009, pencil on 200#pH hot-press paper, 35 x 52 in.


Q: Tricia, could you say more about how the animals fit into your work?
A: I am thrilled by animals, so those pieces are, to me, small shrines to each animal. But that whole series is really a sideshow to my main tent, that great blue tent of the Grand Circus Psyche of my soul.

To some extent, the exiles with animals appear to me as independent images. As if I was looking into the woods and saw a woman standing in the shadows with a wolf strapped to her back. My reaction is, “Whoa, who is that?” Toc and I approach any and all images with a reverence, that does not interpret or attach meaning. In this way, the image remains alive and a kind of silent conversation begins.

My work has always been sweetly independent of the world, like a sanctuary that is always there to return to.

Q: Toc, how involved have you been with other creators of comic books, books, etc? What role does humor play in your work? Words?
A: Not at all involved, I know a couple of comic makers–slightly–but there are very few I am interested in, most of what is out there is filler or worse and things of real substance come along very rarely. But I’m not really interested in what comics are or were. I am creating comics for an audience that doesn’t exist yet or may never exist but mostly I make them for my Self –and I don’t really have a choice– it’s completely do or die.

Everything I do is funny to me –only the joyful response has substance, everything else is a low hamster wheel (a holding pattern while waiting for death). You see, that’s funny to me.

My words in my work are not just to extend the image, my words are there to triangulate with the image to solicit a third and unknowable experience that cannot be defined in any language. Image times words equal comics.


Tricia Cline

TRICIA CLINE, The Exile and the Rabbit, porcelain, 17 x 8 x 8 in.


Q: Tricia, what do you teach? What is that experience like? What does teaching others bring to your own work?
A: I teach direct observation using a live model. I tell my students that after they have sculpted the figure for 8 weeks in the class, they will need to take it home and sit silently with the piece. When a conversation begins between the figure and the self, they can now begin to make it into “art.”

My work has always been sweetly independent of the world, like a sanctuary that is always there to return to.

Q: Your characters seem to be involved in a journey – is this true and could you describe the process?
A: Toc and I have an ongoing allegory about Lower Utopia. But the whole thing is hard to put into words (which is why I work in clay). But it is kind of like this–once you have realized certain truths about reality there is no going back, and you find yourself exiled from the world you knew, the everyday world. I would like to say, for the sake of
words, that you become a seeker, but that is not really true because the experience is more about letting go. Letting go of ideas, concepts, belief, ownership, and other illusions of habit that define you. My ascetic characters are gestures of the sweetly ecstatic exile who carries on her back (strapped through her heart) forms of her own healing like dreams of her true self as pure in name and form as an animal.

The pilgrimage shrine of all wanderings is Schizotopia–the capital city of Lower Utopia. It is called Schizotopia because there everyone is you.

Q: Do you work in the same studio? If not, what are your individual spaces like? Is there a fluid transfer of ideas or inspiration between the two spaces, or does proximity ever cause distraction?
A: No we don’t work in the same studio. We both need a lot of alone time or we get weird. What are our individual spaces like? Like home (for a couple of exiles). We live in converted garages. Tricia has a one car garage, and I am a tiny bit higher up in the food chain with a two car garage.

Tricia and I have been steeped in meditation since we were kids back in 1973. We both served time at a very experimental university (that no longer exists) in which all subjects of study were exploration for the patterns of what Joseph Campbell called the Perennial Philosophy. Tricia and I do what we call Direct-Observation work. Direct-Observation of an inspiration is a careful love of it without mental interpretation. This approach was greatly influenced by the writings of psychologist James Hillman from whom we learned a great deal about the life of imagery.

He describes in his book Blue Fire, a dream, where suddenly a great black snake shows up, if the dreamer, upon awakening, decides to interpret the meaning of the snake, he kills it. And thereby the relationship with the image is lost, because the vast Unknown has been limited to only what is Known. The image is a transcendent guest coming through you into form. But through interpretation you cut off its link to that transcendent Reality.

In the work every iota of space deserves total care and attention. Attention equals love. This approach towards detail is a kind of deliberate, very present meditation and allows a transcendent quality to enter through you.


Toc Fetch

TOC FETCH, Running with the Gods (V.8, No. 1, Pg. 15), detail, 2009, pencil on 200#pH hot-press paper, 35 x 52 in.


Tricia and I make (for lack of a more succinct label) a kind of tribal art–we don’t really own anything–much less that which arrives from the transcendent.

People have forgotten the transcendent power of art. Here in the west, art has been glorified as a product of the ego, as personal revelation, this couldn’t be less true; art comes from beyond the personal, from the transcendent whisper that is ever present to everyone (and everything), and therefore there is really nothing personal about it.

So the images that come to us are not based on ideas out of mind, the images that come are transcendent guests– friends–that we develop ongoing relationships with. The image is a friend that has come to teach you its life through the direct (non-interpretive) observation of it, to then be possessive of it is to “kill the snake.” It is through respect that the relationships open outward into beauty, respect that allows the image to be who it is and not just a thing in relation to us. So, yes, a fluid transfer of ideas, inspiration and love flows between us.


Q: What do you think about the future?
A: We don’t.

Tricia Cline

TRICIA CLINE, Singboy Waiting for Lower Utopia, 2008, porcelain, 18 x 18 x 11 in.


TRICIA CLINE, The Exile of the Deer, 2009, porcelain, 24 x 11 x 11 in.

Toc Fetch

TOC FETCH, Papa Wolf in the Desert of Feeling, (V8, No. 1, Pg. 11), detail, 2008, pencil on 200#pH hot-press paper, 29 x 48 in