“Bird of the Inner Eye” , a chamber opera, is based on the letters and archives of American painter, Morris Graves (1910-2001). The title refers to one of his most famous works and a through-line in Graves’ life—the search for spiritual clarity. Though biographically based, the opera focuses on Graves’ years as a war-resister, a 1950’s gay man, and on the circle of women who supported the realization of his artistic visions.
Graves’ struggles– against war, against the degradation of the natural world, against the corrupting influence of fame– never caused him to lose hope or give up the work of art-making. These struggles seem to us connected to our own and many contemporary artists’ lives. If we believe art is not neutral, how and what can we artists create in this chaotic time? Morris Graves’ commitment to the sacredness of the earth, to the oneness of all…his resistance to war, to toxic masculinity…the conflicts faced due the commodification of art and the fame game… the moral imperatives of art – these remain vital themes.“I want to say with paint that the creation is infinitely, infinitely more than meets the eye, that a bird is vastly more than a miracle of life and form—that an eagle is not an eagle but a God-gesture and a power, and that he is not detached and in the sky but in our souls.” — Morris Graves, 1943, three months after the army discharged him as ‘unfit.’
Graves’ writings reveal a ninety-year journey of individuation,what Jung called a processof transformation whereby the personal and collective unconscious are brought into consciousness. Graves’ 20thcentury journey is coded in his paintings and illuminated through his writings, which are passionate, humorous, mischievous and poetic. His journey gives inspiration to ours.
“There is an other-worldliness to the way I write that connects to Graves’ mysticism. The essential paradox of his nature is in my music as well.” – Gina Leishman, composer
“The more I worked with Graves’ correspondence, the more it seemed to me that music was the way to communicate the lyricism of his writing, the theatricality of his personality, the depth of his connection to the natural world. Opera seemed the richest way to dramatize his voice, to communicate the resistance, love, transcendence, and contradictions he faced along his path. I also wanted to give voice to the women who supported and inspired him. “ Joan Schirle, librettist