Colorado Springs artist creates secret garden in new exhibit | Arts & Entertainment

What lurks below a thriving garden might be even more beautiful.

Liz McCombs has spent months building a secret garden in her studio. What has emerged are ceramic and mixed-media humanlike sculptures all caught in the mysterious process of metamorphosis. Greenery sprouts up out of curled-up human figures; rootlike vegetables have grown heads sporting full lips and round eyes; and femalelike figures are given tangled roots for legs while lush gardens push up out of their skulls.


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Her pieces start with kiln-fired ceramic to which she adds recycled materials, such as wood, bark and pieces of glass.

“A key element of the show was transformation from one thing to something else,” says the longtime Colorado Springs artist. “In the garden you have birth, death, one thing nourishing something else, all things that make life life. I incorporate those ideas into each of the pieces. Each one has a unique story. They all fall under the overreaching idea of transition.”

“Secret Garden” is open now at Bridge Gallery. You can see the show from noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays through October. McCombs also will be working in the gallery throughout the month. Also on display will be a series of Halloween-inspired pieces, some influenced by the Day of the Dead Mexican holiday.

McCombs, an avid gardener, has always been fascinated by the cycle of life under the surface, and in this case, the garden. A simple seed is planted, watered and nourished with loving care and attention. How will that seed grow? What will it become? The possibilities are endless.

“It’s like the acorn turning into an oak tree,” she says. “I like the revealed and concealed idea. There are secrets inside all things and if given the right nutrients and space and time to grow, anything can happen.”

And how might that apply to human life? Very much the same. To grow, one must allow for new paths and new ideas to take root, which means others must die to make room. There’s a natural letting go that we can either nurture or resist.

As you might guess, McCombs is in favor of weeding out the old to make room for the new. It’s a theme that winds through her life. She eschews the idea of planning out what your life should look like, and instead allowing for the magic of the unknown to flow through.

“Unfortunately, when you have an idea in your mind of what you should be or what your life should be, you don’t leave any room for the possibility of anything greater than that dream,” she says. “If you think ‘If I have this then I’ll be happy’ is so limiting. We never know what’s out there and could be greater than anything you imagined.”

McCombs was a maker practically right out of the womb, she says. Recently, her mother found old pieces of her art labeled “Liz, age 4.” And even in those decades-old pieces, McCombs can see similar themes that run through her work today.

She grew up in Delta and came to the Springs to study microbiology at Colorado College, indicative of her love for plants and science. Partway through her schooling, she changed her major to art and transferred to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to study with some of the Pikes Peak region’s great artists, including toy inventor turned sculptor Sean O’Meallie and the late Louis Cicotello.


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Along the way she also earned a culinary degree from Pikes Peak Community College, which resulted in several jobs working in bakeries making custom cakes: “It was sculpting, but out of food,” says McCombs.

Making art has been her full-time job for more than a decade now.

“I had a preconceived idea of what would make a satisfying life for me,” she says. “I never dreamed things could be better than anything I imagined and they have.”

Contact the writer: 636-0270

Contact the writer: 636-0270

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