15 April 2016

In the Here and Now

For many years, as a student of Zen, I have admired that discipline's aesthetic, especially as it applies to the visual arts.   It is rooted in the belief that a work should be executed "in the moment," without intellectualizing . . . getting the "I" out of the way.  In that moment, brush, paper and artist are one.

Among the most recognizable Zen subjects is the enso -- accomplished in one continuous circular sweep:

"The ensō symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and mu (the void). It is characterised by a minimalism born ofJapanese aesthetics."

The strength, the elegance, and the concept of mu is strikingly on display in this remarkable work of calligraphy by the late Zen master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi:

It is exhilarating, a supreme achievement of art and spirit uniting in a spontaneous moment of creation.

I have attempted several pieces in this same vein, some with a simple ballpoint pen and others with ink specifically designed for this type of painting.  I've also executed some pieces with a nifty little support called a Buddha Board, a Christmas gift from dear friends a couple of years ago.  The company won't divulge what the material is made of, except to say "both the surface and backing are made of natural materials."  The surface is a kind of gray slate that absorbs plain water and holds it for a minute or two before slowly evaporating, leaving behind a clean, dry surface again.  What this means is that whatever picture's painted has a limited life, thereby illustrating one of Buddhism's great truths:  the impermanence of all things.

Here are a few examples of Buddha Board pieces I've done:


Zen Tree

Raku Teacup 

Working this way -- spontaneously, in the moment -- is very satisfying.  I count these pieces (and others I've done) as among my favorites precisely because they embody an essence of spirit and vitality unmatched in any other work.

Try it for yourself and let me know how what you think.

If you're looking for a chilling read, you've found it in my brother's debut thriller:

"This novel picks you up by the scruff of your neck and doesn't let you go until the final pages!" (5 stars) VB, London 

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