Sunday, June 29, 2014

First Light, Last Light

First Light, Last Light 

This will be a 4-day workshop marking the opening and closing of the day. 
Difficult moments in which to catch the experience of changing conditions.

Fri. Aug. 8 – Mon. Aug. 11, 2014

The distant brought near, the complex made plain. 
The obscure made clear, the vastness intimate. 
In a rigorous routine yet relaxed air, 
meant to bring out your subtlest work.

 3 hours at dawn: 6 - 9am 


Arrive early enough to handle your gear before session begins

3 hours at dusk: 6 - 9pm 

Feel free to arrive early and stay late.

The workshop will be rigorous, quiet and lightly structured.
Following basic instructions, each painter will work on her or his own
with occasional personal guidance.

The site is a large, private property off of Skyline Drive with 50-mile views to East, North and Southwest.

(The paintings shown here are all from the southeast Oregon desert.)

Please email me with any questions.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Making Paintings in the Studio

This is the fourth of the three posts
presenting and developing my recent
slide talk Contemporary Art as Buddhist Practice

In the last post, I described the practice of painting the landscape
directly in the open air and how that can be brought into 
a practice not unlike the meditation called
Mindfulness of Phenomena (1)


 The other path is followed in the studio mostly,   
where I construct paintings from diverse materials. 

I employ chance operations,   some disciplined,   and  some free.  
Within the open exploration of form lies a memory (a dream) of
 sky,   water,   mountain,   wind,   desert,   rock,   and shore.

   I move the forms toward a new order that, with luck,  becomes 
something simple,  
a new wholeness, though ringing with complex relations. 

This is true whether or not the initial motif remains intelligible.

Meaning is found where mind,  subject   and material   come together.
The materials have no inherent meaning   and neither have any of my usual landscape subjects.  
But in my mind,   I find them meaningful,  and when present with an appearance of a  lake   or a hillside of trees,  I am often struck still and dumb  with a sense of significance.

   John Berger   is a special writer, sensitive and clear.  He described such a moment this way:
“At the moment of revelation   when appearance and meaning become identical,   the space of physics and the seer’s inner space coincide:  momentarily and exceptionally   the seer achieves an equality with the visible.  To lose all sense of exclusion;  to be at the centre.”

We tend to understand things metaphorically.    Art uses this tendency effectively. 
Buddhist teaching,   and Buddhist art  through the centuries,  have used metaphor effectively.

The specific landscape motifs all function metaphorically in Asian landscape painting,
which developed for close to 2,000 yrs in relation to Buddhist   and Daoist insight into the nature of mind   and the forces of the world around.

Repetitions in my work refer to
the returning again   and again   and again  to awareness.  Presence. 
I’ll use text, or the appearance of text,   as a reference to mantra or prayer,   
or to a spontaneous utterance.

Currently, I am working toward simplicity and restraint.
I suspect that  analogies are still  a layer between what I think and feel    and what just is.
the just-as-it-is-ness    carries presence 
So simple  ;  yet not so easy to pull off.
I’ll close with a stanza from the Aspiration Prayer for Mahamudra:

Look at objects and there is no object: one sees mind;

Look at mind and there is no mind: it is empty of nature;

Look at both of these and dualistic clinging subsides on its own.

May I know sheer clarity, the way mind is.

Thank You


(1) The fourth in the four Foundations of Mindfulness, the others being
Mindfulness of Body, Mindfulness of Feelings and Mindfulness of Mind.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

This is the third of three posts 
presenting and developing my recent slide talk
Contemporary Art as Buddhist Practice

This section is about my own work. Since the narrative 
describes two methods, I'll divide the presentation of my work into two posts. So that makes a total of four posts.


In my work,  I am playing with the world of appearances 
 – out there in boundless space –
and within the protected world,   also boundless, 
of my imagination. 

In practice, I follow two basic  paths – and many variations -
to this coming together of   appearance and significance.
In one, I paint landscape from observation in oils on panel.  That moment between the clear and simple appearance of something, the sensation on the eye,  and the perception of it as a thing, with a name,   can be opened out.   

There’s a gap there that can be widened,  
and this by the way was Claude Monet’s trick.  
This is expressly what he was doing. (1)

Painting according to Monet’s method  is like the insight practice of   Mindfulness of Phenomena,  pure experience of form without naming things. (2)

After a while of this,  everything is seen
as transparent  and interdependent ;

I am awake in a dream.   
And through a regular practice of this  
I might begin to see thatas the song goes, 

life is but a dream.

Does it always go like this? No, not always.

(1) The Impressionists were furthering the project of the Realists, led by Gustave Courbet and the painters of the Barbizon School. Real subjects like everyday people in everyday situations were important to these painters. Landscape was important. Whatever was natural, just as it is, was important. Equally important was representing them with a sense of  reality and immediacy.

Furthermore, in the 1850s, scientific studies had found this gap between the sensation of light on the retina and the appearance in the mind of the image, and then between that mental image and the significance or naming of that image. Monet and other painters were interested in that gap as a moment of bare reality.

Monet once advised another painter:  "Do not paint a house, or a bridge or a tree. Paint only a square of blue, a smudge of yellow, an oblong of pink."

(2) As a practice of spiritual insight, the look of the painting matters not a whit. Working the painting into a work of art is another matter that develops in parallel to that of "seeing through the veil" of appearances. Making a work of art depends on knowledge and skill in manipulating materials and colors. It is possible to do both.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Midcentury Painter

This is the second of three posts
presenting and developing my recent slide talk
Contemporary Art as Buddhist Practice.

Here, I'll discuss a single work - a series really - by a painter 
well known from the 1930s into the 1960s.

I'm going to ask you to use your imagination, 
which is more effective in a live setting since I can withhold the image. 

I’ve been showing some slides from early Buddhist painting,   
done by monks and artists familiar with the Buddha Way,
And a few Paintings by Modern artists who shared that motivation. 
I will now introduce to you one Midcentury work in particular.
Though many other modern paintings would be worth the trouble,  this is something wonderful.

Close your eyes and imagine please, a square canvas.
 It’s almost as wide as your outstretched arms,  higher than your head,   down to about your knees.
The canvas is all black.   The painter was well acquainted with the Buddhadharma.
He wrote out 12 rules:

No texture
No brushwork or calligraphy
No sketching or drawing
No forms
No design
No colors
No light
No space
No time
No size or scale
No movement
No object, no subject, no matter. No symbols, images or signs. Neither pleasure nor paint.

As you gaze into this black field,      devoid of mark or space or time,   you begin to distinguish some “resonance” in the blackness. 
It’s not just black.   Maybe there is a design,  a division,   though you’re not quite sure you saw it.

Now open your eyes.

10 minutes in front of one of Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings can change your life.
He painted them,   by hand and brush,   for the last many years of his life.
Always the same,   always new,  he referred to them as  
The Last Painting. 
  Reinhardt wrote in 1962:

“The standard of art is oneness and fineness,   rightness and purity,  abstractness and evanescence.

The one thing to say about art is its breathlessness,  spacelessness and timelessness.  
  This is always the end in art.”

For a moment, imagine yourself making a painting like this.
What would shift in yourself   as you mix these colors so black,   yet not black,
and apply them according to his 12 rules, stated as they are, in the negative?

What would you have to  relinquish?


Now, I said above that ten minutes in front of one of Ad Reinhardt's paintings
could change your life.
I don't know if that can happen in front of a computer screen. I have written elsewhere about the confusion about art that comes in a time like ours when all information, standing in for experience, takes place in reproduction. This has been a topic since the 40s at least, but now with electronic communications so ubiquitous, we tend to forget that works of art are there to be contemplated
in person, in real life.

The next time you are in a museum that has an Ad Reinhardt Black Painting
do not miss the opportunity to spend 10 - 60 minutes in quiet contemplation.

People pass them by. Lao Tsu said the Tao that is not laughed at is not the true Tao.


Baas, Jacqueline. 2005. Smile of the Buddha: Eastern Philosophy and Western          Art from Monet to Today. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of          California Press.

Baas, Jacqueline and Mary Jane Jacob. 2004. Buddha Mind in Contemporary          Art. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.

Rose, Barbara Stella. 1975. Art as Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt.
         Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.

The second book on this list was not a specific reference for this post, but is here included because of its important relation to the first book by the same author. Jacqueline Baas and Mary Jane Jacob "co-organized...a program...entitled Awake: Art, Buddhism, and the Dimensions of Consciousness. From April 2001 to February 2003 this consortium effort brought together arts professionals, artists, and others to investigate the relationship between the meditative, creative, and perceiving mind; and the implications of Buddhist perspectives for artistic and museum practices in the United States. It led to more than fifty exhibitions, performances, and public programs from 2002 to 2004." (from the publisher's page)

It's a fascinating and inspiring book. It offers a new take on Marcel Duchamp and describes the ongoing work of contemporary artists working today. There are no painters mentioned.

In The Smile of the Buddha, Ms. Baas has essays on Monet, van Gogh, Gauguin, Redon, Kandinsky, Brancusi, Duchamp, O'Keefe, Noguchi, Reinhardt, Yves Klein, Jasper Johns, John Cage, Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, Agnes Martin, Robert Irwin, Vija Celmins, and Richard Tuttle.

Barbara Rose edited Reinhardt's enigmatic and slyly profound writings.