Visual Research Journal #29 – 32

As I mentioned in my last post, my next project is to complete at least 3 paintings on a series of my choice. At my meditation class tonight, I was inspired to make a painting(s) that is also an offering. In Buddhism, making offerings to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha (the 3 jewels in Buddhism) can be mental or physical, but ultimately it is a *practice* that helps create vast positive energy, or merit, in the mind of the practitioner, and helps us let go of miserly, or selfish tendencies. With this intention, I figured it would make sense to investigate contemporary 2D artists who work with themes of offerings and Buddhism.

Youdhi Maharjan is a New Hampshire based collage artist. His installations and prints are made from repurposed texts, which he strips of their legible content. Maharjan has cited the Buddhist Thangka (painting on cotton textile) as one source of inspiration. His art also reflects his military training to be a doctor in his native Nepal, before he decided to become an artist. He uses rigid, mathematical repetition as a source of meditation when creating his pieces. I find his work interesting because of his meditative flow states that is integral to his artistic process, as well as his use / destruction of words.

“I am interested in the idea of Sisyphean eternity, monotonous repetition of the same labor over and over again, with no hope or expectation for an end. In the process, I experience different kind of eternity, the sweet kind, that lasts for few material moments, but feels like forever, where the time stops, and with it, stops all my questions and worries, where I am free from my existential burden and get a little closer to myself.”
– Youdhi Maharjan

Charwei Tsai is a visual artist born in Taiwan who currently lives and works in Taipei and Paris. Her works range from performance to drawing, and are highly personal, portraying a sense of her Taiwanese identity and the consequent implications, like her practice of Buddhism. Her work, We Came Whirling from Nothingness (2014), is a series of drawings where various forms of spiral were created by watercolor on rice paper and inscribed with Heart Sutra, a seminal Buddhist teaching on the nature of reality, or emptiness. The texts gradually disperse in the outer sphere into the void in contemplation of the essence of emptiness even when applied to dharma (or Buddhist teaching) itself.

We Came Whirling from Nothingness I-IV(details), 2014, Watercolor & ink on rice paper, 68x68cm

With the Tibetan diaspora, a wide range of perspectives on Buddhism has found their way into contemporary art. Tenzing Rigdol is a Tibetan artist that address Buddhist themes, ideas, and traditional texts but considers his global audience when making his art. In his work below, Tenzing Rigdol’s abstracted figure of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion, so that it has no face, thus denying the viewer of any direct or emotionally charged devotional contact. By omitting the eyes, Tenzing removes the image from a traditional devotional function and casts it as an independent work of art. I like this work because of the visual language he both employs and disobeys to communicate Buddhism, meditation, and reflection to create new meanings.

Tenzing Rigdol (born Kathmandu 1982). Pin Drop Silence: Eleven-Headed Avalokitesvara, 2013. Ink, pencil, acrylic, and pastel on paper; image: 91 5/8 x 49 1/8 in. (232.7 x 124.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Andrew Cohen, in honor of Tenzing Rigdol and Fabio Rossi, 2013 (2013.627)

The last artists for this entry is Gonkar Gyatso, a Tibetan Buddhist artist who principally works in collage. His massive collage, Dissected Buddha, also references a traditional image of Buddha reaching down to touch the earth at the moment of his enlightenment, but it also breaks from tradition with the Buddha’s body dissolving into a cacophony of stickers and blurbs. A central theme of Gonkar’s work for the past twenty years is his questioning of the image of a Buddhas as a symbol of enlightenment in the twenty-first century. I appreciate this work because it is a question that I would like to explore as well: how do we define holiness and enlightenment? How do we visually communicate it in a way that allows both the artist and the viewer to arrive at deeper insights of wisdom and compassion? I also appreciate his intense details that pull you into his work, enticing the viewer to investigate while simultaneously reminding you to look for the bigger picture that is often right in front of us…

Gonkar Gyatso (born Lhasa 1961). Dissected Buddha, 2011. Collage, stickers, pencil and colored pencil, and acrylic on paper; 9 ft. 2 1/4 in. x 90 1/2 in. (280 x 229.9 cm). Promised Gift of Margaret Scott and David Teplitzky. © Gonkar Gyatso

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