Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Riding The Wave

Detail: Zen Garden Boogie
Watercolor On Arches Hot Press
One of the things I love most about painting, is riding along on the wave of creation to see what will happen next. In Zen Garden Boogie, my materials are dictating the way forward. The hot press paper led me to a flat, graphic style of work, and while it's fun to do, I miss traditional methods of layering to create depth and form. But here we are, and since there's a ten-pack of hot press waiting in my studio, I'm going to be learning a lot more about working with hot press watercolor paper!

This first piece forced me to let go of glazing to gradually build an illusion of dimension. The paper refused to accept layers of pigment, thick or watery, requiring me to simplify my methods and throwing my attention squarely into design. I'm drawn to complexity. I have no desire to mitigate or simplify what I see. I want my work to express a sense of the tangled intrigue that is our life. With this new method of painting, I'm relying on linear shapes of color and value weaving in and out of the picture plane to create three dimensional movement and rhythm. I don't know…is it working? We all see color differently. I do know it's deliciously fun!

In Boy√© LaFayette De Mente's book, Elements of Japanese Design, he writes about muga (letting "it" do the designing). Sounds pretty wonderful and easy until you ask who or what is it? Ha! The penultimate question. De Mente defines muga as a state in which there is no sense of an individual self, a state of spiritual ecstasy arising from continuous training of body and mind. While training requires persistent effort, at the same time it requires letting go. I like the way Eugen Herrigel describes it in Zen in the Art of Archery:
"Do you now understand," the Master asked me one day after a particularly good shot, "what I mean by 'It shoots,' 'It hits'?"
"I'm afraid I don't understand anything more at all," I answered, "even the simplest things have got in a muddle. Is it 'I' who draw the bow, or is it the bow that draws me into the state of highest tension? Do 'I' hit the goal, or does the goal hit me? Is 'It' spiritual when seen by the eyes of the body, and corporeal when seen by the eyes of the spirit—or both or neither? Bow, arrow, goal and ego, all melt into one another, so that I can no longer separate them. And even the need to separate has gone. For as soon as I take the bow and shoot, everything becomes so clear and straightforward and so ridiculously simple…"
I love/hate these Zen stories. They grab my mind, twist it all around, then ring it out. When we're painting "in the zone", in the state of highest tension, academic concepts disappear, and the way forward— "it" becomes delightfully simple and clear. Brush, paint, goal and ego all melt into one another, and everything becomes clear and straightforward and ridiculously simple. Continuous training, our efforts to become a better painter, our frustration and our struggles, are all ingredients for the subtle alchemy called muga.


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