At its deepest level, any poetic utterance grows out of a desire to overcome loneliness, to share experience.
“Absence” Charcoal and Inks on Arches paper. 40″X 27″ approx
For a long time – really since I started making paintings as a conscious adult – I’ve been troubled by notions of ‘self’ and of art as ‘self expression’.
Meditation reveals to us that rather than the centres of thought and intention we believe ourselves to be, we are more like an opening of consciousness watching our thoughts as they arise and pass away. As with the ten thousand other things, thoughts, like us, become present, pass away into absence, (for surely everything does pass away,) become present and return again into emptiness. Drawing is not so very different. When we sit down with charcoal and paper, thoughts, (from petty discomfort to grandiosity,) come and go, come and go, come and go, until little by little we become absorbed in the magnificence of what is before us. The thoughts settle, if we let them, concentration deepens and we become empty of our ‘selves’. To use terminology taken from Ch’an or Taoism we become absence to the overwhelming presence of what is before us. As we go on looking and making marks, working from the white of the paper to the carbon deep darks, concentrating but not thinking, we become emptier and emptier and, simultaneously, fuller and fuller. There is no separation. Absence deep enough and still enough becomes as a mirror; and the mirror is just one more among the ten thousand things perfectly reflecting the forest, the rising sun, passing crows like fragments of the dark trees thrown into the sky. We become filled up with the muffled sounds of the coots, the smell of damp leaves, the slight warmth of the winter sun on our faces, the taste of tea from the flask we’ve packed for the day’s work. I – a person with history, concerns, lists of things to do – for those hours, am not. I am only woods and water. Nothing more and nothing less.
If you are awake and watching this sunrise and the threads of gossamer strung across the primordial darkness of these damp winter alders, or maybe if for five minutes you are looking at this drawing, you share my mind. You too are woods and water, coot and winter sun, breeze and shadow.
I am indebted to David Hinton and his wonderful book Hunger Mountain for clarifying some of my thoughts on the experience of looking contained in this post.