Buddha painting faq
HOW DID THE BUDDHA PAINTINGS GET STARTED?
The paintings started out being more or less straightforward paintings of a small brass Buddha that I had in my possession. I was intrigued by the idea of using religious subject matter from an eastern culture. After a few more or less straightforward paintings of the brass Buddha, I started incorporating his image into larger painting with contemporary western content. The initial motivation was simply to give the paintings some variety by using different backgrounds for the Buddha image. What I discovered was that invariably, a relationship builds between the Buddha image and its surroundings which in a way leads to a narrative or story of what might be going on between the Buddha and the other stuff in the paintings. There is no fixed message to these paintings. Rather, they invite you to create your own story.
WHY WRITE ON THE PAINTINGS?
There is a tradition of writing on paintings in the Orient, but in the west, this practice of putting text on pictures was more or less restricted to advertising and to magazine covers. I was intrigued by the idea of writing on the paintings. And the Buddha paintings naturally lent themselves to this practice since religious paintings have always been more likely to have writing on them.
WHAT DOES THE WRITING ON THE PAINTINGS MEAN?
Initially, I painted invented pseudo Buddhist slogans on the Buddha paintings. But after a while, I settled on a transliteration of a line of Sanscrit from the Heart Sutra, one of the central scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism: "Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha" or some fragment or repetition thereof. The English meaning of this term text is roughly, "Over, over, way over, all the way over, enlightenment, svaha." Svaha being an exclamation meaning roughly Amen or so be it. And the over over, referring to the Buddhist metaphor of Buddhism as a raft that carries the faithful across a stream to enlightenment on the other side of the stream.
WHY PAINT BUDDHAS ON TV TRAYS?
The Buddhas painted on TV trays and cookie trays evolved from the original small Buddha paintings. They were also inspired in part by religious Latin folk art of the type found in New Mexico. This sort of art is often decorative and is used to adorn common objects. Painting a religious subject on a cookie tray was more or less done on a whim, but I liked the effect of the new painting interacting with the images that were already present on the trays so I kept doing them
WHAT STARTED THE BIGGER BUDDHA PAINTINGS?
I liked doing the Buddha paintings on trays, but there was always a shortage of good ones, so I also started painting Buddhas on thrift store paintings. When I couldn't find enough of those, I decided to paint my own images, mostly pictures out of magazines to use as substrates for the Buddhas.
ARE THE BUDDHA PAINTINGS IN ANY WAY RELIGIOUS?
They are religious in the sense that they have religious subject matter. Whether they have any devotional purpose more or less depends on the attitude that the viewer brings to them. There are some Buddhist traditions where repeating the Buddha's name over and over is said to bring liberation. Perhaps the painting of a buddha image over and over can have a similar effect but I'm not sure. In any case, the Buddha image is commonplace now in the west and in a way desacrilized. One can buy Buddha garden ornaments and people display these without embarassment whereas the same people would probably feel that it would be gauche to put a Virgin Mary or a Jesus on the lawn. But I think that regardless of religious significance, the Buddha image projects serenity and equanimity two states much sought after but very elusive in our culture.
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BARBIE DOLL IN THE BUDDHA PAINTINGS?
The Barbie doll is simply another of my stock models and has appeared in other than the Buddha paintings. Her initial appearance in these paintings was more or less accidental, but I liked the counterpoint that Barbie's ephemeral nature provides to the image of the Buddha and so I kept bringing her back. Whereas the Buddha represents detatchment and serenity, Barbie represents the ephemeral aspect of the world. Flowers on a Buddhist altar have the same significance and also appear in these paintings.
WHAT'S THE STORY WITH THE FLOWERS?
The flowers naturally complement the Buddha image and I like painting them. They are whatever is in season at the time I am painting, although in the winter they tend to be a greenhouse product. In early spring, there are camelias and irises. Later roses and geraniums and much later dahlias, asters and zinnias. All the other flowers such as lilies come from the farmer's market.