A Call To Wake Up
Viewing a painting by Kongtrül Rinpoche is like steppinginto a rich universe of light and color. Almost instantly, one is drawn in by awarm sparkle of orange or a glimpse of luminous ground to begin the journey throughthe layers and textures of this new world. The paintings are at once timelessand ancient, newborn and endlessly old, familiar and exotic - an extraordinarypassage for the eye and mind, the heart and gut. Dramatic planes of opaquedarkness contrasting against the transparency of color and luminous glowsuggest the limitless freedom of mind, honoring its potential while, with greatsincerity, recognizing its obscurations. Rinpoche's works are alive withhonesty and depth, which is both encouraging and demanding. There isfearlessness in these paintings. The determination of stroke, the movement andfluidity of composition, the evocative layers of color all point to the freedomof expression, unencumbered by expectation or concern for the outcome. This is"letting go" embodied. The strength of non-attachment pervades all ofthe works, and with it as a firm ground, the paintings stand as explorations,detailed research into the depth of mind. Often finding their mark in the soft spotof the viewer, the works disable conceptual thinking and gain immediate accessto one's heart.
Expansive surfaces push outward in all directions whilesimultaneously contracting inward. In this tension of inwardness andoutwardness, in the space between the two extremes, one finds a wealth ofinformation communicated by the artist. The unity of the energetic dispersionof strokes and forms draws the viewer into the artist's expression. Without encumbranceof allusion we share the experience of the painter in an intimate and humanway. This immediacy of experience has an unavoidable truthful quality. Whetherplayful serenity or profound tumult, the sensation is delivered directly to one'sheart in a unique and powerful way. The impact is deep and lasting, so much sothat you often want to return for another look, developing over time a longingto see more, as if through seeing the paintings you could uncover the secretsof your soul.
Upon closer observation one discovers a stunning familiarityin the works . It might be a reflection of the winter sky in the use of particularcolor or it might be an emotion evoked by the contrast of shapes and surfaces. Thisfamiliarity adds to the depth. What is familiar is the fundamental mystery and magicthe human experience that unfolds before our eyes. The recognition of It drawsone in with the warmth of a well-known room or a beloved landscape, inspiringone to rest in a moment of observation, while unexplored emotions are provokedto surface and be examined.
The charge and energy of the darker pieces and theeffortless light and calm of the lighter ones take us on a panoramic journey ofour own heart and mmd. The consonance of soft colored shapes set against alight background minimizes contrast, providing a resting place. In the darkerpieces the turbulence of the painterly process and the uncompromising passion fortruthful expression is discernible in sharp edged forms set against the luminousbackground. Brilliant jewel-tones free up the dominant dark forms, allowing themto almost float off the canvas. The paint is often carried to the very edge ofthe paper or canvas making it seem that the images continue beyond the edges.This bespeaks the artist's complete engagement with the surface. There are severalpieces that show a more structured composition, deconstructed nevertheless bythe bursts of energetic strokes. They seem a metaphor for a container withinwhich the entirety of human emotional experience can play itself out with theforce and strength necessary for a complete experience.
While it is difficult to verbalize visual practices, inviewing this body of work one can intuit that the information contained in thepaintings is comprehensive. Each piece is uniquely its own, different from its predecessoror its follower, and there is a clear understanding of statements being madeand themes explored which will create a basis for future work.
The distinguishing mark of the entire body of work isRinpoche's strong sense of non-attachment. Often he will create a traditionallybeautiful image only to dissolve it with the next layer of paint andturpentine. In the course of one painting he will move through five or siximages, covering each layer with more and more subtle color. Often the finallayer will be created out of the dregs of used turpentine and leftover paint,making it appear as something one doesn't conventionally consider beautiful. Then,magic occurs, as paintings remain to dry over a period of weeks. In the processthey gain in luminosity and vibrancy. Entirely new layers of color and lightare revealed and one realizes the mastery behind such work. The foresight andability to let things be are essential to this technique and most importantly, theabsence of attachment to the result.
In some sense Rinpoche lets the paintings "develop"as they will, merely providing the ground and elements of the final product. Atthe same time, the ability to step out of the way in this manner results fromthe discipline and experience cultivated by years of mind training as a meditator.Genuine non-attachment and an uncritical view of one's own work elude mostartists, or are nurtured deliberately over a lifetime. Here is where Rinpoche'shistory and depth as a practitioner allow him to enter easily into a workingmode free of concepts, one particularly suited for the type of painting heundertakes.
As a viewer, I often found myself attached to the beauty ofthe images floating by on canvas; but for the artist one gets the sense that thereare no such discriminations. What results are works which provoke the mind toexamine the habit of making choices based on preference. We feel encouraged tosee all as beautiful and even the ugly as a form of support to see beauty. Ionce asked him: "How do you know when to stop?" And the answer wasthat "as long there is even a speck of attachment to the image in fronthim," he will continue to paint, covering the image over and over. Once hehas gone beyond attachment in his inner experience, he will stop the outer workas well.
There was always a very definite point at which Rinpoche stoppedpainting - and for a moment there would be a sense of sudden liberation in theair. Sometimes this moment came quickly, at other times slowly, but neverdeliberately. Clearly, Rinpoche is not guided so much by what is on the canvasin front of him as by his inner experience. Never judging his paintings as goodor bad he simply lets them be. This allows them to evoke powerful feelings andreflect their particular sense of spaciousness and non-attachment, which getstransformed to the experience of the viewer as well.
Rinpoche is able to utilize the practical benefits of the materialswith depth and accuracy. He customarily brushes an aqueous solution of warmrabbit-skin glue on paper or canvas, allowing it to penetrate the fibers anddry. Thus he creates an even ground which supports the oil medium and forces itto remain fluidly on the surface rather sinking into the canvas or paper.Naturally, when covered with paint the ground affects the perception of thelayers above. In this case there is a luminous effect of the white ground,which heightens the translucency of the oil medium. With this as the basis,Rinpoche explores the multiplicity of variations possible within one color.Utilizing the dense opacity of the darker hues juxtaposed against the etherealquality of the lighter ones, Rinpoche achieves a chromatic balance in which thepigment, an inert matter, is made to elicit a variety of sensations flowingfreely in one's heart. The momentous and instantaneous stroke reveals a joyful fascinationwhich allows the expression of the moment to take place with accuracy andpassion.
To observe Rinpoche at work is mesmerizing. The thoughtfulsensitivity and curiosity with which he approaches the canvas or paper are buta precursor of the light that bursts through in the final works. The movement ofhands, slow and deliberate, the dance of fingers, forceful, steady, pausing attimes to take in the newly painted landscape, are all clearly present in thefinished works. This history of movement is how a viewer is able to takejourney after journey through the canvases. One can perceive the echoes of thesurrounding landscape or the mood of the day's weather in Rinpoche's paintingsbut mostly it is the reflection of the artist's inner inventory - the emotionsand thoughts, flowing, ever changing and apparently accessible in their nakedform - that compose the works. These are mindscapes. In them, Rinpoche combinesluminosity of brilliant color hues with the abysmal quality of the opaquefields, creating a signature style where wisdom and clear seeing are essentialqualities, a guiding force and ultimately the absolute truth of the territorythey traverse.
In each painting there is more than one set of binarycontrasts - glazes versus opaque color, absorbent versus non absorbentsurfaces, painting wet in wet versus around a contour, lushness versus acidity,austerity versus decorativeness, softness versus sharp edges, defined outlines versusindefinite merging, and always, invariably present, light illuminating thesurfaces. This inner light is recognized by the viewer as something of one'sown mind as well - the potential for luminosity to break through what we mayfeel is only darkness and obscuration. The emotion that the realization of thispossibility evokes is very much a part of experiencing these works. They are ateaching as well as a discovery, and a joyful gift.
The honesty of the artist’s self reflection is a powerfulguide for the viewer, both to the paintings and to finding one's way throughthe deeper landscapes of one's own mind. Actions and emotions, the world chatwe create, constantly changing, are presented here with a keen eye andappreciation for the truth, regardless of how good or bad, pretty or ugly,revolting or attractive it may be. The paintings are a mirror, not only oftheir creator's mind, but also of the human mind in general. On the whole, theyare an invitation for us to explore our minds, very straightforwardly,courageously and honestly. The emotions it evokes and the contemplations itinspires clearly identify this body of work as a basic wake up call. A call todevelop strength through fearless self-reflection; to extract ourselves fromour usual stupor, our jaded state of mind and look squarely at what can befound deeply in human experience; to be inquisitive and brave in walkingthrough the various "neighborhoods" of our mind. And to wake up tothe glory that lies in its potential.