Meditation in Art, From the Studio, Ensos

In a way my paintings are ensos. What is an enso?

An enso is a Japanese Buddhist painting, a circle, drawn in one fluid motion with brush and ink. Most people have seen this symbol before, but are not familiar with the name. The drawing of an enso is a discipline derived from calligraphy and expresses a precise moment and the state of mind that the creator was in while drawing it. The paintings signify emptiness and vast space and their creation is a spiritual practice. Sometimes the circle is closed, but often the circle is left open.

enso by Zen master Hakuin
enso by Zen master Hakuin who lived from 1685-1768



My art is a spiritual practice in the same vein as an enso painting. While creating one of my paintings from the Emptiness series, I strive (actually strive is not a good word, in meditation there can be no striving) to be in the same state of mind as I would be while in meditation. Letting thoughts come and go and focusing on the breathing and not letting the mind be swayed by this or that. This is a daily life practice as well.

Emptiness 6, in its early stages
Emptiness 6, in its early stages


But beyond the mental practice there is the issue of technique to be dealt with while creating these paintings, and that is what I am struggling with right now. Actually over the last week I have resolved some issues that have been keeping me from completing a painting that I would keep. It has been a very slow process. Lately it has taken 3-4 attempts per painting to finally get a good image. And the canvas cannot be painted over. The canvas must be removed and re-stretched, starting completely from scratch. The paintings that I have completed and kept have an intangible quality to them, some less than others, that when viewed have a sense of mystery and depth that is inexplainable.

RaCo-Life-From-The-Studio-Paintings copy

There are some important factors to be dealing with when creating a painting from this series:

– the quality of the mind when the paint is applied
– the quality of the brushstrokes
– the thickness of the paint
– how “clean” the paint is – no floaters or little solid bits
– the atmosphere of the studio
– the quality of the canvas, imperfections are ok (to some extent)

Actually, with regards to the latter, imperfections are embraced. They signify that nothing is perfect and that all life is transient. One of the problems I have been struggling with is that I was trying to make my paintings too perfect. Not absolute perfection, but I was not using the imperfections properly. I noticed that the paintings that were the most “perfect” lacked the depth and intangible quality I was looking for. So I backed off and loosened up a bit and things started happening.

a large variation on the theme of emptiness, this one starts to show elements of wabi sabi.


Like ensos, my paintings embrace the Japanese concept of wabi sabi, which basically means “imperfect beauty”. This philosophy is central to the Japanese aesthetic and can be seen in all good Japanese art and design from pottery to painting to architecture and flower arrangement (ikebana). The aesthetic of wabi sabi cannot truly be expressed in words.

another variation on the theme of Emptiness
another variation on the theme of Emptiness in its infancy


So I will continue to create these paintings and refine them, work on my meditation while painting them, complete the series and move on. These paintings are the first step in the creation of most of my future work and the formulation of my philosophy on art and life. I plan on presenting the ideas in other mediums such as sculpture, prints, drawings, performance, video and sound. All of my experiences in life have lead me to this point and, even after years of practice, I am just beginning this journey and it is a very exiting journey indeed.




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