This painting is part of a series called Breath Portraits. I sit in connection with my breath. I then pour ink on the paper and breathe it around the page. Working intuitively, connection to breath is at the heart of this work.
I began work on this painting in February 2018, in a small studio at the Marin Headlands Center for the Arts, which a view of the Pacific Ocean.
I prepared my materials and then began as I always do: I lit a candle, offered incense, invoked Qwan Yin: bodhisattva of compassion, the mother of all buddhas, the divine feminine who I consider to be the trans bodhisattva (she manifests as different genders at will). I sat with paper and ink ready and simply waited, in connection with my body and the larger world, aware of the ocean waves on the beach in the distance echoing the waves of my own breath. Eventually some impulse arose and compelled me to move. I poured the ink, and in a concordance with my meditation, moved the ink on the paper with my breath, varying in the force of the exhale intuitively.
I layered color with isopropyl alcohol, working intuitively to build up color and transparency.
I then transported the painting in my move to Art Monastery Vermont. Coming back to painting in the summer of 2018, working in the barn-turned-studio, with light pour through the gaps in the wooden walls. I went back in with tiny paintbrushes and pens, adding linework in black and white ink. Each brush or pen stroke I did my best to stay present, to connect each line to an individual breath.
About the linework
The linework in Baba Wawa represents a turning point in an evolution from linework that began years earlier. One Fall day in 2008, I went the to the San Francisco Aquarium. I stood drawing an anemone plumosa, a nearly transparent being stuck to the face of the aquarium glass. After a good chunk of time, I noticed what seemed like fingerprints on the glass. But in the hour I had been there drawing, not a single person had stopped at this tank, let alone pressed themselves against it. Upon closer inspection I discovered the marks, fanning and spiraling in mesmerizing, barely-visible ridges of dust, were the footprints of the anemone—each single tiny mark made over the course of hours. These stunning patterns covered the glass, perhaps months of imperceptible movement by the anemone.
Both the visual patterns and the process of creating them continue to grip me. What trails are you leaving in your life, imperceptible to you, unintentional but devastatingly beautiful nonetheless?
The lines I fell so in love with in 2008 have grown into longer forms, becoming more hairlike, more featherlike, perhaps more breathlike.
About the title
The title comes from the sutra Song of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi. I chanted this sacred text almost every day as part of the pre-dawn service that I participated in while living at Green Gulch Farm / Green Dragon Zen Temple on and off from 2014 to 2018. This sacred poetry was the first of the buddhist liturgy that really spoke to me. To keep it near my heart, I memorized it. I continue to return to it in my meditations on the cushion and in the studio.
The original painting, currently in a private collection, is ink on paper, 14x12".