We were not meant to survive. We were meant to live.
- W.S. Merwin
A Balance of Shadows
72”x96” oil on linen
A Balance of Shadows was begun in 2004 as a visual poem reflecting the tensions of our era. Today, May 24, 2012, I laid a thin transparent layer of lapis lazuli across a section of the sky. Sourced in Afghanistan, this precious stone, when ground into pigment, creates a radiant blue that has been considered auspicious in both east and west. The word depicted in Japanese script in the upper left section of the painting is satori. The word satori is a Japanese Buddhist term for enlightenment or "understanding". In the Zen Buddhist tradition, satori refers to the experience of kensho. Kensho when used in Zen traditions refers to "seeing into one's true nature." Ken means "seeing," sho means "nature" or "essence." Satori and kensho are commonly translated as enlightenment, a word that is also used to translate bodhi, prajna and buddhahood.
A series of interactions between this painting and viewers worldwide has taken place on the web. Poets, writers and artists from Brazil, to Hong Kong, to Greece, to the Netherlands have interacted with the painting in online dialogues. I have traveled widely in my quest to understand the international connections between east and west. These global interactions inflect my understanding of the painting and help me understand my need to create this work.
Throughout my life I have been compelled to create artworks that depict a world caught between color and elegy, between memory and dream. Inspired by the Buddhist practices of people across the globe, I have created images referencing Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Burma, The United States, India and China. These artworks seem to depict a world in which humanity struggles not just to survive, but to live. My paintings bring out questions. What does it mean to honor the space between seeing and being? What is the place of beauty in the modern world? Where is the space for contemplation in contemporary life?
In reference to my paintings of monks inspired by Eastern Philosophy, the art writer Peter Clothier has said:
“They exist in an aura of light rather than on some earthly plane. They move through space like transient beings, absorbed in their own silent, meditative isolation. In this way, they seem to project some of the real values of their Buddhist faith: the inevitable passage of time that is at the root of so much human suffering, the illusory quality of what we take to be the real world and, most importantly, the promise of an escape from suffering into enlightenment.”
- Gregg Chadwick, May 2012