Long Days in the Studio, Painting the 500 Enlightened Arahats
Long Days in the Studio, Painting the 500 Arahats
In the high mountains of western Colorado, summer is coming to an end.
Yes, the days are still pleasantly warm, but the late nights and early mornings are now very cool.
The forest wildfires that raged across the state this summer have all died down.
The breeze no longer carries smoke with it, and our hearts are filled with gratitude for the great work of the fire fighters. Heavy rains now wash the ashes from the burn zones into the rivers, making the water murky and life harder for the beautiful red spotted trout.
The flowers in our garden still bloom, but I think it is time to harvest the herbs, make them into pesto sauce and dry the mint for making mint tea.
The roofers are putting the last details on our curved roof.
The end of the long roof installation is in sight.
The installation of the new roof has taken over a month, and it will be a nice change not to wake up at six in the morning to the sounds of people banging on the roof.
Being home all month has meant that I have had plenty of time to work in the studio.
I have worked on painting the 500 Arahats continually, and still am not sure how I want to proceed.
I have experimented with different backgrounds, different sizes of the Arahats themselves and different compositions of the paintings.
In some, I made the Arahats the same size, spread across the scroll evenly as if suspended in time and space.
In other scrolls, I have made the Arahats different sizes, some holding the tail of a dragon, others holding the “pearl of wisdom” for which the dragon is always searching in Chinese mythology.
In all the paintings I have experimented with, the Arahats do not interact with each other.
The reason is that I am trying to depict that most of the enlightened Arahats were eccentric people, living as hermits away from the noise, the collective thoughts and hum of the world, searching for a clearer connection to the Divine God within.
In some paintings I doodled colorful background patterns and flowers, while in other paintings I made angular waves, flowers and spiral patterns.
In yet other paintings, I placed the Arahats in landscapes, and have started practicing ancient Chinese ink landscape painting techniques on smaller scrolls that I have.
It has been an interesting and fun process.
Sometimes it was painful, when self doubts devoured my confidence and made me feel small and incapable, doubting the reasons for the whole project, one that will require years to complete….
The fabulous contemporary artist Takashi Murakami, who completed his 500 Arahats painting in 2012, employed 200 art students to work on this project with him.
Some did research about the Arahats, other actually painted and silk screened the images.
I am alone… working on the floor of the big Studio… riddled with self doubts and lacking in confidence…..
Yet I labor on…
Every day, I show up for work, picking up my drawing pencil, pens and brushes, despite crippling self doubts and a painfully critical eye, battling a soul that strives for perfection in a very imperfect world…
The paintings that have resulted, whether you like them or not, do not look like the inner battleground that they have been in the making.
You will see lovely patterns in the robes of the Arahats, metallic gold patterns in the scales of the dragons, and backgrounds that look effortless and spontaneous…. yet it has been anything but…
Speaking of Takashi Murakami, next week we are flying to Dallas and Fort Worth, to see his most recent art exhibition.
I would have flown anywhere in the world for a chance to see his 500 Arahats, but alas the huge panting is not on display now.
I ordered his book about the original exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Japan, which details his process and the old master painters who were his inspirations for the project.
I am savoring the big book, reading it like eating a fine and rich chocolate cake, small bites at a time.
I have also seen some of those old painters who painted the 500 Arahats up close, in exhibitions around the world, inspiring me to do the project myself, for over fifteen years now.
It will be fun to be away from the house and Studio for a little while, walk around Dallas, eat in restaurants and look at the art.
I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the project…
I tell myself not to give up, to show up in the studio and work, letting the project unfold, despite my self doubts.
If I complete it, I will be the first woman in the world who has ever painted the whole 500 Arahats, as far as I know.
It gives me some comfort to realize this….
I am adding another three paintings I’ve completed thus far.
With warm blessings to all of you,