Long Days in the Studio, Painting the 500 Enlightened Arahats

dragon and pearl of wisdom

dragon and bird arahatsarahats and pink peonies

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,

4 Comments on “Long Days in the Studio, Painting the 500 Enlightened Arahats”

  1. Sending Love and admiration , Thank you for keeping me in the loop. I have relocated to be with my son and daughter in law and two Grandsons in Middleburg Fla, countery living south of Jacksonville. You are so talented, and you have enriched my life in so many ways 😉

    • Dearest Ray,
      Your warm and kind words had warmed my heart.
      How glad I am to hear that I have been a positive influence on your sweet life…
      I am delighted my friend to hear of your relocation.
      Make it a joyful one, and let other benefit from your light.
      You are always in my heart,
      Love and hugs,

  2. Dear Tali,
    Now that your studio is complete and hammering has been reduced to a minimum, I presume you’ll be spending the great preponderance of your time ensconced within, intent on project completion by some unknown date, prior to the peak in your productive years. I say this with less than superlative enthusiasm for the project and am now genuinely concerned.
    Perhaps I commingle the Arahats with the guru on the mountain top in terms of finding some nirvahnic inner spirit, peace or what have you, but the price to fly over the rainbow shouldn’t need to be so high.
    Your mention of Murakami’s 200 art students leads me again to King Chin’s countless workers and artisans employed in creating his vast terracotta army, at least in a presumed suspicion of a probable intent to ensure permanent enclosure in a princely and divinely celestial space. As a Zen saying goes, you won’t find any at the top of the mountain unless you bring it with you.
    Now, having belittled your program and anticipated efforts, I must apologize again…for I feel the efforts will be rewarding and revealing…and, if completed, will place you on some recognizable level in the eastern art and thought community, on a pedestal which should make you mightily proud and, possibly, mightily wealthy…although I don’t believe the latter is your intent. The journey is the reward…and the truth.
    You already have a connection with the Divine, unless you believe your Arahats really whispered to you. The connection has got to be similar to those who feel, following sincere contemplation (or not), that “God told me to…”, and you already understand and relish Murakami’s teachings.
    In summary, I do wish you inspiration, stamina and joy along your path. But keep in mind (so, I believe), completion is irrelevant. The self-realization journey’s end is acceptance that you are already perfect. Don’t press yourself beyond frustration – an impediment to self-acceptance and enlightenment. Enlightenment is boundless…the paths are varied but finite. Don’t get bogged down along a path.
    Wishing you the wisdom to change the things you can change…etc.

    • Dear Bill,
      Thank you so much for your witty and insightful comment.
      I consider myself lucky to have a friend like you, who is insightful and offers wise advice.

      I find myself completely agreeing with you, yet still compelled to move beyond all my comfort zones on all levels, spiritually, artistically, and physically.

      Yes, we are all perfect in essence, but I feel that I still need to “polish the diamond” until the outer perfectly reflects the inner.

      This means that I am not content to be a goddess in Essence and by divine birth, but attempt to bring it into full consciousness and apply it in daily life until there is no separation between God and I.

      This is how I see full enlightenment.
      When my human mind is so flooded by the light,
      Until all my thoughts, feeling and affairs are aligned with the Light, God or Love, whatever you wish to call it.

      As long as I feel disheartened, disempowered, or fall into negative thinking, criticizing myself and others, believing I am just a mortal being with limited capabilities, I know I still have work to do.
      And by work, I mean purification of my thoughts until the unlimited Light shines within and all around me.

      It is a BIG goal, but for me, playing big is all I care about.
      Otherwise, why bother.

      Thank you for your most generous offer to mail me your books.
      How kind and friendly of you!

      If you do not mind, let’s do it in the winter in January, as I leave to Europe in two weeks and will not have time to read them now with so much that I have to do at home and in my studio before we leave.

      With friendship and smiles,

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