Wednesday, February 01, 2006


A few of the wares I'll be auctioning off tomorrow. To be honest, I'll be sorry to see some of them go. Three of the four pieces I'm showing you this evening give rise to that feeling. Here they are:


Dalma-daesa (Bodhidharma, First Patriarch of Zen Buddhism) returns! Those who remember my kvetching from long ago with regard to Dalma's stare will note that the above Dalma-do isn't glaring (compare this with the scary Dalma on my sidebar). I decided to swallow my pride and do something a wee bit more in line with traditional Dalma brush art.

I like the way the piece turned out. Dalma looks a bit jowly because the two long strokes on either side of his face are doubling as both moustache and beard (and are perhaps defining the shape of his face, too). I don't mind, though: Dalma looks like he's got weighty matters on his mind. The Chinese characters also came out about the way I intended them to, though the shim ja on the bottom is a bit timid-looking. The overall effect is precisely what I was going for: a suggestion of Dalma that emphasizes his important aspects: eyes, large Buddha-ear, earring, bald pate, robe held across chest, large nose, scowl, and halo.

One of these days I'm going to get courageous and try my hand at the famous "Dalma crossing the Yangtze on a reed" pose. All the best ones usually portray Dalma as scowling, but with his eyes almost rolled up inside his head, irises barely visible. In my mind, Dalma's either exasperated that he keeps having to use the Force to do stuff like cross rivers, or he's furiously concentrating-- like a character from Frank Herbert's Dune-- to keep himself from sinking into the water.

Next up:


This turned out well quite by accident. It's my riff on the stylized bul-ja (Buddha character) you've probably seen elsewhere. As with some other artists, I've allowed the Buddha character to dominate the image. The only major problem with this calligraphy lies with the "person" radical on the left side of the Buddha character: see how the first brush stroke terminates in a hairy mess? Compare my bul-ja with one done by a master and you'll see that my stroke was-- here again-- too timid.

As I've said before, Chinese calligraphy, as it's being done, very quickly reflects the artist's state of mind. In this case, the message is, "reaching for depth and not... quite... finding it." The ink and paper are deliberately designed to be antagonistic: too much ink, too much pressure, and you've got a mess on your hands. Clever masters know how to incorporate blotches into their larger works-- when such blotches happen.

[NB: There's a style of Korean calligraphy-- I don't know the name-- in which Korean (Hangeul) syllables are written so precisely as to be almost typographical in nature. They're written in columns, just like Chinese characters often are, but so rigidly that the work has no freestyle, organic aspect at all. I'm strangely attracted to this style because it's so damn human in the "man versus nature" sense: there can be no margin for error, and the artist isn't so much in harmony with the brush and ink as he is a master of them: the brush and ink know who's boss. There can be no blotches-- ever-- on such a work. Perhaps, one of these years, I'll get around to learning this technique. But for the moment, simply staring at a piece of well-done Korean calligraphy is a thoroughly intimidating experience.]

And now, one of my most prized works:


Last year, a teacher familiar with Buddhism mentioned that Zen tradition speaks of the crazy or wild horse. I didn't know this, and haven't done any research into the matter. The guy I was talking with thought that my horse had been crafted in the Zen spirit, but I had to disappoint him and tell him I was simply using a Korean calligraphy brush to draw, well, a cartoon. Still, it's reassuring to hear that the image might have some deeper resonance than I thought it had.

The horse's goofy expression, so much like my own when I bulge my eyes out and smile a dopey, exaggerated smile for my students' benefit, always leaves me somewhat cheered up. The image seems to be saying, "Come on-- nothing can possibly be that serious." While Dalma-do are supposed to bring luck to whatever household has them, the horse-- in my opinion, anyway-- has a more salutary effect.

And finally:


I won't miss the above picture all that much. I've done better tigers; this one is a cross between a Simpsons character and Bill Watterson's Hobbes the Tiger. So said my Freshman Conversation students, anyway.

The preceding images will be on auction tomorrow, along with other works (perhaps 10-20 more, depending on how many I crank out tonight). Come by if you want to bid on one. Don't be surprised if I weep for the departure of each image we auction off. It's only my attachment showing.


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