The Holy Bowl

My bowl is empty. But it’s my bowl, you see,
and I love it.  Raymond Carver

We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the Beautiful Stuff out.  Ray Bradbury 

The above quotes appear in a newsletter that arrived in my email yesterday. The newsletter’s from an artist whose work I admire, Bridget Guerzon Mills. I particularly like her encaustics, visual journals and books. I like her spirituality too.

The Carver quote (it’s from one of his poems) is inspiring her work at the moment. Do check out her blog entry In the Zone to see some of her recent bowl paintings.

As a bit of an aside, Bridget calls her blog Contemplating the Moon and I find it synchronicitous that I’ve just written of having been born in The Year of the Rabbit; and subsequently of hares and of moons; and of hares staring at moons; and of then finding myself reading a blog called Contemplating the Moon.

Bridget’s bowls and the quotes led me to the contemplation of bowls as metaphor. I was reminded of this black and white drawing I did in the 90s. Actually it’s one of a suite of three. I was under the influence of the art of China in those days and at that same time, the Grail Legend.

Painting by Song painter Ma Lin

When I say the art of China, I mean more specifically those Buddhist- and Taoist-inspired landscape works of the Song Dynasty (960-1279); and also the works of the so-called Eccentric Painters of Yangzhou of  the 18th century. These were artists without patronage, outside of the recognised art world hierarchy as it was then structured – non-conformists either by natural inclination or as refusées of the system.  In much the same way as the 19th century French Impressionists, who set up their own Salons to exhibit their works when rejected by the official Salons of the day.

Hua Yan, Autumn Scene, Freer Gallery of Art, 1729

Favourites of mine among the Yangzhou Eccentrics (being left-handed was one reason for rejection, which would have disqualified me) are the works of Hua Yan (1682-1756) and one work in particular – Brushfire with Animals Fleeing. And do you know something?  I’ve just looked at this painting again after a very long time and two of the animals are … hares!

Hexham Abbey in Northumberland

Hexham Abbey in Northumberland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I exhibited this suite of three drawings inside one frame. I called it Three Flights. It was part of a group exhibition that took place in Hexham Abbey, Northumberland.

What no-one viewing this drawing saw was the ghostly goblet at the top. Actually it looks like a wine glass to me. Even other artists with whom I had close contact and who knew I was under the influence of the Holy Grail. My goblet is deliberately ghostly but it’s also the least-abstracted element in the drawing. Therefore easy to spot? I wanted to find out how much attention viewers would bring to the drawing. Not a lot it seems!

I’m not going to get into Grail Legend – the subject’s enormous – and daft and fascinating – but one of its metaphysical aspects is – well I think it’s about paying attention.

I talk about filling the well – lots of artists do – and it’s true – you can’t go on creating without a constantly replenishing store of images.  In The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron advocates a daily walk of 20 minutes and a weekly Artist’s Date (with oneself) for the purpose of refilling the well (which is also a bowl of course).

This seems to conflict with the idea that to create we need an empty well/bowl. But I see now that it doesn’t, because an empty bowl is about receptivity. About being open to receive images. It’s about bringing quiet, silence, poise, to one’s day – or creative hour – so that we can receive the images one needs at that particular moment. Paying attention.

Some artists will see this as an issue involving their spirituality or faith and will practice prayer or meditation; others will define this in terms of mind and and psychology and focus. Some, like me – it’s all of this.

I believe in the Holy Bowl. Empty, it was filled with the Divine and it’s all I really want to do when I create – bring my empty bowl every day to be filled and then finding that trick that Bradbury talks about, of tipping myself over and letting the Beautiful Stuff out.  Not easy, because it seems to me that it’s about emulating the Nazarene and the Pradeshian (allegedly) et al of that ilk, who were the empty bowl itself, the bowl emptied out of personal ego, for love and compassion towards all.

Tough act to follow!



Bridget Guerzon Mills

About AnnIsikArts

This entry was posted in Art, Drawing, Folklore & Mythology, spirituality, Walking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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