sipping tea, sensing presence

Introducing the practice and paintings of Bev Byrnes.


As boundaries between subject and object dissolve, the phenomenon of presence becomes amplified.  Presence, in this context, is something ‘beyond’ what is seen; it imparts an unseen and yet ‘felt’ sense of illumination. It is this presence which ultimately guides and shapes the direction of my work. 
– Bev Byrnes


Bev Byrnes: Bowl with Mandarins, detail


It’s probably a given for artists whose practice concerns itself with presence that entry into their creative space will call for quiet, for silence and stillness. As poet Mary Oliver puts it,  Stillness. One of the doors / into the temple.  My own imperative is to establish stillness and silence, both externally and within: I sit down and shut up and empty and keep on emptying…

For Bev Byrnes it starts with a tea ritual.  She’s a serious tea drinker and a true connoisseur.  She writes:

Every morning begins the same.  The dawn quietly fills the studio with gentle light.  To my right, a brown clay water kettle set on a low flame to keep the water hot.  In front of me a small, low table, cut from a slab of rough wood; teacup and teapot at the ready.


Bev Byrnes - Studio Tea Ritual


The sound of water simmering.  The smell of wet tea leaves.  The stillness of morning.  The taste of the tea.

Drinking tea this way is an exercise in mindfulness.  It quiets inner chatter and brings energetic coherence to the body.  This daily ritual is an important part of the creative process that plays out each day in my studio.  As the focus of the tea session washes the mind clear, an inner silence grows.  From here the work proceeds.   […]

The way the creative process “plays out” might be to birth a highly realistic still-life painting in the tradition of northern European early Renaissance painting, or, perhaps it will initiate a conversation with handmade water-based paints and the processes of Japanese nihonga painting.  She says she loves each approach equally.  To me, there’s something quite remarkable about this bi-hemispheric capacity.  It’s the mark of an artisan fully at ease with her materials, free to wonder where they will lead as she follows them into the great (un)Knowing.


Bev Byrnes: Studio set-up for 'Three Bowls'


Usually the realist paintings are a still life of a few simple objects lit with the soft light of a north-facing window.  The first layers of paint are straightforward descriptions of form but as layers accumulate and observation becomes more subtle a felt sense of presence grows.   […]

Some paintings are more abstract in nature.  The beginning of these look like haphazard mark-making.  They get the flow going.  From this point on, it’s a matter of listening. The listening must be silent and clear, with no owner, and sometimes it would seem to the mind there is no good coming of it.   […]


Bev Byrnes: Landscape of (un)Knowing, detail


This post is just an introduction, an appetiser…  
Please view Bev’s page at the artisans’ gallery, where her thoughts are shared in full and you can see more of her stunning work.


Bev Byrnes: Red Onion and Winter Squash with Birch Sticks, oil on panel, 12”x24”

seeing – painting – being

artisans’ gallery

Images, from top:
Bowl with Mandarins, detail
Studio Tea Ritual
Work in progress – Studio set-up for ‘Three Bowls’
Landscape of (un)Knowing, detail
Red Onion and Winter Squash with Birch Sticks

All images provided by, and copyright Bev Byrnes.

10 thoughts on “sipping tea, sensing presence

  1. Loved this sharing of Bev’s art practice. Thank you Bev and ML. Speaks deeply to my heart as I notice Love welling up to meet the thought ‘oh yes… another one is here quietly following the pulse too.’ What a gift to know. Mx

    1. Thank you, Melinda, and thank you ML for this honor. A gift indeed! “And the Seeing is yet again exponentially delighted.” What a joy to find friends in this Knowing.

  2. Reading about the dissolution of the boundary between object and subject calls to my mind Schopenhauer’s state of aesthetic contemplation which closely resembles Bev’s process, and on which my own process is based. Aesthetic contemplation is a state of deep absorption into pure perceiving whereby our senses and intellect have left the service of the will, i.e. we perceive things without any purpose whatsoever, outside of all connections with other things and with self. It happens independently of our will and indeed, quite outside of personal consciousness (which incidentally provides a good explanation as to why the act of creating art comes as a surprise and feels impersonal, i.e as if someone else had done it – I don’t know if this is something that Bev can relate to?) and is accompanied by a blissful feeling of inner peace. This is an aspect that strikes me powerfully in Bev’s paintings, which aside from being executed with masterful skill, are totally imbued with a silence and stillness that, for me, snatch her work out of the hands of time into a space of pure transcendental awareness and beauty.

    1. Dear Laura – I’m so grateful for your thoughtful, wise contribution. You have articulated to perfection the whole raison d’être for this website and all it contains. I have no doubt that Bev will relate to what you’ve written about the act of creating coming as a surprise – I certainly do.

      I’m looking forward to featuring your own work and words on the site – when everything settles down and the boxes are all unpacked!

    2. Laura,
      Your eloquence about the mystery of this ‘creator-less creating’ is as beautiful as your photographs. Yes, so true – it feels wholly impersonal, as if just watching it all unfold of it’s own. I very much relate to that sense of surprise you mention, and also that feeling of inner peace. Thank you for your deep seeing. So honoring. 🙂

  3. I have been re-re-reading The Tao of Photography, by Gross & Shapiro (there’s another by the same title by a different author) for the umpteenth time and Bev’s work and words strike the same chords in me. Coming from a place of silence is key for me. I am reminded of a quote that I came across by Robert Frank,

    “The eye should learn to listen before it looks.”

    Eyes can be dreadfully noisy.

    I feel that looking with and without the camera are two processes that have to merge seamlessly. It seems that I do my best work when, after an outing/shoot, I cannot quite remember what I saw with the camera and what I saw without it. Getting home and looking at all the images becomes another process of discovery. I find some shots that I don’t remember taking and cannot find some that I swear I took.

    Many times I will discover elements in photos, post-shoot, that I was not at all consciously aware of at the time and yet become central to the image for me. It happens often enough that I have come to believe in what I call “the thief in the camera”. Not that any thing was taken away–quite the opposite–but that’s how it feels. Someone was doing something in there, but I swear it wasn’t me.

    1. What a wonderful comment – thank you Mr Crabcakes!
      (Sorry for the delay in responding – it’s an internet thing.)

      I deeply appreciate the way you describe your own processes of perceiving, and post-production. “the thief in the camera” is so apt. It’s the same for those of us who work with paint, brushes, needles, thread, whatever… someone’s doing something, “but I swear it wasn’t me.” If it’s not me… then what…?

      Your work glows with that mystery.

      Regarding the art of listening with the eye, you might be interested in this short post from John Daido Loori, whose writing and photography appears in several places on this site.

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