on losing the plot and regaining the world of the holy fool

Michael Leunig is a much-loved Australian cartoonist, writer, painter, philosopher and poet whose newspaper work appears regularly in the Melbourne Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.  He describes his approach as regressive, humorous, messy, mystical, primal and vaudevillian – producing work which is open to many interpretations and has been widely adapted in education, music, theatre, psychotherapy and spiritual life.

His commentary on political, cultural and emotional life spans more than forty years and has often explored the idea of an innocent and sacred personal world.  The fragile ecosystem of human nature and its relationship to the wider natural world is a related and recurrent theme.

‘Leunig’ is a household word here in Australia.  Who else consistently reminds us of our collective and individual vulnerabitlties? Our defences, needs and neediness? Who else – like an innocent wide-eyed kid – points out the elephants in the room and the unclothed emperors?

In total disregard of the snobbery around “content” in contemporary art, Leunig sows his seeds of simple sanity in the intimate space where the artist and viewer meet. He speaks in language we can understand, and as we listen to him – immersed in a mix or humour, poignancy and delight – our own wee holy fool smiles and skips about.

To my great delight Michael has given ‘the awakened eye’ permission to share one of his pieces of verbal artistry, an essay titled Regressive Painting and the Holy Fool.  In this work he covers much territory relevant to the theme of this site and of importance to all who take their playful creativity seriously:  What is genuine creativity and what blocks it? Where has our authenticity gone? What is the relationship between the ego and the holy fool? How can we find our way back to the world of our holy fool? Why does it matter?

As an introduction to the illustrated essay – which has its own page here –  this post offers a few quotes. It’s a teaser – read the whole piece and be reminded of what you know so well.


It is a way of painting.
It is a way of living.
It is a way of transcending the banal inhibited self and finding the divine.
It is a struggling downward journey – this stumbling, daring and devout pilgrimage back to mature innocence and raw beauty; to the sublime joy and the natural intelligence and wisdom of the holy fool.

 

Michael Leunig - The Holy Fool

 
… there is surely a measure of the holy fool in all of us.  What adult has not been a delightful or shocking little holy fool in childhood: the primal young creature who reached out innocently for what was forbidden, or sincerely said out loud a simple embarrassing truth?  ‘The emperor has no clothes’ cries the wee holy fool.  And who did not draw and paint in beautiful peculiar ways, or cry and sing freely for a short early chapter of wide-eyed creative life before the ways of the world began to impinge and inhibit?  Who has not known a time of free flowing reverie and wonder in the rich solitude and sanctuary of early consciousness?  Whose outlook and imagination has not been indelibly adorned by the daydreams and visions of childhood?

~

The dire pursuit of creativity in affluent societies is to a considerable extent driven by egotistical art ambition, but underlying this drive may be an intuitive attempt to recover the capacity for wonder, spontaneity, playfulness, openness, mindfulness and access to raw beauty; the qualities that were so natural and easy in childhood; a search for connection to one’s lost little fool – who is indeed the archetypal personification of creativity’s wellspring.

~

The artist needs to know how to lose the plot
– how to not care and how to not know –
and how to actually enjoy that freedom
and understand what a blessed revitalizing state all of that mess can be.

 

Michael Leunig - The Holy Fool

 

The most joyous painting is not done for the art world, it is done for the inner world; it is a self delighting other-worldly thing – a getting lost in regression and solitude; a sub-literate, semi-delirious way to be with the spirited little fool in the depths of one’s being for a while – there to invent one’s art freely, and there to find enchantment, infinite surprise and the bright wondrous question ‘What is this?’

~ Michael Leunig

http://www.leunig.com.au

Michael Leunig Appreciation Page on Facebook


regressive painting and the holy fool


when we talk of art we need to talk of love

 

Awakening the eye is admitting the love and enquiry into self
to guide us back to harmony.

– Rashid Maxwell

 

Rashid Maxwell embodies my idea of a Renaissance man. His profile reads like a prompt for a writers’ course where the task is to create a character both credible and unlikely.  (There are many threads that run parallel to my own – perhaps that’s why I relate so keenly to the way his life has unfolded.)  He was never a candidate for the typical, mundane and mediocre, but followed his innate thirst for truth – the truth of life and the truth of his wide-ranging creativity.

He is a published writer and poet as well as an exhibiting artist, art lecturer and pioneer in the field of art as therapy.  He not only designs furniture, but also meditation spaces and eco-environmental projects – including a park, a reafforestation venture, a wetland bird sanctuary and a nature reserve.  Having lived and worked in many countries he now resides in rural Devon, England, where he practices organic gardening, keeps bees, continues to draw and paint, and to walk – as he puts it – “the pathless path of inner exploration.”

For the artisans’ gallery, Rashid has contributed a selection of watercolour paintings inspired by the Love that flows beneath our everyday passions – Paramananda, the bliss beyond bliss.

 

Rashid Maxwell - Paramananda series

 

I call this series of watercolour paintings Paramananda. They have been prompted by expressions of this love that I observed in people who have meditation in their lives. Sometimes they are dancing, sometimes sitting silently, sometimes passing through grave illness and sometimes waiting for their lover. If these images transmit to you a figment of that underlying love, love has done its work.
– Rashid Maxwell

Continue reading at Rashid Maxwell’s page.


artisans

artisans’ gallery


there is no end to seeing

There’s hardly a better window onto everyday life in Japan in the nineteenth century than the one Katsushika Hokusai opens in astonishing detail, and his studies in nature are pure nourishment for the soul.  This post is prompted by the current Hokusai exhibition at the NGV.  According to the media releases, 176 of Hokusai’s works will be shown, many for the first time in Australia.  (See gallery information below.)  The exhibition presents a rare opportunity to immerse ourselves once again in the genius of a brilliant Japanese artist and printmaker, who, on his deathbed at eighty-nine is reported to have exclaimed, “If I had another five years, I could have become a real painter.”

 

Katsushika Hokusai: Moon, Persimmon and Grasshopper 1807

 

Not having seen the exhibition, I can’t claim the works I’m posting here are included.  (You can find wonderful preview images on the NGV website and in this gallery at the Guardian.)  I’ve gone my own way instead, choosing a few favourite studies from nature that beautifully demonstrate Hokusai’s depth of “seeing” and the scope of his awakened eye.

 

Katsushika Hokusai: Frog On An Old Tile

 

Although I have posted Roger Keyes’ wonderful poem here before it seems timely to give it another airing.  What more heart-full, wise advice could we possibly need – artists and human beings all – as we learn to simply “let life live” through us?

 

Katsushika Hokusai: Surimono Totsuka, detail

 

Hokusai Says

Hokusai says Look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.

He says Look Forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat yourself
as long as it’s interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,

every one of us is ancient,
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive –
shells, buildings, people, fish, mountains, trees.
Wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw, or write books.
It doesn’t matter if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your verandah or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
are life living through you.
Peace is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.

– Roger Keyes

 

Katsushika Hokusai: Turtles

 

Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849) is regarded as one of the most influential and creative minds in the history of Japanese art.  His unique social observations, innovative approach to design and mastery of the brush made him famous in Edo-period Japan and globally recognised within a decade of his death.

The self-described ‘Old man mad about drawing’ was known by at least thirty names during his lifetime and was renowned for his unconventional behaviour.  Despite his fame, Hokusai never attained financial success and his years of greatest artistic production were spent in poverty.  He travelled and moved his resting place and studio regularly, finding inspiration for his unique style through close observations of nature and interactions with ordinary people.

 

Katsushika Hokusai: Bamboo and Morning Glory

 

In 1909 the NGV purchased five works from Hokusai’s iconic Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji series, including his most celebrated image The great wave off Kanagawa (The great wave), 1830–34; two works from his A Tour to the Waterfalls in Various Provinces series; and four other major works.  These astute acquisitions established a legacy of Japanese art in Australia that has now extended for more than one hundred years.

Hokusai features 176 works from the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, Matsumoto, and the NGV Collection that encompass the artist’s remarkable seventy-year career.  For the first time in Australia, seven of Hokusai’s major series, including Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji, 1830–34; A Tour to the Waterfalls in Various Provinces, c. 1832; Remarkable Views of Bridges in Various Provinces, c. 1834; Eight Views of the Ryūkyū Islands; and One Hundred Ghost Stories, c. 1831, are on display, as well as selected works representing his great passion for the classical subjects of birds and flowers and historical poetry.  A selection of rare prints and paintings that show the stylistic and thematic changes of Hokusai’s formative years, as well as three sets of illustrated books that highlight the artist’s masterful and compositionally innovative book illustrations, including the complete set of fifteen volumes of Hokusai Manga, compete this comprehensive insight into the life and times of this major figure.

Source – National Gallery of Victoria
See the site’s Gallery of Themes for a feast of Hokusai’s work.
Showing until 15 October, 20017

 

Katsushika Hokusai: Okitsu

 

For biographical details: Katsushika Hokusai

 


Images sourced from the public domain.
1 – Moon, Persimmon and Grasshopper, 1807. Ukiyo-e.
2 – Frog On An Old Tile. Painting on paper.
3 – Surimono Totsuka (detail). Surimono.
4 – Turtles. Surimono.
5 – Bamboo and Morning Glory. Brush painting on paper.
6 – Okitsu. Ukiyo-e.


From the bookshelf:

Hokusai
Mountains and Water
Flowers and Birds

– Matthi Forrer


 

in search of the sublime and beautiful

The great “painter of light”,  Joseph Mallord William Turner,  now has a page at the artisans’ gallery.

Turner, and Turner only, would follow and render on the canvas
that mystery of decided lines,
that distinct, sharp, visible, but unintelligible and inextricable richness
which, examined part by part, is to the eye nothing but confusion and defeat,
which, taken as a whole, is all unity, symmetry, and truth.

John Ruskin
on the man he regarded as the greatest landscape painter of all time.

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner - Sunset at Margate

 

Turner travelled extensively in the search of the sublime and beautiful. The paintings on his page are a small selection which (admittedly to my very subjective taste) express these qualities, regardless of whether one knows their location or subject matter; paintings which, in Ruskin’s words, deliver to the soul “unity, symmetry and truth”.
 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) was just 15 years old when he exhibited his first picture at the Royal Academy. His talent in the application of paint to render land, sea, sky and atmosphere was unmatched in his time. Commonly known as “the painter of light”, we can thank Turner for taking painting to the edge of abstraction and playing there, unafraid. His priceless legacy to the generations of artists who followed gave them (us) permission to engage this fearless and playful expression of the sacred sublime.

To continue reading, please visit the page:
Joseph Mallord William Turner

 


the mark of non-creating

When we trust our creativity we encounter a supreme kind of enjoyment – an amazement at the natural unfolding of life beyond our ordinary way of looking at things.
– Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

Jigme Namgyel (b.1964) is the present Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.  He is also an abstract expressionist painter.  Kongtrul Rinpoche views creativity as “something very large – the essence of everything.”  His training in the arts began at an early age with the practice of calligraphy, music, ritual dance and other traditional Tibetan arts.  After his introduction to Western culture, Rinpoche became increasingly interested in modern art, particularly abstract painting and the work of Picasso and Kandinsky.  He began painting under the guidance of his teacher, Yahne Le Toumelin in the mid 1990’s.

This post introduces a new page on the site –  a talk given by Jigme Namgyel as a companion to his 2008 exhibition Natural Vitality at Tibet House, New York. Gratitude for his kind permission to share his wisdom and inspiration here!
Enjoy these excerpts, and read the entire talk here.

 

Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

 

Art, when it is free of such notions of beauty and ugliness, ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ can be used to express this complete experience of mind. When art evolves from this understanding it provides the possibility for those who see it to also experience the natural and unfabricated nature of their own awareness.

Imagine a life without music, without sculpture, painting, poetry, theater or dance. The purpose of art is to reflect and enjoy the richness of the world – not just what we think is ‘good’ and ‘pleasing’ – but the entirety of human experience. The primordial instinct to express creativity has been part of the human appreciation of life since the cave men. Creativity expresses itself at the very beginning of life – it could be said that our first cry is our very first song. But we really engage our creativity when we begin to play. […]

When we speak of natural creativity and its expression we are not talking about something separate from our own mind and experience.

The energy put into the creation of art reflects our own richness and in turn communicates this richness to others. When we appreciate a beautiful piece of art it is not limited to the piece itself – we experience the process that the artist went through as well; it is a transference of consciousness. Whether we are an artist or a spectator we feel the creative energy. When it has been formalized into a piece, the artist’s energy has not become the piece itself – but the piece is blessed by the creativity of the artist.

We usually think of creativity as ‘belonging’ to the artist. But in a larger sense creative energy is innate and spontaneously present, not fabricated by hammer and nail. It is unborn, with no center or boundary, yet nothing exists outside of it. The mountains, oceans, the sun and moon, the seasons arise spontaneously from it. What has become ‘our life’ – everything we are and everything we have been since we stepped into this world – is spontaneously present. Our genetic make up – the egg and sperm of our parents – arose from and is encompassed by the creative energy of our basic nature. The great Buddhist practitioner Kunchyen Longchenpa said: “The universe is spontaneously present, who could have created it? It is the grand production of its creative energy.” And all appearance is blessed by it. […]

Just remember, this natural energy created the entire universe – a humbling thought that puts our own artistic creations in perspective!

My instruction from Yahne [Le Toumelin] reflects a discipline that integrates the view of meditation and art: She would say: “When you get attached to anything that emerges on the canvas, destroy it!” I would watch her create something beautiful and then paint over it or scrape off the paint. “Destroy, destroy, destroy.” This is not to say that beauty or attachment to beauty is a problem. Destroying them is not an aggressive act, an annihilation of self or a rejection of experience. It enhances creativity. It is a natural wearing away of attachment and becomes a part of the creative process itself – a way to engage bigger mind. The more I do this, the greater the satisfaction. I am not fixated on creating something ‘good’ or ‘pleasing.’ My interest or focus is on the process of creating and connecting to my natural creativity. The main discipline is to let go. […]

When I have exhausted my fixations through the process of destroying I let the painting be. At this point I have reached what I call the ‘mark of non-creating’ – a state of uncontrived creativity where the artist just steps out of his or her own way. When I find that I have arrived at that point I just drop any activity – stop – and leave the painting right there without trying to improve or manipulate it. I never judge my paintings – I always appreciate and spend time with them because I appreciate where they come from. […]

I feel in awe of the whole process – not in a narcissistic way – but of the expression of this primordial creativity.

When it comes to art, the process we engage in is reflected in its expression. If we trust in the basic nature – it is communicated. If we are insecure and self-conscious – it is communicated. Ultimately, because everything arises from the creative nature of primordial mind, there is nothing that is more profound, miraculous or ‘creative’ than anything else. […]

– Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

Continue reading here: on painting

Image and text ©2015 Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel
http://www.kongtruljigme.com


Relevant links:

Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel at the artisans’ gallery

creative energy : the essence of everything

the art of disciplined freedom


Natural Vitality - Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

Natural Vitality:
The Paintings of Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel