'One Hand' Explores World of Zen Buddhism

By Shaw, Kurt | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 26, 2011 | Go to article overview

'One Hand' Explores World of Zen Buddhism


Shaw, Kurt, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


The fourth exhibit in the Andy Warhol Museum's Word of God series, Max Gimblett's "The Sound of One Hand" brings to focus the world of Zen Buddhism.

An artist living and working in New York City since 1972, Gimblett has been focusing on Buddhism since 1965 when he first encountered poet and novelist Kenneth Patchen's (1911-1972) painted "picture poems" in San Francisco.

"It has never been the main focus," Gimblett, 75, says, admittedly "sharing my interests equally with Jungian studies and the history of visual art, particularly painting." But a serious interest in Buddhism was so much a draw that, "I took my vows in 2006 and am a lay monk of Rinzai Buddhism."

That goes a long way in explaining why the works on view have an overall zen-like quality, especially the earlier brushworks on paper that date as far back as the 1980s. Here, the work is distinctly divided into two types -- enso and koan paintings.

Simple ink brush drawings of circles on rice paper, the enso pieces are a good place to start in terms of entering Gimblett's world. Enso is a Japanese word meaning "circle" and is a concept strongly associated with Zen. "Enso is a common subject of Japanese calligraphy, symbolizing the universe, strength and Enlightenment," Gimblett says. "Typically drawn in one stroke with a thick paintbrush, the enso represents absolute reality and the void in Zen art."

Gimblett says that some artists will paint enso daily, "as a kind of spiritual diary." Enso is usually created on silk or rice paper. "The single stroke does not allow for any modification -- the brushed circle represents the spirit of the moment of creation," he says. "In the circle nothing stops, nothing comes to an end, it just keeps going."

The other side of the gallery features two of Gimblett's koan books: "Sage," which includes ink drawings by the artist and koans from the book; and "The Zen Koan," a series of published lectures on koan study by Roshi Isshu Miura. A book of "Broadway Koans" is also on view, which includes original drawings by Gimblett and poems by John Yau.

"A koan is a story, dialogue, question or statement that cannot be fully understood through rational thought alone," Gimblett says. Thus, the visual component of these works exist as pure poetry in the form of simple lines on rice paper. …

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