In 1968 I received a BFA in painting from the San Francisco Art Institute where I studied with many prominent non-objective and figurative Bay Area artists such as Joan Brown, Wally Hedrick and Jay de Feo. I lived next door to Jay and Wally at 2333 Fillmore Street for a semester in 1965. While in art school I made intaglio etchings of specific botanicals and painted large abstract expressionist oils, two seemingly opposite modalities I continue to be drawn to today.
In 1965 I heard Suzuki Roshi of the San Francisco Zen Center speak and later, after I left Fillmore Street, realized I had moved, serendipitously and auspiciously, across the street from Sokoji, his temple at Bush and Laguna. I began to practice Zen meditation with him in 1967. After his death in 1971, I started practicing Vajrayana Buddhism with the Vidyardhara, the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche and in 1975 I moved to Boulder, Colorado to become a part of his sangha. During my first years there I hung out with the poets and visually explored the energies of The Feminine along with mythical beings or therianthropes, shape-shifting humans / animals combined with poetry broadsides.
Trungpa was the founder of many institutions including Naropa University and an international network of meditation and retreat centers. He was the author of several books pivotal to the shaping of Buddhism in the West such as Meditation in Action, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism and Shambhala, the Sacred Path of the Warrior.
Trungpa was also a photographer, a calligrapher and a practitioner of ikebana or Japanese flower arranging. In the late 1970s he developed a unique discipline called Dharma Art. Dharma Art seminars combined meditation and teachings and hands-on exercises called object arranging. These exercises explored the principles of ikebana like Heaven, Earth and Man (or Human). Trungpa also introduced his students to the Vajrayana principles of the Four Karmas: Pacifying, Magnetizing, Enriching and Destroying (the illusion of a separate self). The Four Karmas represent the essences of primordial energetic states and enlightened action. Each has its own visual symbol: Pacifying is represented by a blue circle, Enriching by a yellow square, Magnetizing by a red half circle and Destroying by a green triangle. The Four Karmas often overlap with and correspond to another body of teachings called The Five Buddha Families that includes a white circle to signify the precise, adamantine energy of Vajra. The other four Buddha Families are called Padma, Karma, Ratna and Buddha.
Since encountering these teachings, my own art making journey has been, in part, a personal exploration and interpretation of the Dharma Art teachings and they remain an ongoing touchstone.
After attending and facilitating several Dharma Art seminars during the 1980s, I began working two dimensionally with the shapes and colors of The Four Karmas and the energies of the Five Buddha Families. I felt inspired to explore these visual qualities for myself so I began painting my own realistic and abstract object arrangements. At some point the red half circle suggested a moon. That implied a landscape that soon became populated with an existential figure that was then joined by other figures, as well as a canine/wolf and even a cityscape. Canaries frequented my dreams at the time so images of them found their way into some of the paintings as well.
In the early-nineties, I took leave of the Boulder community a few years after Trungpa’s death in 1987. I moved to Mexico and later New Mexico where I began to explore non-ordinary, altered states of consciousness through the ceremonial use of sacred plants. I painted several paintings of luminous space infused with iridescent colors. Later, as a reflection of integrating all my worlds, I reworked those pieces by placing figures on their ground; I cut out forms of a meditator (from a silhouette of a photo of myself in meditation posture) from earlier paintings. In these hybrid pieces, I am attempting to work with the fluid relationship between internal states and the environment. There is a continuous cross-pollinating dialog between experience and experiencer; the boundaries are often porous. By combining pieces from disparate eras of my life I am also gathering together energies and diffusing the limitations of time and linear progression. These pieces seem to be saying: all time is now.
The ten stylized paintings done between 1993 and 1996 (found under Psychedelica) depict experiences or journeys with sacred plants or mind manifesting substances. Each one was painted specifically to record as much of the data as I could recall from when I had been in a ceremonial, heightened state of awareness and these works were necessarily outside any notion of making “art”; they are more like dictation downloading information from other dimensions.
The portraits of female shamans were also painted during that period as were the chine colle monotypes and the paintings called Shamanic Language Dances that both employ collaged photos of Mexican masks.
The form of the seated meditating figure acknowledges the primary thread of continuity of five decades of meditation practice while living in different locales, alone or married or with a lover.
The following two quotes have been the primary inspiration for working in depth with the image of the sitting figure:
“The state of mind that exists when you sit in the right posture, is, itself, enlightenment. It is a perfect expression of your Buddha nature. To take this posture itself is the purpose of our practice.”
“Meditation should not be regarded as a learning process. It should be regarded as an experiencing process. You should not try to learn from meditation but try to feel it. Meditation is an act of non-duality. The technique you are using should not be separate from you; it is you. You are the technique. Meditator and meditation are one. There is no relationship involved.”
---Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
As sitting practice has been the one constant throughout all the years, the repeated figures express my ever-shifting mind states, emotions, transcendent experiences and perceived or imagined projections. The multi seated figures are created and collaged from past artworks and are intended to represent Earth; Fire; Water; The Animate and Inanimate / The Trees and The Greenery and So On as well as 21 Peaceful Protectors and 18 Wrathful Protectors.
The hands—as in “showing one’s hand” are also compiled from images culled from many artworks from past eras of my paintings and drawings. They are intended to be in the gesture of prayerful offering of my whole existence, from every era, to the Sacred Journey of Life.
My largest canvas, of course, is the ongoing work I’ve been doing for the past decade at Tierra Drala, a permaculture demonstration site where I keep bees, goats and chickens. I’ve planted many medicinal herbs and bee forage and dozens of fruit trees. It’s a co-creation with the natural world and the earth and plant spirits and because it is alive, will never be “done”; it will forever remain a work in progress.
Originals and / or high quality archival digital prints of many of the paintings are available for sale. Click here for the Contact Page to inquire about pricing.
All work protected by copyright © 2017 by Brigid Meier