In two ways.
As I have already written, I have been taking a self-portrait every year since 1976, interrupted by years when I didn’t do it. I uploaded some of them at: state of the art. These self-portraits have been representational until now. Not accurate enough for a passport photo, but good enough so that I would be recognized on the street. And now something like this!?
It will probably be the case that one or the other reader will wonder at first glance what this is about. Or can do nothing with it at all. Should your time allow and you are interested in other perspectives, I invite you to explore this picture with me.
Why is it a self-portrait?
Obviously, it doesn’t show my physiognomy. But it portrays my inner world, especially the status quo of my level of thoughts and spirit. Both are increasingly influenced by Zen and Daoism, which of course also affects my work. Even if this is often not obvious at first glance.
An important aspect of my work is the opposites. As already mentioned in many articles, the use of opposites is crucial in Taoist painting, more than that, understanding the opposing forces such as yin and yang is the master thought: Opposite, but not exclusive, but closely related, mutually dependent.
In addition to the usual pairs of opposites, I usually try to create the widest possible spectrum of opposites and explore the limits. In this picture, that ranges from: a first glance at the work may reveal little that is appealing or pleasing. Yes, the picture seems almost clumsy, awkward, and not artistic, due to its brushwork, a beginner’s work. Only by dealing with it do the “blossoms on the thorn bush” unfold.
Other pairs of opposites are as follows: dissimilar (abstract image) :: places that are very similar (stones at the bottom right). Bright (glistening white in the center of the picture, the nothing that I’m getting closer and closer to) :: dark (in the corners, which then also suggest optical vanishing points, in an otherwise vanishing-point-free space). Brutal (in the sense of art brut) :: sensitive
Again and again, we come across places that remind us of something that seems “real” to us, but when we try to grasp it, it’s gone again, like the annoying thoughts when meditating. 
Another important term in Buddhism, and modified in Daoism, is “clinging”, Upādāna. We always want to hold on to something. With a painter, it is often the attachment to a form. We want to paint an object so that it is e.g. “almost real”. In this work, however, the point of “detachment” was at the center of considerations. Instead of external resemblance, the essence of what is depicted should be captured.
Also of central importance in Chinese painting is the pair of opposites kai 开:: he 合 (open :: close). Unfortunately, Western viewers usually do not pay much attention to this aspect. Here is a quite useful youtube-video on this topic.
How was this aspect implemented in the picture discussed??
Kai 开: The picture expands in two ways: The light in the middle, the nothingness, suggests vastness (like when we come out of the forest and the landscape stretches out in front of us). It is also supported by the fact that there are two vanishing points at the bottom of the picture, which further expand or make the image wider. (red arrows).
He 合: The central part of the picture looks like an eye. This is called “dragon eye” in Chinese painting and I have written about it before [post]. This construction does not only have a bringing-together character. The eye also stands for our sight. And here, too, it is above all the corners on the left and right below that suggest stones in an almost realistic way and thus a ground on which we are standing. With a bit of imagination, 2 legs in trousers and boots can also be imagined to the left of the middle.
The step further
In the original picture shown above, the viewer is still a little in the shadow. Everyone may see the picture in their own way – looking at a sunny forest clearing is one option. And now imagine you go one step further – and you stand in the light. In the first version, the light was still subdued, but now it has gained strength. A step has also been taken in relation to letting go.
A few months ago I presented a design for a calligraphic character deng (wait). The publisher was very satisfied, but then I heard nothing more. A few days ago, I learned that the sign now adorns a volume of Chinese short stories. (The cover design is not mine, just the character).
 on meditation
I know that some of my readers meditate themselves and certainly, some more have tried it at some point in their lives. So you are aware of the difficulties.
You know about our thoughts that get in the way of meditating. Like a horde of monkeys, they frolic on the tables and benches in our mental upstairs room and draw our attention.
And there are other difficulties. Decades ago, when I had been meditating regularly, I knew a girl who attended courses, workshops, or retreats, read a lot about it, and gave me some recommendations. When I met her again, she had given up and said something like: “It doesn’t seem the right thing for me. I tried so hard, but I never experienced anything. I didn’t see any light, no colors, no pictures….”
Joke and koan
When I think about it today, a Zen Buddhist joke and a koan come to mind. I think these are very appropriate in this context:
Joke: A businessman appears at a Zen monastery and inquires, among other things, “How long will it take me to become enlightened?”. The master says: “10 years.” “What, so long? What if I try really hard?”. The master: “20 years”.
Koan: A novice says to his master: “Now I’ve been here for 2 years and I still don’t know what Buddha is!?” The master: “Have you washed your rice bowl yet?”
These examples fit so well because they address the difficulties of the beginner. Our mind follows an “if–then” thinking in almost every respect. This is how our world works. If I prepare diligently for an exam, then I get a good grade. Fair deal. If I work out regularly and diligently in the gym, then the pounds tumble. Fair deal.
When we meditate there is nothing. Many think like my friend and through their expectations – treats for being good or diligent – they intensify “clinging” instead of getting into the state of letting go.
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