Taken over many years these art photographs explore the relationship between family members and myself. Always aware that the mind of the viewer will project her or his associations onto any photograph, the question 'what is the reality of this situation?' arises.
In exploring this question I find myself confronted with on one hand the complete unknowability of anything, and on the other hand my deeply felt personal responses and personal, conditioned projections.
"Drawing the spaces between objects
Is a basic exercise in the artroom.
And so the spaces between the
Fixations of our consciousness.
Seeing the gap in our continuum
And daring to enter it
Into the other side
The bits we normally ignore
And forget in our effort to preserve our mortality
Our inner space as infinite
As the universe around us
One and the same
And yet most of the time we are asleep."
Zangmo Alexander, 1985
A collaboration with theatre director Pema Clark, first shown at the Drama Studio, University of East Anglia, UK. Adapted from journals and artwork I made over 30 years, Pema devised an experimental play telling the story of my journey from a traumatised childhood, to being a nightclub stripper in my twenties; baring my soul searching for stability and meaning through psychotherapy in my thirties, and eventually beginning to peel away layers of delusion and ego through Buddhist meditation in my forties and fifties.
Photographs by Robert Eke
The family, with all its ambivalences, is a great source of attachment for me. I thought it would be interesting to use something very real and concrete, such as a family photo album that was started off in an old cash book by my ever-practical grandad, as a starting point for contemplating impermanence and the futility of relying on anything impermanent for lasting inner peace or lasting happiness.
Jetsun Milarepa was a highly revered meditation master and yogi who lived in Tibet in the 12th Century. He sang many songs of realisation which became famous and are still still sung today. I decided to use one of his songs, "The Eight Things to Remember" as a basis for turning my grandad's family photo album into an altered artists book that could be used for contemplation.
Reflecting on gender stereotyping and the futility of seeking permanent happiness from wordly activities, Letter To My Mum was made in response to my mother asking me why I wanted to ordain as a Buddhist nun.
A series of photographic self portrait meditations I made at a transitional time of feeling menopausal, 50 something, increasingly socially invisible in a youth orientated culture and coming up for dose of empty nest syndrome. Aware of my clinging to the past, this was a meditation on impermanence.
Liminal. The in between state. In Tibetan, called the bardo. In this context, for me, liminal is the gap, the ungraspability of anything, while at the same time everything is there. Nothing to hold onto, which terrified me when I first experienced this, although I'm OK with it now. It's everywhere.
These photographic images were individually made in a traditional photographic darkroom without the use of camera or negatives. Each photograph, or luminogram, is a one off, unrepeatable, unique image, made by shining light through an object onto light sensitive photographic paper.
While the process itself was intensely intuitive, I was intrigued by the way my own mind selected motifs I have been working on for years through drawing and painting. They have a particular resonance for me which is very personal.
I was curious to see how people would respond to these ambigious, almost abstract, photographs, as there is often a general expectation a photograph is of something recognisable. In July 2013 I had a solo exhibition of 17 Luminograms at Beyond the Image Photographers Gallery. All images were archivally framed under non-reflective glass so that the rich depth of the blacks would be truly present.
Having observed that people often pass an image by quickly if they can't relate to it within a few seconds, the luminograms were hung at waist height with a chair in front of each image. Each images was titled as a Meditation, and viewers were invited to sit and relax, allowing themselves to be slowly absorbed into an image.
I make oil, acrylic, gouache, watercolour and mixed media paintings. These paintings are abstract in that they do not represent anything physical. One could see tham as mindscapes, since mind is my starting point. They are spontaneous meditations, made as intuitive expressions, in the present moment.
Click HERE to link to Art and Meditation Journal Pages
I have been exploring art and meditation for several years. I find engaging in the process of making art brings me closer to my essence, in which I feel more present and connected with myself. The purpose of meditation in the Buddhist tradition is to learn to be more present, recognise and rest in mind essence. Therefore it is also possible to meditate and do art while meditating - learning to rest in mind essence and create from that. So it works both ways!
These drawings and paintings in my Art and Meditation Journal were made either during, or following, meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen/Mahamudra tradition.
Central to the practice I have been taught by my teachers Mingyur Rinpoche and Tsoknyi Rinpoche is the practice of awareness. I say this because it might seem surprising that many images may not seem quiet, still, or 'spiritual' on first glance. We are taught that experiences of peace and calm may be the results of meditation, but they are not the actual practice of meditation: awareness in the present moment without trying to escape where I am is the practice. It's a bit like being naked in a wide open place watching the weather pass by.
I remember in 1987 when on my BA Painting degree course asking an art tutor how to paint pure consciousness. His immediate reply was "Become pure consciousness and then paint". Although as far as I know he was not a meditator, he understood what was needed. In the Tibetan tradition, meditation is about learning to recognise and stabilise in the essence of mind. So that is what I am learning to do, and the drawings and paintings come from the energy of wherever my practice is.