It has often been observed that when westerners come to Buddhism, those brought up Catholic are drawn to the colourful Tibetan practices and those brought up Protestant go for the more austere Theravadan styles of Thailand and Burma. I’m an exception to that idea.
Around 1997 I became interested in Buddhist thought. Inevitably, I thought about making work around Buddhist meditation practice, as many western artists have. Later I was more fascinated by the imagery that the texts bring up, and their political and social implications. The Buddha taught using strong visual metaphor. There are constantly ideas and images brought to mind for me that hopefully, and ironically, lead me into areas where words and intellect can’t hope to go, Nibbana!
I later started thinking about the Buddha image itself. This face that I could rest in. What did it mean for me, as a westerner, brought up with the Abrahamic coalition’s distain for idols? And what of all those decorator Buddhas that pop up in design magazines?
As Buddhism transforms into different cultures, what are western Buddhas looking like and how would they be used? What of their original eastern heritage? And how do I work with this as an art practice, in a very secularised art world?
I looked at various media, from plaster to compost, in making Buddha forms. Then I stumbled onto an impression left in kitchen foil after covering a saucepan. Glad Foil led to Darrell Lea, which led to Italian Carcano foil. Making hollow forms led to relief forms, which led to mirrored forms. Mirrors are a primary metaphor in Buddhism, an example of seeing directly and clearly.
This foil media resonates with me on many levels. It is seemingly ephemeral, delicate and evanescent. It has obvious cross-cultural references, too the Christian and the commercialisation of the Easter tradition. More importantly, though, for me it speaks to many facets of Buddhist teachings: impermanence, change, flux, non-duality (the illusory nature of conventional opposites), self-realisation, false sanctimony, and emptiness or corelessness.
Ultimately the work resonates with my recurring interests in silhouettes, strong colours and the here-and-now of Buddhist temples.