The sound of grating metal punctuated the morning stillness. Security guards pulled back the fairground barriers
I intended to be there, very early, before a line formed, to attend the first ceremony of the day. The details were available in the glossy brochure, ‘First come first served’. The entrance crowd thinned. It seemed other visitors were going other places. The tiny map was vague but the direct route to the Japanese Pavilion I visualized was accurate enough. I sat alone and early in a cool corridor to wait.
An exquisite young woman in elaborate floral kimono, bowing so deeply I barely saw her face, ushered me behind the pavilion to a small shed-like building. Still bowing, she departed. I removed my shoes and crouched to enter.
The vast emptiness of this tiny space, with only a scroll and a single flower, was revolutionary. The depth of the gentle silence was palpable. I stood on a fragrant straw mat. My stocking feet registered woven texture. I felt blissfully naked though I’d not removed my clothing. Could this be heaven?
The tea house walls were plastered in rich ochre. A seated figure in slate grey robes gestured to his right as he nodded in greeting. I kneeled to occupy my cushion, a thin black silk square. He slowly stirred the live coals of a welcome fire. Steam rose from a delicate black iron kettle. The ritualized movements, the preparations that create a tea ceremony began. Then when the tea, drill-sharp green, frothed in a pearly grey bowl, I bowed to accept it. The tea master’s fluid movements were hypnotic. We had no need for conversation, he could no doubt tell I was mesmerized, under the spell of ceremony, all beyond time and space.
Decades have passed since the spacious peace of the spring morning in the tea house. I had no language in 1962 to describe how my brain stored that vivid experience. Today much more is understood how a memory is lodged and timelessly retained. Yet it is the surprise, of my Covid isolation, to have this tea encounter trigger a new series of paintings after such a prolonged gestation.
Each image is an assemblage created from my folders of ephemera. It is fitting these pieces are created from remnants accumulated over years.
A perfect use for the collected calligraphies, patterned papers, saved textures and sketchbook pages.
In recent pieces the tea bowls are placed within landscapes, steam rises from them, the vapours join and become one with the clouds. This merging reflects the interconnectedness of all things. Thich Nat Han, a beloved contemporary Buddhist master addressed this when he held up a schedule saying, ’there isn’t a way I can get rid of this sheet of paper. If I burn it, there will be ash remaining, it will become earth, the earth will grow trees, they will become more paper. You see, everything is inter-being.
This work is about our relationship to big ideas through the small and ordinary. How, with focused attention, we may see the sacred displayed in the mundane, and know the Zen of being completely in the moment.