Embracing tranquillity through sunyataThe first physical art exhibition in Kathmandu since March, ‘A Single Brushstroke’, at Siddhartha Art Gallery, exhibits brilliant monochromatic Chan paintings by Jerome Edou that capture the voidness, peace and emptiness of nature.
There’s a sense of calmness one experiences while observing Jerome Edou’s Chan paintings. Through his paintings, which are currently exhibited at Siddhartha Art Gallery, we enter a peaceful realm, where nature thrives and mindfulness reigns.
Nine months into the pandemic, the exhibition, titled A Single Brushstroke, is the first physical exhibition hosted in the premises of Siddhartha Art Gallery, featuring monochrome Chan paintings of Edou, a Chan painter and a Buddhist scholar.
After months of uncertainty and disruption of normalcy, the exhibition is a welcome change for many tired of the virtual world, as his paintings provide solitude and a break from reality for viewers and give hope that perhaps life is returning to normal.
On the ground floor of the gallery, through a painting titled ‘Along the Irrawaddy’, we are transported to the banks of Burma’s famous river, Irrawaddy. In the painting, we see shrines, small trees branching out at the river shore along with a few small houses.
There are no strokes or signs in the painting that indicate or depict the holy river. However, the beauty of the painting is such that even when it's the only land that is painted, it feels that a river is holding the landmass.
This beautiful technique of making people feel or imagine something without actually painting it can be seen in many of Edou’s painting in the exhibition, which reflects how he has mastered the art of Chan paintings.
For instance, in his painting Up the River Li, he has painted a mystical landscape, where we see a boat sailing. However, there are no signs that depict the river, only an illusion is created of boat sailing at its own pace. A Buddhist scholar for whom the mountains are his second home, his paintings are equally devoted to depicting the beauty of the highlands.
In a painting titled Himalayan Rhapsody, he recreates the beauty of the Himalayas through suspension bridges, a common sight up in the mountains. Likewise, another painting, Paramita (to the other shore) also depicts such scenic beauty, where the long suspension bridge connects a path from one shore to the other.
However, unlike other landscape art, Chan paintings are different: There is plenty of space between the subjects, and not all details are included. And according to Edou, this is one of the primary features of Chan paintings—not to painting everything.
“In Chan paintings, we try to express the silence of emptiness of nature. The empty space embodies the Buddhist philosophy of sunyata, meaning the luminous empty nature of the world,” says Edou.
And his words are true. When one observes his paintings, we enter a world where nature is at its glory. Even if there are no colours used, it's still vibrant, because the paintings help the people to imagine what they are seeing rather than just merely observing a painting.
Likewise, the empty space also creates an effect where our minds start filling it. For instance in his painting, Rêve d’ Automne, he has painted the scenery of a mountain. At the bottom of the painting, we see a small village house, which is surrounded by plants. And at the top, we see the tall mountains.
However, the middle is empty. And this characteristic of the painting, which allows enough empty space to reflect sunyata, shows that every phenomenon human beings experience isn’t independent. They can’t be separated and have no inherent existence, which can be experienced through these paintings, as those empty spaces remind us of how every phenomenon is connected.
And in his painting, Echoes of Voidness, one can truly experience this concept of sunyata, on which Chan paintings are based. In this painting, there are mountains scattered around. Likewise, we see a boat sailing and the sea waves falling along with the sea stacks. This inclusion of multiple geographical locations might be unusual as geographically it’s not possible to see mountains and sea in the same place.
However, through the painting, he embodies the values of Chan paintings, which evoke the emptiness of nature. Through the painting, he establishes that every phenomenon, be it high mountains or the chilling sea, is interconnected and will be incomplete without the existence of each other.
And hence the title is apt, as the painting reverberates the voidness, the emptiness of natural phenomena as they co-depend on each other for their very existence.
Another significant observation one can find is the nature of the subjects he paints. Most of the paintings depict free-flowing natural phenomena. For instance, in his painting, I Paint like Rivers Flow, we see a waterfall falling. Above the waterfall, there is a suspension bridge, which moves with the wind. Likewise, in another painting, titled ‘Gone with the Wind’, he paints prayer flags gushing with the speed of the wind. Edou says that this is done to show the fleeting nature of natural phenomena.
Similarly, in many of his paintings, we also see calligraphy, poems and the marks of red stamps, which according to Edou is common in Chan paintings.
“The red stamps are issued by the art collectors to indicate that they have been bought or collected by them,” says Edou.
But the very red stamps also add colour to the monochromatic paintings, creating a contrasting pattern as well as depicting the fleeting nature of the painting, which like nature travels through time, not staying stable or permanently in one place.
The art gallery’s decision to exhibit Edou’s works after months of galleries being shut is risky, as for common people, without any prior knowledge of Chan paintings, it can be difficult to comprehend the brilliance or to understand the creativity of the artist.
However, the art gallery, through brochures and mini-posters, provides enough information that helps the audience to understand the art form and its essence and what Edou is trying to paint. Likewise, on the ground floor at the corner of the gallery, inside a box covered with a glass, which is kept on a table, the brushes and other mediums that help in making the ink paintings are also kept, helping ones who are curious know how these paintings were made.
Since there are more than three dozens of his paintings, which mostly depict nature, visitors may find a few of them repetitive because of the same subject matter.
But all of the paintings have been created with equal precision, and the audience will leave in awe of the skills he possesses as doing ink paintings requires a lot of patience and dedication.
“For me, painting is like doing meditation,” says Edou. And for art lovers, this exhibition will also feel like mediation, as through his paintings, one will enter a meditative state, contemplating the subjects he paints, which will help the visitors to imagine a peaceful reality of nature, far from the chaotic reality we all are part of now.
The exhibition will be held until January 10, 2021, at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal Revisited.