Zen

On Celebrity Pop-Culture Fan Tribute Art by Chris Hall

I've seen variations of this image copied by a number of artists.  Very Unoriginal.

I've seen variations of this image copied by a number of artists.  Very Unoriginal.

"If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!"  Zen Master Linji.

Yeah, I might hurt some feelings on this blog, but it has got to be said.

I drew baseball players and rock stars once . . . when I was twelve!  Grow Up!  I am tired of seeing celebrity fan tribute art.  I see it everywhere and it is an eye pollutant.  I swear, if I see one more Batman, Joker “why so serious?,” Bane drawing, I think I just might vomit.  Same goes for Walking Dead and Breaking Bad art.  Pop culture drivel has very little place in art, even when it has an ironic message.  Life is serious business.  What you watch on TV is not.  Art deserves more.  What message is there in fan art?  There is none.  What is the critique?  There is none.  Can you come up with an original idea of your own?  I challenge you.  Fan art is everywhere.  The Deviantart website is full of it.  At least they have it in a category of its own, so you can separate the chaff from the wheat.

The same critique above also applies to Manga illustration.  I'm not anti-cartoon by any stretch.  There are a lot of really good cartoonists out there who produce high quality art and who have their own vision.  But for the most part, I find Manga style animation to be childish, uninspired, and unoriginal.  Grow the fuck up.  Find out what kind of art you might make, not what other people make.  Know Yourself.  Kill your idols.  

Sorry if I hurt your feelings.

Bill Viola by Chris Hall

Bill Viola, stills from  Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) , 2014

Bill Viola, stills from Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), 2014

As a young boy on vacation in the mountains with his family, Bill Viola nearly drowned in a lake.  He describes the experience as “… the most beautiful world I’ve ever seen in my life” and “without fear,” and “peaceful.”  Perhaps this experience colors his work, which focuses on themes such birth, death, love, emotion, humanism, and spirituality.  Water and allusions to drowning often appear in his work as well.

Viola’s work draws meaning and inspiration from several mystical traditions, including Zen Buddhism, Christian mysticism, and Islamic Sufism, giving his work a kind of religious transcendental quality.  Viola also explores notions of duality, the idea that you can’t understand what you’re looking at unless you also know it’s opposite.  Often Viola’s videos contain themes such as life and death, light and dark, stressed and calm, loud and quiet, etc.

Viola’s work often exhibits a painterly quality.  Like painting, Viola’s work requires patience in order to fully appreciate it.  To achieve this painterly quality in his work, Viola uses an ultra-slow motion video recording technique, which encourages the viewer to sink into the image to better connect with the meanings contained within it.  Grandiosity, ambitiousness, and a striving toward meaning characterize Viola’s work as he attempts to ponder the deeper, bigger themes of human existence.  

Zen Art: Contemplating the Eternal by Chris Hall

A moment seems to be an extremely small segment of a long span of time.  Yet past is remembered as past in the present moment and future is expected as future in the present moment.  Each moment carries all of time. Thus a moment has an aspect of timelessness.  In this respect “now” is eternal.  Kazuaki Tanahashi, 13th century Zen master.  

A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places. Paul Gardner


Enso is a Japanese word meaning circle and is a word strongly associated with Zen.  The enso symbolizes enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and the void and is meant to be an expression of the moment.  It is widely believed that the character of the artist is fully exposed in how one paints the enso and that only a mentally and spiritually whole artist can paint a true enso.  Many artists practice making the enso daily as a kind of spiritual diary.  Some artists choose to close the circle, while others choose to leave it open.  Both variations symbolize different things.  A closed enso might symbolize completion, unity, or strength.  An open enso may suggest that it part of and not separate from the universe or maybe that imperfection is an essential and inherent aspect of existence.  Imperfection is an aesthetic I often cultivate in my own art, not just with notions of Zen wabi-sabi, but also as a symbol of human frailties and flaws.  

I think of the enso whenever I see one of Adolph Gottleib’s “Burst” paintings.  While Gottlieb is not referencing the enso directly, they are superficially similar, and, I believe the spirit behind the work is still the same.  Gottlieb’s work is about searching for the timeless moment in the sublime, about the universal void, and about searching for spiritual truths.  

It is also worth noting that both the enso and Gottlieb’s work might be related to the alchemical symbol of the ouroboros, the serpent devouring its own tail.  Among other things, the ouroboros was meant to symbolize the concept of eternal return and the endlessness of time.

An ouroboros by Theodoros Pelecanos 1478.  It is a copy of a lost alchemical tract by Synesius.

Shamanic Initiation, Spirituality, and Art by Chris Hall

In my earlier and more abstract work, I liked to explore notions of the spiritual sublime.  There is some truth to be mined there.  I like the notion of Zen Buddhist attitudes in art, that the very act of creating, as well as contemplation on the end result, can bring mental calm, enlightenment.  So it is with Sufism, a mystical sect within Islam.  Whiling Dervishes spinning until there is a total loss of all conscious thought, only union with the divine, and their music inspiring us to transcendence.  I am also indebted to Gnostic and mystic Christian beliefs for deepening the mystery.  

It was all there at the beginning with me.  When I was 19 I had a powerful dream.  It took place during my first bout of deepest, darkest, soul shattering, black howling depression.  I was taken away to a dark place, my body surrounded by spirits.  They took apart my body, piece by piece, and examined each part, arm and leg, flesh and bone, head and heart.  I was scared and in a lot of pain.  But these same spirits later put me back together again, only I was different in some way.  I had somehow changed.  I felt I was in possession of a powerful secret, that I could use this secret to access hidden corridors in my mind to produce meaningful works of art, and that this art would always be true.  

Soon after, I was reading a book on Shamanism by Piers Vitebsky.  I was shocked to learn that this dream is very common, and it signals an initiation rite by the spirits for newly minted Shamans throughout the world, but especially among those peoples found in Inner Mongolia and the steppes of Asia.  But that dream was a long time ago.  I don’t have magic powers and my art can not heal people (at least not literally).  Over the years my art has become more about this world than any alternative reality or vision.  

Perhaps one day I will return to it.  I still believe there is some magic involved in making art, and that the artist is somehow special, different from most people who are only pedestrians when compared to artists, with their ability to take spiritual leaps and find ecstatic truths, especially when tapping into the Jungian notion of the collective unconscious.  

Ah, but it is a double edged sword for those with this ability to conjure up ecstatic truths.  Modern societies do not have room for magic anymore.  This is even true in the contemporary, post modern art world, where there is a favoring of conceptual conceit over anything that smacks of spirituality, or anything divined from the heart.  Such work is deemed anachronistic and not worthy of investigation.  Maybe one day this will all change. . . .  

“The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.”  Francis Bacon 

Abstract vs Figurative by Chris Hall

Abstract vs. figurative.  My work documents the battle between both.  On one hand abstract work is my internal vision, my zen approach to painting.  It is the result of when I am the most spiritual in the studio.  On the other hand is my figurative work.  It is the result of my realization that I am still a man of this world.  Perhaps my figurative work is my middle finger to the world and all its woes, and my abstract work is attempt to transcend those woes.  I would like to think that my best work, lately, incorporates elements of both tendencies.  

Christopher Hall,  Seminal Sacrifice , 2007

Christopher Hall, Seminal Sacrifice, 2007