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What if Malcolm X was a Buddhist

oil on canvas, 20 x 16", 2010

and we didn’t need salvation?  I went this route with Malcolm X because I thought about his violent end, and all of the violence in the world. Buddhism is an antidote to violence. I remember reading how over time the spread of Buddhism in certain parts of Asia helped to stop the spread of hostilities amongst different groups. The creature at the bottom of the painting was found in Edward Topsall’s Historie of foure-footed beastes. The description I found of the beast moved me. I think it poignantly describes what often happens to those who work to save humanity:

When hee perceiveth that hee is pursued by the Huntsman, hee gets his young ones upon his backe, and with his taile, which is very long and broad, he covereth them, and so flying, provideth both for his owne, and their safetie; neither can he be taken by any other way but by pits, which those Savage men use to digge in the places neere which he is to runne, into which at unawares hee tumbles headlong.

The more graphic style of this work has a lot to do with my day job at Princeton. I see a lot of woodcuts and I have come to admire the shorthand approach to illustration that I have seen. It corresponds nicely with my desire to simplify the painting process, making it more direct, and I hope, more clearly an emotional experience for the artist and viewer alike.

My doggie self

oil on canvas, 24 x 30", 2010

I was inspired by some work I had seen at the alternative art fair in Florida during Art Basel. Artists were creating alter egos, and this coincided with my identifying more and more with my dog, Sammie. I wanted to create a painting that would allow me to explore experiences that still haunt me, but I wanted to do it as a Buddha. Since I am nowhere near Buddha status, I selected a doggie as myself. Saying I am a dog-faced Buddha allows me to be both low and high, experiencing life from both vantage points. I won’t get into any of the other imagery in this work. Instead, I will paraphrase a favorite expression of my mother’s, when speaking of her children: Some things should be seen, rather than heard.

The bodhisattva paintings have taken a strange turn…

Bodhisattva gone bad
oil on canvas, 30 x 24", 2010

I thought this painting was a symptom of my falling off the Buddhist wagon for a while. Now, I think it combines the influence of the Buddhist literature I have been reading with my innate sense of the wrongness of so much of the work-a-day world. Before I started to read about Buddhism and meditate, I felt that so much of our efforts are for naught. Life just keeps knocking us down, no matter what we accomplish. That is a lousy way to look at life. So I have tried hard to temper it with this: love everyone because we are all suffering. Open your heart to everyone, and they will open their hearts to you, and before you know it we will all be in a better place, one filled with love and harmonious relationships. The Bodhisattva in this painting is suffering, but she is sharing her love, and her merde with us all: illustrating the worst of both ways of thinking.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight

oil on canvas board, 12 x 9", 2010

This is the painting I donated for the ShadFest auction. I had to leave the room when they auctioned it off because I was too afraid it would get no bids. I read Shout, Sister, Shout by Gayle F. Wald in 2007 when it was published by the Beacon Press. It made a big impression on me. I was thrilled that the two women’s relationship was brought to light in the book, and I marveled at how brave Sister Rosetta was, living her life and playing her brand of music, with no apologies. The theme of this year’s ShadFest was “A different kettle of fish” and I think Sister Rosetta and Marie Knight fit that description well.