Sandy Lowder on Making Art


JT: Looking at your ensos made me think how art comes out of the same empty place as the center of the enso and the same place of spontaneous energy as the motion that makes the circle. You may think of it a different way.

SL: This is somewhat accurate…but the spontaneous part is often difficult to “make” happen. It takes so much constant effort and practice (sort of like sitting zazen...) and then there might be an opening for the spontaneous part to happen.

DANCER, 56"H x 35"W

JT: When you draw an enso, what happens in you? Does anything like that happen for you in your practice, your ceremony, your zazen?

SL: Making the enso takes preparation, like warming up before a run, stretching before zazen, letting go of outside input, stilling struggle and “effort.” Certainly it is not as spontaneous as I might wish. Again, it seems much like sitting zazen—but the most significant thing to me, is that when things are really going the best, the activity of doing or making any of these things is the same as BEING these actions. Barbara has reminded me that making art is my practice, it is my zen practice.


JT: Is there a place of emptiness or silence in your creating?

SL: Yes. But first of all, there is the hard work and training. Then, if you live through the groundwork and just keep on going, you might get to kind of pull up some unknown part. Not so sure how to describe it, but I love how the painter Nell Blaine described the process. She really puts her finger on it this way: “I felt that I had made contact with something in myself–something like a physical force that would come out through my fingertips.” She says she read about how painting is like a spider’s web. It comes out of the body of the artist, is pulled out of the body. Then she says “from that point, I felt I could judge whether it was true or contrived, synthetic or really felt. You know when your whole person is coming together to do this act. You learn to make it come—how to spring open the door.” That seems to me to sum up a lot of the real struggle in making art: to learn how to spring open the door; over and over and over again, or you stop making art. It can happen, after lots of failure and effort that just feels wasted (though, I guess I do know that the “wasted effort” is really not wasted, the failures are necessary for growth and development. It is pretty hard to live with though!)


JT: Do ideas and images arise in your sitting or in sesshin?

SL: Not that I have ever noticed. But sitting seems to helps clear space somehow.


JT: Why do you practice Zen? Why do you create art? Are there differences when you answer those questions?

SL: I actually don’t know why I do either of these things. Maybe it is the recognition that both processes felt like “home,” like there was no more right place for me to be.


JT: Do you feel that some of your art is somehow more Buddhist than other things you create, or is it all one thing?

SL: No, I think that it is all the same regardless of whether there is any particular “Buddhist” imagery or subject matter or intent. I do not really think that there is a difference.


JT: Does your practice, or some aspect of your practice, like sesshin, free you to create more readily, or has your practice ever blocked you?

SL: I really can’t say that zen practice has helped the practice of Art.... Maybe it has freed me up from needing to have any “intent” or message for art. I’ll think about that. But for a while, sitting seemed to take the place of making art, and I really hated that. Now I usually only sit at home a little. As for art, I just do it. It succeeds or it fails or it does both at the same time. It just is whatever it is. Like zazen. Maybe they are the same thing, they only look a little different on the outside.


JT: I'm wanting to ask if when you create in response to an object, there is some kind of unity in you and the object, but the words are not quite coming to describe that.

SL: Yes, I think I know what you are asking...and when I am painting or drawing, if things are really going well, there is unity with the subject matter, the process, the media, the materials, and my own awareness or lack of conscious awareness. And then it is like the description from Nell Blaine—a physical force, a spider’s web is coming out from the fingertips. Then, it feels triumphant! Like there was no conscious control over the process, it is just pulled out of necessity, naturally—like a spider spinning its web. I made a series of drawings dealing with movement on a 2-dimensional surface, horses and riders and dancers: the push and pull of stillness and movement. Again, like when we are sitting. We sit on those cushions, not moving (well, trying not to move.) But all the time we really are moving: we are breathing, hearts are beating, blood is flowing throughout our bodies, we shift a little, stretch our shoulders, wiggle toes, stomach grumbles, we blink, on and on…. We are “sitting still,” but not really, because our living bodies are in constant movement with the universe. It was so interesting to me, to find a vehicle to explore movement/stillness. These drawings get to that point more than most others, I think. Many years ago, I used to take dance classes and I used to ride horses with my daughters. And the process and activity of making those drawings was sort of like awakening a sleeping cellular memory of those movements living in my body again.

UNTITLED, 40"H x 26"W

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