There may come a time in life when all you have left before you are broken pieces of a shattered bowl. The many forks in the road you have taken have led you astray and you have finally lost your way; you find yourself on a strange and unknown grove.
On exactly one such day, seated in deep meditation, I found myself indeed in the midst of a very strange woodland, surrounded by scarred trees that bled pure lacquer sap from their wounds. The trees, which bore the telltale signs of unhealed cuts and lacerations, I later discovered, were the indigenous Japanese Urushi trees that had for thousands of years provided Japanese artists and craftsmen with their mysteriously brilliant and deep lacquer finishes.
You may wonder how I had chanced so far off course to have happen upon such a strange land. Well, it was by intention, yet one that was revealed only to my shadow, and utterly unbeknownst to my conscious mind. You see, I had travelled to this hauntingly strange, and yes, beautiful forest holding the broken pieces of a precious bowl deep within my heart, searching for a way to mend the vessel and make it whole once more.
Over the years, I had tried everything I could think of to repair the bowl, tangible and logical solutions, and had hit impasse after impasse. As I arrived to the Urushi grove, the only action left at my disposal was to ignite my own heart and create the gravitational force and ripple outward and heal the bowl with my own resonant quantum force. It would be an act of pure will, or faith, unshakable faith. And so there I was, standing before the trees, trembling to my core, empathetically observing, absorbing the gouges cut into their flesh.
As I laid the pieces down on the moss-covered earth and granite anvil, I was reminded of the simple elegance of Wabi Sabi, and shuddered how far I had drifted from the way thou, Tao…
Still, I collected the lacquer from the wounds and proceeded to mix it with clay and earth, and, one by one, I join the fragments as I imagined the final bowl with glisten with its Kintsugi lines of gold, celebrating the scars, remembering the wounds, and creating a new sublime narrative out of hardened pain.
After I emerged from the meditation, perhaps more in an unconscious knowing rather than through a conscious decision, I brought out an old and damaged painting from my studio storage and began to repair the canvas. Something beckoned me to redefine the painting, in some way transform it, to listen deeply to the wash of time over the brush strokes that formed it.
The imperfections of the painting, its damaged and chipped pieces, the tear in the canvas, the careless and imprecise layers of paint that I had placed on the canvas many years ago took on a new resonance and presence, something that was unexpectedly powerful. It was as if the wounds and scars in the painting had shaped and brought out the essential the work, despite my intentions. So, I relinquished any pretense of control and allowed the lacquer flow over the painting, creating new lines, new meanings.
Little did I know, however, that as I continued to work on the painting, the Urushi lacquer’s poison slowly penetrated my skin and become a systemic attack on my body. Over the next several days as I continued to work on the painting my body internalized the medicine of Urushi and broke out in terrible hives and severely inflamed rashes. I struggled through sleepless nights enduring burning and blistered skin over my entire face and body. I had no choice but to understand the whispers of Urushi, not through my mind, but through my flesh, through the very act of being.
There are many forms of knowing. We are often hurried along life skimming the surface of our world, bereft of standing, understanding, innerstanding, overstanding, outerstanding the words that parse and cut and scar and heal us. And there I was, in my studio, mending a broken bowl, fixing a torn canvas, blind to the lessons of pain, the beautiful lacquer that pours from the scars of the Urushi tree for thousands of years, glistening in the shadows and dimly lit rooms visited by Samurai and Geishas, and the stories they live behind their veils and armors.
And so, I decided to name this painting Urushi in honor of the process of piecing together shattered memories, in honor of listening deeper to hidden medicine, especially ones that are rendered through the folds of time, subtle and powerful layered medicine. The work is part of a series of figurative paintings I have started that explores the mystery of Anima and the feminine in our world, both tangible and intangible, the negative and positive in the Hermitic pendulum that balances and animates the Uni-verse.
In the narrative of this painting, Urushi is a bewitching masked mistress who beckons the viewer to dive deeper into the hidden dimensions of self. The painting celebrates the scars and imperfections graciously bestowed upon us by the blades of life and extracts hardened luster that reveals rich shadows and the ultimate play of the negative and positive layered in the mundane and everyday life. Moments strung along as a vast dew adorned tapestry, with each drop reflecting a profoundly deep and multidimensional world embedded in the ordinary.
From pain to beauty honed in imperfection, a celebration of the mundane, the authentic, the Wabi Sabi grace that touches the real and living language of the true luster, I have learned to accept Urushi as a new guide, and pay homage to the scars it bears for us.