Ah, Buddha: An Exhibition of Paintings by Terra Mizwa

By Peter Leventhal

How and why artists come to their subject is cause for much speculation. In a world of stress and overwhelming movement the Buddhist idea of the attainment of serenity through contemplation, of reaching a state of compassionate identification with higher consciousness, seems an essential aspiration for a work of art. Even for those of us not practising Buddhism, images that invoke contemplation, images that can help us focus our thoughts and afford us some moments of hope and inspiration seem a worthy aspiration.

Art: Ah, Buddha By Terra Mizwa. Sat, Feb 4, 6pm, Fábrica la Aurora

The Buddha, Gautama, had his amazing revelation in the fifth century B.C. in India. There have been many Buddhas since then, and Buddhism flourishes still in countries far from Siddhartha Gautama’s home land…each Buddha presents another aspect of an ideal and all present us with the possibility of self-awakening. In the sixth century A.D. Buddhism arrived and took hold in Japan. The word Buddha has no personal identity. It is a word of praise, as such like messiah. And it refers to one who is self awakened and is in a state of serenity and acceptance. The Japanese, especially in the Heian period of sculpture, reached a level of expression and variety of permutations of this state staggering in diversity and strength.

Pleasure of contemplation

The artist Terra Mizwa has taken some of these Buddha images and shaped them into paintings where the spiritual essence and aesthetic pleasure combine in unique ways.  She has achieved an exceptional elegance and nobility, one captured in naturalistic forms with complex draperies. They combine a vigorous strength and an evanescence, which produces a spiritual and aesthetic experience of great depth. The subtle and decisive drawing of the beatific faces registers a consciousness of transcendence.

And then in the stillness of the background a delicately vigorous element moves in counterpoint to the figure, sometimes a piece of bamboo shoot, sometimes a jade plant, or the sliver of a crescent moon. All the paintings possess a characteristic rigor of rendering, highly descriptive and freely articulated.

Let us look at the Quan Yin image for a moment. The Japanese call it Kannon. It started out male, became androgynous for 200 years and eventually changed into female yet in all incarnations represented the feminine spirit. Most all of the Buddha sculptures stand on a base of lotus blossoms. These blossoms, if one looks carefully, emanate from the river mud through the water on long tendrils (water being the representation of the emotions) and rise above the water in full flower. The artist depicts this graceful transit with brevity and invention.

In the many inventions of faces and gestures, all mutually revealing; in the iconography of the sustaining elements involved with the central figures, the viewer senses a serious purpose in these paintings. It is an earnestness of joy and the pleasure of contemplation.

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