Cup in sunlight

March 28, 2013

Lian's place series- Cup in sunlight

Lian’s place series- Cup in sunlight    oils on canvas board

This is fairly large format. The aim was to not correct too much, to keep the painting fresh, and to not be rigidly tied to depicting reality.

Every week I go to a Tai Chi lesson in the attic studio of our Tai Chi teacher Lian Ong.  Often, while performing the slow, hypnotic movements of the form, my eye strays to the little lounge where sunlight streams in and lights up the yellow and orange soft furniture.  I’ve started bringing my camera because of the visual richness in this little space- there is a small wooden glass-fronted cupboard with a hodge-podge of beautiful little ceramic cups, for one. I placed one of them on the floor for this picture.

This tranquil space has found its way into several works of mine already, and there will be more to come.

Here is the original photo.



The longer I do Tai Chi the more I value it.  I love that you can keep going deeper and deeper, forever discovering new things.

In the beginning, 15 years ago,  the focus was on externals, mastering the basic  movements in the form (I do Yang form)  and being concerned about how good they looked-  how good I looked doing them!

But eventually you get over that and Tai Chi becomes your discipline, something private and priceless, and it is down to you and your practice and no one else, except maybe your teacher.

The 15 minutes a day I devote to my practice are precious because they focus me on essential things that tend to get lost in the everyday rush. Maybe I’m impatient before I start because I want to get going with my lists, plans, tasks.  But just the act of stopping, consecrating the space and time needed to go through the slow, meditative movements already calms me down.

I become aware of my breathing, my body, my feet standing on the ground. I move the energy down to my legs and feet and breathe deeper down in my belly. I come into my body and get out of my head. I am aware of how I am standing, how my weight is distributed, I feel the soles of my feet on this holy earth, anchored here, receiving. And I feel my upper body opening to energies coming from the sun and other cosmic forces.

As I start on the familiar, graceful sequence of movements, I feel whether my body is in balance or not, I sense my connection to the space and place around me, I feel my joints, I feel tension flow away as I take steps and move my arms in slow circular arc and dips.  I feel this moment of being in a body, in life, on earth  under the sky and concentrate on how the weight shifts, how a single movement can be a strain or effortless depending on your awareness. How some movements torque my body into uncomfortable poses, and how the next move releases the twist in a powerful but controlled counter movement.

Gathering energy, releasing it, dancing and fighting in slow motion. Tai Chi has its basis in martial arts. So while it looks like a gentle prayer in motion, engaging with a well executed movement could throw an opponent across the room.

I emerge from the continuous undulating rhythm of movements, come to rest and breathe.

I am in a completely new ‘place’ physically and mentally, ready to start the day rooted in the things that count. Hoping to bring that quietness and powerful intention of internals into the external world of things and doing.

Giving up the struggle

August 5, 2011

Last month I participated in a Tai Chi workshop given by Rob and Erich Völke with the focus on relaxation.

One of the exercises required me to stand across from another person with my hands on their chest. The goal was to slowly push them off balance without taking a step or exerting any force. The only way this worked was to relax deeper and deeper vertically while still maintaining a strong upright posture and structure (ie, the bones and muscles were working but not tensed), and slowly moving forward from your centre.

My partners tended to be large, muscled men!  I couldn’t budge any of them.
The first time I got it, though, when the guy keeled over, I thought he was putting me on.  Yet, I had also felt the shift in myself. It was a state of total trust and letting go without the least bit of forcing. It was gentle, and it overcame the full resistance of a man tens of kilos heavier than I.

Interesting I didn’t make the link with other parts of my life until recently when I tried the ‘You can try (or give up) anything for 3o days’ challenge. Read the rest of this entry »

Continuing the insights from the previous post, ‘Enchanted Vessel’, I am always struck by the universal principles that seem to run through all arts.  The deeper you go into disparate arts like painting, calligraphy, singing and Tai chi the closer they come to one another in their essence.

In Tai Chi beginning students usually get caught up in the fancy arm movements without realizing these are grounded in combat sport. If you watch a Tai Chi master execute the form (a ritualized series of movements) , it is filled with power and a controlled tension, as well as a fluid grace. If you try to just imitate the graceful arm movements you get only empty decoration. But if the movements originate from your center, they begin to contain power.

In singing, novices try to create volume and resonace by ‘doing ‘ something with their throat or mouth. But true resonant sound comes from deep within the center of the body and from the connection between  resonant membranes in the entire body. It can’t be forced or faked.  

In painting, beginning and even experienced painters can get caught up in imitating a certain style.  But usually , a style is a set of techniques combined with a visual vocabulary that an artist has evolved over years of consistent work. The power of an artwork is intimately linked with the artist’s passion and dedication. Imitating a style will give a trendy quick fix with no depth or staying power.

Calligraphy and tai Chi are very similar. When we start, we want to be able to make all the fancy letters and swirls, but without grounding in good letterforms and consistent spacing, these will look weak and unconvincing. The power in a piece of calligraphy comes from mastery of form, then comes the freedom to improvise within that form.

In all of these disciplines I constantly learn that periods of effort give way to letting go and letting it happen. Trusting the body, to make a sound, a stroke, a movement. Sidestepping the ego’s sense of, ‘Aren’t I doing this well’  to being in service of the art. To put in enough hours with humility, that maybe one percent of the time, excellence can emerge unbidden and effortlessly.  And even more important that excellence is simply, truth. That I may make true tai chi movements, sing true notes, draw true letters and use true colours.

And when you give up all sense of needing recognition, or returns or a sense of being special, all of a sudden,whatever the art form it becomes one’s own totally unique expression,  who I really am is recognizable in that form.

Enchanted vessels

November 29, 2008


Enchanted vessels 1, mixed media

Yesterday during the first singing lesson I’ve had in months, my art, singing and Tai chi came together in a beautiful resonating whole.

My teacher was speaking about letting the sound move up my spine, and I connected this to the chi energy we work with in Tai chi. When I sang as if I were doing the slow meditative movements of my tai chi, I entered the same centered flow that sometimes happens in doing the form.

When my teacher then asked me to imagine the sound coming from the bowl of my pelvis, everything came together .  In Tai chi the movements originate from the tan tien, the body’s center of gravity just under the navel. Making the sound from there was very powerful and created a bell like resonance that moved all through my body.

And the next piece of the puzzle was the realization that in most of the art I’ve done in the last years the bowl form or vessel as been central theme.  Bowl, center, container, woman, pelvis, womb, earth, receiving, singing bowl, garden bowl 10 garden bowls filled with music…..enchantment, interiority.

And ‘Water, Fire, Love’, where the bowl symbol was linked with fire and light, was a gift to a particular young doctor whose specialty happens to be focused on the pelvic area of women.  
But I hadn’t made this connection when I chose the piece for him- or rather when the piece seemed to choose itself.