This statement is currently a work in progress - not complete at this time. 05.14.18
In fourth-century C.E. China, Ch'an monks (Japanese: Zen) were classically trained in the arts and associated broadly with artist-intellectuals who themselves generally practiced Ch'an (Zen) in some form. These artist-intellectuals saw Zen as a philosophical practice that cultivates profound insight into the empirical nature of Cosmos and consciousness. Their creative work was deeply influenced by Zen. During this period, poetry, calligraphy, and painting were broadly considered forms of Zen practice and teaching.
After decades of writing poetry, in December, 2008 an urgent, inner call to make visual art came at the same time that I found the discipline to sit zazen, the Zen form of meditation, every day. Like those fourth-century artist-intellectuals and Zen monks, the artist and the meditator in me support, challenge, and nourish one another.
"No-Gate Gateway" translated by David Hinton
Arising from my study of Lao Tzu's ancient Taoist text Tao te Ching, and my decade-long Soto Zen practice of Zazen (meditation), I am interested in creating contemporary, visual bodies of work that express the experiential observations encountered through my deepening and evolving relationship with these philosophies. Taoism and Zen have altered my understanding and experience of reality, of the world in which we live. I am humbled by the fact that the only constant in life is the state of impermanence, of this state of flux of all things shifting from emptiness into form back into formlessness. It is beyond human understanding as far as explaining it, of putting it into logical words, but through meditation, deep awareness and learning to pay attention this It beyond understanding can be felt. Call it god / the gods, the Universe, the generative Void, call it Tao, or the generative tissue of the Cosmos, it is where we come from, that of which all the ten thousand things are made, and to what we return to.
Using line, grid, and hand-written text, I am interested in creating bodies of work that visually express, in a contemporary, visual language, the concepts of ...
Recently, I was astonished to discover an alternate definition for the term sutra in Buddhist philosophy. According to Zen master Katagiri Roshi, "...there is another meaning for sutra: interwoven vertical and horizontal strands or strings...the universe is a huge network of interwoven time and space." It is remarkable that the horizontal and vertical orientation of lines woven into the foundation of my work embody this alternate meaning.
Think of my artworks as modern sutras and mandalas used to orient and balance oneself in time and space. Through prolonged viewing, internal and external chatter is quieted. Functioning as objects of contemplation, they remind us of that which we are, what we come from and will return to.
things said about my art by others:
"A brief visit to Oakland recently yielded some interesting emerging work … Lisa Espenmiller’s new work at Chandra Cerrito Gallery references the artist’s meditative practice. The (chant) drawings appear almost as woven tapestries, but are in fact quotes from The Tao, written over and over in different directions."
-- ArtSource Consulting. ArtSource blog post re: "On the Line", April 7, 2015
"Lisa Espenmiller's paintings are visual haiku offered as objects of reflection, linked to her writing practice as well as the practice of meditation. Repetitive, horizontal, scribbled threads of color echo the process of handwritten text and appear to float upon color field 'pages'."
-- Claudia Tennyson. Aftermath exhibit essay, September 26, 2013
"The smooth and subtle undulations of line and color in Lisa Espenmiller's works provide a calmness and stillness that, according to the artist, is rooted in the meditative practices of Zen. Her work exists to serve as the viewer's refuge from the noise and ceaseless activity of our culture as well as the mind itself. Working with ink, water, paper and brush, Espenmiller will position herself before her surface and, once in a rooted meditative state, paint by intuition rather than with the eye and mind. Her ability to block the logical mind while creating her art is of key importance, as it prompts acceptance and trust in that which comes from each movement. Her work is greatly influenced by the practice of stillness, the flow of chi (life force), and a steady focus on the present moment at hand."
-- Patricia Watts. Transmissions exhibit essay, 2013
“Lisa Espenmiller draws horizontal ink lines, one after the other, until the entire surface of canvas or paper becomes a striped color field she relates to “chi” —the subtle energy that infuses existence, which can become evident through the process of meditation. Although on a formal level, her work has ties to the linear compositions and subtle hues of Agnes Martin’s paintings, Espenmiller’s art practice is less influenced by the work of other artists than it is an extension of both her writing practice (she is also a poet) and her Zen meditation practice. Her multi-disciplinary aim is to ‘encourage stillness and a focus on the moment at hand.’ She achieves this with her paintings and works on paper, which require the artist’s own sustained attentiveness while inspiring calm and contemplation in the viewer.”
-- Chandra Cerrito Contemporary. Cumulous exhibit essay, July 26, 2012
"Walking up to Lisa Espenmiller's drawings, the viewer might easily dismiss them as easy compositions of vertical or horizontal lines, reminiscent to the work of Agnes Martin. This would be doing them a disservice. These compositions are less rooted in art and are related to the artist’s Zen meditation practice. Viewing them for an extended period of time, I began to look into the color, relax and leave the crowds around me to their chatter. In this sense, the works are closer to those of John Zurier, in terms of the thought process that created them."
-- Greg Flood, Art Critic and Curator. Examiner.com, September 17, 2012