From the beginning, my creative work as a visual artist and haiku poet has been joined with my spiritual life and practice. My work is influenced by a decade-long meditation practice in the Soto Zen tradition, Taoist and Buddhist texts, Chinese calligraphy, and Chinese and Japanese painting.
Working with the energies of both light and dark, the core of my practice centers on the impulse to create objects of beauty and contemplation in response to familial and cultural dysfunction. Using hand-written text, line, grid, organic forms and repetition, I weave and build drawings and paintings that bring the viewer into fields of subtle rhythm and quiet stillness.
Through the use of humor, mantric techniques, and philosophical wisdom texts, I create contemporary visual poems that offer solace to the viewer in challenging times. The “fuck” phrases found in the knowing light staying dark series, while meant to subdue demons of anxiety, anger and confusion, function also as a form of dark humor laughing at the absurdity of aspects of human life. In the chant series the philosophical phrases borrowed from the Tao Te Ching primarily contain words of wisdom, and at the same time, are subtly humorous: “too much food and useless baggage,” “polite and quiet like house guests,” “I’ll never be like other people”.
The meditative methods used to create the woven lines found in both The Way and the groundless ground series, the layered, organic forms of subtle bodies and the brushed Zen circles of both ensō series are intended to induce a state of calm. The patterned and rhythmic surfaces require the viewer to slow down, to relinquish distraction, and to give each piece full, quiet, beginner’s-mind attention. The making and the viewing constitute acts of rebellion against the cacophony of American life and it’s aggressive, noisy, hyper-masculine, delusional demands. The work arises from a desire to heal self and others.
“wild bounty” presents another body of work in which I respond to familial and cultural dysfunction. This series of self-portraits depicts and honors grief, sadness, and broken-ness - feelings and experiences that American society and its nuclear families typically refuse to acknowledge with empathy, kindness, and patience missing an opportunity for the wild bounty that comes from acknowledging suffering rather than running from it. I focused these portraits on my face, head, and throat - where my mind and voice reside. To discover the title of each portrait I threw the I Ching.
things said about my art by others:
"Although knowing light staying dark obviously manifests a different point of departure than chant this series is still informed, like all the others for that matter, by Espenmiller’s desire for self-healing and the healing of others. The repetition of the word fuck in such works as “what the fuck,” “unfuckingbelievable,” “fucking ridiculous,” “are you fucking kidding me,“ and so forth, are linked with powerful emotions that need to be released in the right context so they do not harm the speaker or the listener. They also are valid expressions of shock, anger, and astonishment that are fully commensurate with life in the United States in the first part of the 21st century."
-- from "Saying Light, Saying Dark: the Art of Lisa Espenmiller", an essay by Dr. Mark Levy, Professor Emeritus of Art History
"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