In his famous “Last Interview,” recorded a few days before he died of liver cancer, the British playwright, Dennis Potter, spoke of the extraordinary brilliance even the simplest things had taken on for him once he knew he was soon to leave this world. He was in love, he said, with the apple-ness of apples. His was the intoxication with things fully seen, the brilliance of complete and heightened attention which many report during times of spiritual transcendence or imminent death.
In Zen painting there is a fundamental idea known as kiin-seido or “living moment,” defined as the intuitive expression of a subject’s essential nature. The German expressionist concept of Einfühlung or empathy is similar. It begins in observation but is not a slave to observation. Rather, it transcends observation to capture some deeper essence or reality. The artist experiences a sense of stepping beyond that veil of separation between self and otherness. The viewer, if the effort has been successful, experiences what Potter referred to in his last interview: a shared intoxication with the apple-ness of the apple or the blue-ness of the blue. This is what I aspire to in art.
I turn for subject matter to the beings, places and objects I love most: the human figure, chickens and other animals, isolated places in landscape, and solid forms like fruits and stones. But the essence I am searching for can reveal itself in any subject matter as well as abstraction. It is a life’s work to place oneself in relationship to, and paint from, such pure relationship with subject matter, whatever it may be.