His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2007 Oil on linen 44 1/4 × 30 1/4 inches
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2007
Oil on linen 44 1/4 × 30 1/4 inches

From appropriating imagery to paint from, inspired by Post Modernism and the Pictures Generation, to appropriating film stills (inspired in part by Roland Barthes’ great text “the Third Meaning”), to appropriating from historical photos, I realized that the more I was able to get to the source of the image, to draw from it the emotive and atmospheric weight of the image, the more “real” the image was, the more rich incredible things I was able to perceive, feel, and paint from the image. 

Although I’m not religious, per se, I’m a pretty spiritual person, and if there is one religion that makes sense to me, it would be Buddhism.  A lot of my fellow Semiotics friends from Brown have become Buddhists!  If part of Semiotics was about the power of language, how “language is the software that programs the hard drive of your brain and consciousness to perceive the world”, Buddhism is the ancient ideology of this—everything exists in the word that you see, but perhaps not in the way that you perceive it. I remember in a Semiotics class at Brown, I asked my professor Michael Silverman in a moment of nihilistic defeat, “if everything adds up to zero, what’s the point of it?” and Michael retorted “Well, it’s pretty interesting to talk about!”.  Buddhism for me gives a deep spiritual component to all this…

I’ve seen the Dalai Lama speak on a number of occasions, and while he always starts out “cute” and “sounding like Yoda”, very quickly he gets very deep and complex into philosophy, and it’s almost impossible to keep writing notes and you have to give in and just listen very thoughtfully and carefully.  By the third day of this teaching, few people had come back, and the feeling was very woozy and transcendent: it felt as if we were all on a giant spaceship taking off into another dimension, especially at this point where the Dalai Lama was deep into chanting prayer.  If you believe Tibetan Buddhism, he is the reincarnation of the Chenrezig Buddha in the thangka painting behind him, and in fact, the whole scene started resembling the painting, with the video screens on either side of him like the small Buddha’s on clouds on either side, and the architecture of the hall like a giant mandala, and the lens flares (I like to paint all the aspects of the photo as if they were real!) like floating mandalas throughout the scene.  I really wanted to capture the transcendent, ecstatic experience of being there, which was truly transformative, and listened to audio books of the Dalai Lama while painting this, along with many cd’s of Tibetan Buddhist prayers. 

A Buddhist would say that a chair isn’t necessarily a chair, it’s “pieces of wood bolted together, etc., and if you stand on it, it’s a ladder!” and I use this analogy when teaching students about drawing and painting things “as they really are” to objectify what you are perceiving in a manner beyond language—when you are delineating negative space to perceive positive space you are literally reading “between the lines” and thinking “outside the box” of perceived ways of looking at things and learned language, which can really obstruct how you create visions of “reality”.   When painting this, the interdependence of the elements really came across to me, in the micromanaging of positive and negative shapes, forms, color, etc.  and it was a lengthy, but amazing experience that I hope gives the work a life of its own and emulates the experience.  Fun fact, Richard Gere is the gentleman with the white hair and dark suit to the right of His Holiness, and at one point, the Tibetan institute contacted me about using the image, but never followed through!  I hope that Hi Holiness might have seen this image (or the other images I have created of him and of the Karmapa!) and would have approved!



Edward Hopper and his wife used to go to the movies every day, and he was inspired for his work to create images that were like film stills, in addition to embracing the architecture of classic New York buildings and interiors, that have also inspired me so much.

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Edward Hopper, New York Movie, 1939, collection of the Museum of Modern Art, NY