31 March 2012

The Song of Now: Rosemary KimBal

Zen Wave
   We are a pretty bad-assed species in a lot of ways, one of those ways being: our ability to conceive of multiple time-frames, the past, present, and future. For most artists, the present is the most crucial of these domains to come to terms with. After all, it is in the present when the brush touches the canvas, when the pen touches paper, and when the finger presses the camera shutter button, and so on. The artist we focus on today, Rosemary KimBal, is one of those artists for whom the present makes all the difference. 

   One of the things that makes KimBal's work so special is that the present is not only the force that helped create it, but as finished products, her pieces are also centering reminders to the viewers to cherish the present. For such over-worked and stretched-thin psyches as we tend to have, these invitations are a welcome spiritual balm.
   KimBal makes her work in the East Asian ink washing traditions, namely Chinese brush painting, as well as Japanese sumi-e, though she does often blend the traditions with her own contemporary style. She was first led to the art at Tassajara Zen Center in Northern California, but the experience ended up transforming her entire life. 
   "I feel like I have all new cells," KimBal says. "Zen not only involves painting, it connotes a lifestyle."

Zen Carrot
   KimBal often practices tai-chi to clear her mind in anticipation of her work, and she says the process of grinding the ink is like meditation or like "boring the left side of your brain." She uses goat-hair brushes, sheep-hair brushes, and horse. She says that horse-hair is best for creating lines, while sheep is best for creating softness. The brush-handles are made of bamboo, and the ground on which she paints is usually rice paper. Then, KimBal begins the actual painting, and often finishes only minutes later. 
   "The kind of painting I do has to be done all at once," KimBal says. "You have to be at the stage where you are emotionally ready to do it."
   Such a revelation seems to fly in the face of beliefs that masterpieces take a great deal of time, often days, weeks, and sometimes even years to create. But KimBal's usual answer about how long a single piece takes to complete is: "I think about the paintings all of the time, and then, do it when the moment strikes. It takes fifty years and a breath to do the stroke, is my usual answer. I’ve cried the whole way through some of my paintings."
   That answer reinforces the idea that this kind of art is more an expression of a complete and lifestyle, and less a separate and isolated exercise. KimBal's art is her existence of which her painting is only a small part.

   KimBal's work clearly is a necessary creative outlet for herself, but the results for us might be equally as beneficial. In Zen Wave, we are faced with a portal of centeredness. But beyond the symbolic subject, even the brushstrokes pose an invitation to peace of mind as we are shown fairly clearly the spontaneous movements KimBal has created. 


   In her other pieces that are not as symbolic or abstract, we are shown vegetables, horses, flowers, and birds. Most often KimBal presents depictions of nature, though she has also depicted people, boats, and Chinese words. The depictions are always exuberant expressions, either in their vibrant hues or the spirited brushwork, or both.


   "It’s a feeling of relief to find that space of emptiness where true art is created," the artist says. "You can’t try for it, it just happens."

Purple Sunset
Cactus Flower

   KimBal currently teaches her Zen form of painting at Dancing Brush Studios in Cardiff. Included in the classes are sessions of tai-chi to help center her students' minds and bodies on the present.

   "One of the most important elements of Zen is to listen to your body," Kimbal says. "All the answers are in ourselves. The trick is to become quiet enough to hear them."

   As quieting and calming as Zen might be for artists like KimBal, the result for viewers of her work is the discovery of a sweet melody echoing from within us, not exactly new and not exactly ancient, but eternally and thankfully now.

[For more information on Rosemary KimBal, feel free to visit her website at: dancingbrush.com.]

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