No Buddha, No End of Buddhas

Buddha Abides

At Caruso Woods Fine Art, through June 17.

Reviewed by Beth Taylor-Schott

The first precept offered to lay order members by Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh begins thus: “Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, I am determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones.” The curators and artists of Buddha Abides, now at Caruso Woods through June 17, seem to have taken a similar artistic vow.

The show’s call for entries states that works “must reflect Buddhist themes.” It turns out that they need not necessarily include the figure of the Buddha himself. In “Buddha Abides” by Sally Chiu, only the stenciled word “Buddha” emerges over and over from a Rothko-esque background. A lush photograph by Chris Messner, “Bamboo Forest,” depicts only the plant, a Zen symbol for Buddha nature. “Wing and a Prayer” by Annette Matrisciano distorts, beyond recognition, not just the Buddha, but the human figure as well.

More often the works do include a recognizable Buddha. At times, this figure is one element in a larger collage or assemblage. Rosemary’s “Bloom & Bless” arranges rose petals in concentric, lotus-shaped circles, with a simple gold-stamped Buddha at the center. “Buddha with Birds” by Marcelino Jimenez presents the Buddha as part Baroque fancy, part St. Francis. Other works represent the Buddha in entirely Western idioms. “New Moon Buddha” by Linda Cassierer creates the Buddha out of patchwork, while in “Buddha of the Southwest” by Bruce Birkland, the Buddha emerges as an enormous striated stone figure, blending in with the mesas and canyons around him.

The most successful works integrate Buddhist notions on the deepest levels. “Me as Buddha,” a watercolor by Meganne Forbes, asks us to see the Buddha as a beautiful, female nude, painted in the manner of a monumental tarot card. “Bamboo Buddha,” by Blake Lannon, offers a bamboo grove alive with shape and color as if at the moment of awakening, an indistinct Buddha statue tucked into the greenery.

The show even has room for a work that, except for its size and mounting, could pass for a Tibetan thangka, or religious scroll painting. But “Amitabha,” Buddha of Infinite Light, which takes pride of place in the gallery window, was not painted by a traditional artisan. It is the work of Tamarind Rossetti, a native of Ojai, who created the work using a book written in Tibetan, which she could not read, forcing her to depend entirely on its diagrams. The Buddha taught that there are 84,000 dharma doors, or paths to enlightenment. As this show makes clear, there are at least as many ways of depicting them.

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