From the moment I first heard him on the phone, Alok’s patient and peaceful voice relaxed me. “Now is a great time because I am in my car, the air conditioning is on, and I am not going anywhere,” he assured me as my fingers eased up from fluttering frantically across my notepad. This weekend, Alok will offer a workshop called The Creativity of Non-Doing at Arts Alive! in Santa Barbara. The patient, reassuring style I noticed immediately on the phone is an integral part of the mindful attitude with which Alok (his full name is Alok Hsu Kwang-han, but he goes by Alok) approaches everything he does. The workshops are one aspect of his practice, but he is best known for his Zen calligraphic portraits.
In a Zen portrait sitting, Alok takes all the time he needs to locate and paint “what people need to see about themselves.” He begins each session by asking the person if he or she has any issues, or if they are at a crossroads. He then goes into what he calls “empty space,” which is simply allowing the painting to happen. Alok has done more than 1,500 Zen calligraphic portraits since 1974. When he started out, he says he would often try to get some feeling for what was going on with the subject, but now he says he is focused on simply being “present and available.” Ideally, when there is nothing between him and his subject, Alok can allow anything the subject sends to him, making for a very intimate atmosphere. He uses a set of stone seals, each with a different character representing such things as serenity or fear. His subjects choose two seals for themselves, not knowing the meaning of their symbols, and then he chooses a third for them. He says that “by the end of the session, the seals they choose always end up relating somehow to the person.”
Along with these portraits, Alok also teaches workshops and conducts what are known as “exploration sessions” for individuals, couples, families, and even organizations. This is one of his favorite parts of his work, Alok explained, because it brings together all of his training in meditation, psychology, and sociology. He said he senses “where people are in space.”
As an example, Alok related a story about a couple who came to him for one of these sessions. He said the couple seemed to have a lot of love between them, but the husband had some trouble really opening up to his wife and family. Alok sensed this, and noticed in the man’s right eye-his “male” eye, according to Alok-some trouble. Alok then discovered the man had ancestors killed in the Holocaust about whom his father and grandfather were reluctant to talk. Alok then took 40 of his stone seals and placed them on the table in front of the man. “These are your murdered ancestors,” he explained, and had the man introduce his “ancestors” to his wife and children. “I am very aware of the importance of the family system,” said Alok.
Alok will be giving several exhibitions and appearing at a number of events during the next week in Santa Barbara, including an artist reception, demonstration, and exhibit tonight, June 7, at Kim3 International Furnishings during this month’s 1st Thursday. This exhibit will be free and open to the public from 6-8 p.m., so for two hours anyone can experience the tranquility of Alok’s “empty space” and maybe discover what they need to see about themselves.
Alok will appear at this month’s 1st Thursday event (Thu., June 7) from 6-8 p.m. at Kim3 International Furnishings (1117 State St.).