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Shōgen Blair Thomson is an artist, calligrapher and Zen teacher who has worked across contemporary art, community arts and facilitation over the last twenty years. His studio base is in Glasgow, Scotland and he also works regulalry in Japan.

In his artwork he seeks to investigate themes of the dynamic impermanence and wondrous nature of reality expressed through shattered glimpses of spaces and environments in flux, creating worlds within worlds. He explores interconnecting cultural, embodied and creative practices with approaches that have expanded from visual art to include Shodo calligraphy, mindful and awareness practices and meditation.

In 2022 Blair received transmission from his Zen Buddhist teacher John Fraser at Glasgow Zen Group (in the Nishijima Roshi lineage) certifying him to teach, and he currently leads a weekly Zazen online sitting and service. Previous to this Blair accepted the Zen precepts and also his Buddhist name Shōgen 生現 in 2017 at Ardfern on the west coast of Scotland. His teaching interests include explicating and opening up the meanings of teachings through re-appraising familiar teachings and phrases, looking at the Japanese texts, and also a focus on ritual and practice including ceremony, chanting, Zen eating and Zen robes. Dharma talks have included The Four Vast Wishes and Hishiryo ‘neither thinking nor non thinking’. He is fascinated by the devotional and expressive aspects of the visual art of Japanese Buddhism particulalry in Buddhist calligraphy.

As well as Zen and other Buddhist practices, Blair’s creative work has been supported over the years by other meditation methods and inspired by the environments, language and cultures of Scotland and Japan, having roots in both countries.

He was born in Paisley, Scotland in 1980.  Exhibiting publicly since age 18 and graduating from Glasgow School of Art in 2002, his interests widened from landscape painting to drawing, abstraction, poetry/ word art, installation, video and photography.

Blair has exhibited in as well as curated mixed and solo shows in Scotland, England, U.S.A, Japan, and elsewhere, and he is thankful to have had his artwork collected worldwide in many collections including in Japan, McKinsey & Co. and Scottish Widows.

Meandering paths moved him to lead community art workshops and events, and set up the Drawing and Painting Studio in 2008, which has further developed to encompass meditative and awareness approaches. As well as groups he also works with individuals, such as art training to combining art and mindfulness and working outside, helping to encourage creativity, grounding and connecting to nature, settled and with curiosity.

Regular visits to Japan began in 2002, when he started studying Shodo with calligrapher Shujo Wakabayashi, then in his eighties. Thomson exhibited with him and other Japanese and Chinese visual artists in 09 and the next year represented the UK at the ART/X/TOYAMA International Exhibition. In recent years, since Wakabayashi, who was like a grandfather to him, passed away, he has spent some time to reflect and discover new shodo masters as well as live for short periods with Soto zen monks, practice Zazen, learn from them and from practitioners from other groups, participate in chanting and Shakyo sutra copying.

He was a board member on the committee of the R.G.I. arts organisation from 2007 to 2012 and since then has been involved assisting with organisation and Buddhist work, such as at Glasgow Zen Group (GZG). He regularly collaborates on creative and nature related or zen projects, such as with the inspiring Margaret Kerr and John Fraser. Blair has an interest in Haiku and Waka poetry and has translated some poems by master Dogen Zenji and also Ryokan.

Please check his ‘Sketchbook Notes’ blog for interests, inspiration and recent projects.

Selected Activities:

2016 – 2023

2022Received Zen Transmission and Shihō to become a Zen teacher, transmission in Nishijima Roshi Soto Zen lineage through Glasgow Zen Group (GZG)
2022Art/X/Toyama public exhibition (invited), Uozu, Japan, showing series of photographs and paintings
2022Post Pandemic Community Mural Project, Maryhill Hub
2019Sanzensha monastic training at Kōshōji Temple (Sōtō), Uji, with monk Isozaki Endai; Sōtō Zazen and mindfulness experience with Issho Fujita (Hayama) and at Tokyo Dōgen Sangha, Seishōji, Zenshoin, Kōunji, Tōshōji temples
2019 Advanced Mindfulness Course, Scottish Buddhist Vihara. Teacher Nelum Jayakody: Four Foundations of Mindfulness; emphasis on body scan (sitting); mindfulness of breathing
2019Community art exhibition Maryhill Hub with NUC
2019Healthy Heads mental health workshop, Glasgow Youth Theatre
2019Sotozen Zazen kai experience with Issho Fujita and at Tokyo Dogen Sangha, Seishouji, Zenshoin, Kouunji, Toushouji, Daijouji temples
2019visits and practice to Shingon, Rinzai zen, Hossoushu (Yogacara school) temples Japan
2017 – 2019 Workshops/ day retreats at Lenzie working with Margaret Kerr, combining art / calligraphy with mindful meditation
2017 – presentShodo calligraphy and Shakyo sutra tracing workshops in Glasgow and southern Scotland
2018MBSR Mindfulness Course, Scottish Buddhist Vihara. Teacher Nelum Jayakody
2018Sanzensha monastic training at Daijoji Temple, Kanazawa (Sōtō), with abbot Azuma Ryushin (including Takuhatsu Begging and Okyō Chanting Service practices)
2017 to present student of Shodo calligraphy masters teaching in Tokyo
2017Sanzensha training at Daijoji Temple (Sōtō), Kanazawa, with abbot Azuma Ryushin (including Zazen, Shakyo Sutra Tracing, Sado Tea Ceremony practices). Sutra Tracing with Tanimura Sensei at Seishoji; Sutra Tracing at Houssoushu temple
2016Art directing and publication of ‘Future’ for Aye Write Book Festival, collaboration between literacy and art for adult learners, Glasgow

2010 – 2015

2013Exhibiting ‘Urban Dynamics’ series of drawings at Factory Hanbunko Gallery, Takaoka, Japan
2013‘6×4” Exhibition’, Cooper Gallery Space, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, mixed show
2012- 2022 Glasgow Zen Group Tenzo and Secretary roles
2012Tokyo Exhibition ‘Toki No Ashiato’ (‘Traces of Time’) at Gallery 80, Omotesando, with Wakabayashi Shujo (curated by Blair and fashion designer Chizuko Wakabayashi)
2011 – 12Community Workshops for the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts
2011Curating ‘The Way to Northern Cherry Blossoms’ Japan Earthquake Charity Exhibition, RGI Kelly Gallery and Blair Thomson’s Studio, Glasgow
2011Showing with Cove Park Print Portfolio, Boisdale Gallery, London, curated by Fleming Collection.
2010ART/X/TOYAMA International Exhibition, representing U.K. and participating in the International Art Symposium and Artist Talks, co-leading art workshop
2010Curating for Royal Glasgow Institute: ‘Artist’s Statement’ section at Glasgow Art Fair. Artists selected from throughout Scotland including sculpture by George Wyllie
2010RGI’s ‘Artist’s Statement’ section at Glasgow Art Fair, also represented by John Green Fine Art; Hospitalfield Artist Resident Exhibition at Scottish Arts Club, Edinburgh; Collaboration with Designworks, SECC, Glasgow

2004 – 2009

2009‘Trailing the North Wind’, Glasgow Art Club solo exhibition.
2009Wakabayashi Shujo 90th Sho Exhibition, Toyama, Japan, showing 8 works & collaborating with him and designer Chizuko Wakabayashi; RSA Spring Open, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh; RGI Annual Exhibition; Billcliffe Gallery Glasgow
2008 – present Founded the Drawing and Painting Studio
2008Sophie Montgomery Art, Kensington, London, featured artist; Curating for Glasgow Art Club ‘New Faces to Glasgow Art Club’; Ricefield Gallery, Glasgow
2007 – present Studying with Zen teacher John Fraser, GZG (Sōtō Zen tradition)
2007 – present  Participating in Glasgow Zen Group retreats at Ardfern, Arran, Kagyu Samye Dzong Glasgow
2007Royal Scottish Academy Annual Exhibition, ‘Highland’; New York Art Fair representing Flying Colours Gallery; RGI Annual Exhibition, prizes for ‘Rhythms Kilcreggan’; Kilmorack Gallery, Invernessshire; House for an Art Lover, Glasgow
2006Abstract Exhibition’, Scotland Art, Edinburgh; Two person show at Gallery Heinzel, Aberdeen; Third Step Gallery solo show ‘In Time with the Wind’, Trongate, Glasgow
2005London Art Fair, Baillie Gallery, London
2004Scottish Art Today, Lloyds, Edinburgh; ‘Internationalism’ Royal Concert Hall Exhibition, Glasgow

1992 – 2003

2003GSA students/ graduates show, Studio 24, West Kilbride; Full Circle Gallery, Glasgow
2003Solo show Stenton Gallery, East Lothian
2002 – 2012 Apprentice of Shodō Master Wakabayashi Shūjō, Toyama, assisting him and collaborating
2002- 03 Workshops for Largs Academy
2002Glasgow School of Art ‘Degree Show’ Exhibition, Mackintosh Gallery, Mackintosh Building; ‘Terra Nova’ Degree Show Selection, Mackintosh Gallery, GSA; Compass Gallery ‘Next Generation’ Glasgow
2002Solo exhibition at the Kelly Gallery, Glasgow; Solo Exhibition at Studio 24, West Kilbride
2001Solo Exhibition at Gallery Cossachok, Glasgow
2000 – 2016 Art tutoring at Abernethy/ Glencoe with Hamilton College groups
2000Laing Landscape Painting Competition, Mall Galleries, London
1998 – 2002 Glasgow School of Art Painting Department, BA(hons) Fine Art

Hamilton College Art Department, studying art and design under Alan Wilson

Selected Awards, Project Grants and Prizes:

2022 – 2023 Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation (GBSF) Award: ‘Tenkoku Japanese Seal Engraving and Zen Stamp Making’ – exploring design, history and techniques (meeting teachers and monks in Japan, Glasgow workshops)
2020- 2021Creative Scotland (administered by Wheatley Foundation) Grant for Expressive Youth Arts; Creative Scotland Youth Arts Manga Anime Project (administered by GlasgowCAN); Time Space Money Bursary, Artists Network (personal practice)
2019GBSF Award for ‘Shodō Calligraphy and Mindful Meditation Practice’ – visit to Japan exploring Shodo styles and history (meeting monks, workshops delivered around Glasgow)
2018Funding for Clydebank Art Group, awarded by West Dunbartonshire Community Budgeting; Glasgow Airport Flightpath Fund for Clydebank creative groups; GlasgowCAN Commissioned Projects Award for Maryhill community arts
2016 – 2017Fleming Trust Grants for creative drawing project with young people and vulnerable adults
2011GBSF Award for ‘The Way to Northern Cherry Blossoms’ Great East Japan Earthquake Charity Exhibition, Royal Glasgow Institute (RGI) Kelly Gallery, fundraising for Japanese Red Cross, supported by Japanese Consul General Mr Tarahara (grant through RGI)
2007RGI Langside College Watercolour Award; RGI Art Club Fellowship Award
2002 – 2012Awarded Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour Residency, Hospitalfield House; Awards for artwork: RGI Scholarship; RGI Exhibitionship
2002Awarded Esmee Fairbairn Residency at Cove Park
20013rd Year Prize, Glasgow School of Art experiments in etching, painting