Depth of Reflection – notes on David Lynch and Dogen

I made this small visual note after running along the Firth and Forth Canal, the reflections can be so deep, somehow reality is deepened. The space is literally deeper, becoming set further away, almost elusively in another time…

…colour and shape so dense, tinged with toned down silvers, greens – the poignant reality untouchable yet sharply present – visual paradox, toning down, into darkness. ‘Asserting one thing in language is to create an opposite’ (John Fraser). It is the same in visual art and culture: where there is light there must also be shadow. And we can’t avoid paradox.

Artist and film director David Lynch and Japanese Zen Master Eihei Dogen seem to me to share ideas in common, regardless of the ‘gap’ in time since the 13th century. They both deal with paradox and question the nature of our experience, often with really striking imagery and dreamlike visions. Not everything is as it seems! Time and impermanence. Dogen plays around with language a lot, using the flexibility of the Chinese Kanji characters to show that everything is change, taking forward the Hua-yen Chinese Buddhist tradition (from around the 7th Century) whereby everything depends on each thing, the self and the universe are identical. The categories of cause and result are interchangeable.

Lynch, in his movies and short films, which I find really inspiring and fun too, often deals with coincidences, paradox and change – as I’m sure the Log Lady mentioned in the Twin Peaks introductions! Reality is so charged, the characters almost over dense and placed in and out of a ‘common-sense’ time-span. So much of Dogen’s poetry and language reveals a non-linear view of time. Inland Empire (2006) is a superb movie by Lynch that captures such things. The story moves freely from time to time, without feeling forced at all. Here Lynch experiments with the beautiful textures and fresh feel of digital. ‘The Zen Poetry of Dogen’ by Steven Heine has a great collection of free-flowing waka style poems (the precursor to haiku but 5-7-5-7-7 syllables rather) and other pieces by Dogen that illustrate his Soto Zen worldview. If you are up for some heavier reading, Francis H. Cook’s ‘Hua-yen Buddhism – The Jewel Net of Indra’ is tough to read but very illuminating: ‘Everything needs everything else, what is there which is not valuable?’ And this poem ‘Mujo’ (Impermanence) is from Dogen’s poetry collection:


To what shall
I liken the world?
Moonlight, reflected
In dewdrops,
Shaken from a crane’s bill.

These ideas I find very useful in my artwork. Awareness of transience helps to resolve to constantly train ourselves, and of a non-linear understanding space and time helps to build courage for spontaneity, not being confined compositionally, finding the way visually. Also seeing that all things are visually connected without the need to be discriminated into ‘catalogued’ objects and situations, and that I use certain craft to investigate the abstract, changing and atmospheric qualities of forms…

Inland Empire
Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra
The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountain of Eternal Peace


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