Notes on 6 lessons in Non-Attachment

Notes on 6 lessons in Non-Attachment

August 6. 2016   Thoughts for a September Panel Discussion at Anderson Ranch Arts Center

When your teacher pushes you into the corner of truth.

In this case it is important to understand the definition of transmission in the Buddhist tradition. An oral transmission occurs when a teacher is speaking to students. The students listen to what the teacher is saying, absorb the meaning; embody its essence and then put the teaching into practice. The importance within this process is the blessing that is within the essential message. The essential message of Enrique Martinez Celaya’s talk at Naropa in the summer of 2016 became specific to my studio practice as I was working on the series of drawings that are currently showing at the Patton-Malott Gallery at Anderson Ranch Arts Center.  I felt the teaching come to the surface, it “bubbled up“ as I made the work.  I could feel it – the same way I felt it go through me and stop my mind at a time he was speaking. I was pushed into a corner of truth. There was no escape. He had transmitted a cutting clarity that pointed to our (my) attachment and our (my) ego while in the process of making work.

A floating, an un-grounding, liminal. Nowhere to go. Stuck – in the best way. In the gap. The feeling one has when hearing a koan and knowing there is nowhere to go – which is freedom itself. To start, stop, escape from nothing – your mind is stopped.

This feeling surfaced numerous times as I worked on the series. Purely coincidental –  the location where the work would be? But there is no such thing as coincidence. This erupting – rupturing – grappling with what this work was becoming. Repetition, geometry, impermanence, Rothko’s maroon paintings. Non-attachment and the struggle that can accompany that.

Do I erase all five drawings? The question in itself an act of attachment. What if I leave a bit of the drawing as proof of the quality of the lines? The shadow can be enough – it, too, is proof – ego.  Something needs to remain to prove the existence of the practice. What if the color is applied too lightly and when I erase the lines are entirely gone? All that work. What if I film the erasing as proof that I drew ….. and the mind goes on making excuses – flip flop, flip flop. All about creating, acknowledging, ego. Look! See what I did? Look at me!

Agnes Martin comes to mind many times over as I perform this work. Her brutal editing – she still left work behind. That is not the same. It was about the work that hit the mark ….. it was the work that embodied what she wanted to say.

Liza Lou speaks of letting the ego leave the room. Material telling the artist what it wants to be.

Thinks fall apart. There is no center. Nothing can hold because there is no center

Bamboo – a stalk of bamboo is hollow. The center is emptiness – space. Bamboo is strong, flexible, upright and empty.

August 8. 2016

I am working on the last of five drawings to be entirely erased after they are completed. I am filled with the feeling that came from Celaya’s talk at Naropa. A talk about the genuine; lying to yourself, not taking risks – not understanding true risk and being able to identify the edge. Knowing the truth and moving around it. A continuous dance that needs to be watched closely and honestly so that you, one, I, do not mis-step – do not lie- do not bow to the ego.

Erasing these drawings is difficult. Not to prove anything – but to come as close to non-attachment as possible – physically knowing, the feeling of the transmission speaking. I would say it is a coincidence that the talk figures so prominently in this series as I come to the end of its making. That this work is being shown at Anderson Ranch where Celaya has put much of his energy – seems to be – as it is.

I have learned much from these un-named drawings. Particularly about staying – this is not meta cognitive only – that is part of it – it is both visceral and somatic.


Still trying to understand imperfection. I have a notion of perfection that I am told is unattainable – I am still in disbelief about this view. Perfection is in the mind, it is said. I still believe it is attainable. Perhaps it is because I do not understand the structure of perfection – its components. This series of drawings is pointing to perfection that is not possible.  I know they are not perfect. It is not being able to see the truth and getting caught in a projection – fooling yourself. They are perfect drawings (they are not) so I see imperfection but feel as though they are perfect. I am not being truthful with myself. Genuineness is not achieved here. Genuineness would be to stop trying to achieve perfection.

I am learning about valuing time – what is accomplished in a certain period of time? What is perceived as a waste of time and what actually is a waste of time? Is it relative? Is my perception of five hours of data entry as a waste of time really a waste? Hours on end spent drawing straight lines albeit to make a work of art (qualifying the action) but how useful is that time?

I see the formality of the work.

How much of any of this is of benefit?

Wednesday, August 10. 2016, 4pm in the studio

Finishing the last in a series of five identical line drawings. The drawings are about maroon. Rothko’s paintings of red on maroon –  black on maroon, and on. They are untitled at this point. Always sad to finish a drawing. In this case all of the drawings will be erased. That is not sad.

If it wasn’t the last drawing, it would not be grueling and sad.

Thursday, August 11. 2016

What is a lie and what is truth?

I begin to erase. The first thing I hear is Agnes Martin “I can see humility delicate and white”. The body from which this sentence comes is a page of Martin’s writing:

“We cannot even imagine how

to be humble.

I can see humility

Delicate and white

It is satisfying

Just by itself

And trust

absolute trust

a gift

a precious gift

I would rather think of humility than anything else

Humility, the beautiful daughter

She cannot do either right or wrong

She does not do anything

All of her ways are empty

Infinitely light and delicate

She treads an even path

Sweet, smiling, uninterrupted, free”


And then I hear her again.

“The silence on the floor of my house is all the questions and all the answers that have been known in the world.”

The body of this writing being: “The silence on the floor of my house is all the questions and all the answers that have been known in the world. The sentimental furniture threatens the place. The reflection of a sunset speaks loudly of days.”


Thoughts of and witnessing thousands of bows – completed.


Labor – the need to attach to others documentation of the work.

Letting the documentation go through the photographer

The push pull of attachment


Testing humility – testing ego

Accepting humility

Perfection, what is perfection here?

Why consider perfection at all?

Five forms of attachment

Attachment x 5

What makes any act of labor valid?

Because people want to know:

6 hours – 10 hours 1 drawing – 1 day and ½  – 5

7 1/2 days approx. 70 hours

And then there is the attachment to no attachment that can result in fruitless neurotic acts.

And finally. Ultimately, all dharma ( life ) can be found in one, simple, solitary action.

This is my last thought as the last line is erased to the bottom of the right hand corner of the paper.


Friday evening, August 12. 2016

Yesterday I erased five drawings; the last action in the process of this work. The pieces go to Anderson Ranch for exhibition. This series was a remarkable teacher. More than any other drawings I have made. All five drawings are the same created in variation of hue.  Red.  From pink, to a deep red to a maroon. Rothko on my mind as I worked with the colors. In particular his paintings with red maroon black.

The drawings are not human scale, but they do cover – are parallel to a human figure from head to hip. Basically ‘covering’ the chakras – or running along the spine. The distance of the spine – our consciousness.

June was the month that I heard the inspired talk by Enrique Celaya at Naropa. There was a moment in his talk when he spoke with immense conviction about the genuine. That sentiment vibrated through my body, literally. At that moment I knew a concept had disappeared – was shattered – and that the truth of it was shaking me. Some would call it a transmission. I would call it a transmission.

What I know is that during the making of the drawings – now titled 6 lessons in non-attachment; his words and the feeling of that talk accompanied me through the many days of making the series.

I find it interesting that Celaya’s energy is part of Anderson Ranch and these drawings will be there. I did not know these works would be at the Ranch nor had I yet heard his talk when this series of drawings was started.

The ideas that permeated the making of this work were perfection, authenticity, not turning back from the risk; but feeling the edge of the turn and remaining in territory that is perhaps “un-acceptable”. Trusting – knowing that ultimately, there is really nothing to lose.

The physical task of erasing was trying. Drawing #1 went rather quickly, ½ hour. Drawing #2 the same, though I was feeling the pressure of the movement in my shoulder, wrist and hand. Drawing #3, more breaks were required during the erasing. No. 4 and 5 more breaks as well, ending at exactly 4:59pm, having started at 1pm. 4 hours.

As I started the process at 1pm I was gripped by the fear that as I erased there would be no shadow at all though all the times I have erased before there was a shadow. It proved to be the same case this time.

Attachment: I felt the drawings were beautiful (and yes I could make them again and will in some form) the intention of the series was to erase them completely. The desire to document – or to leave a portion or not erase at all, to show the labor, the quality of the drawing… “solid” proof.  How would I do this – how could I prove the work and still be honest about the content? There had to be some way to do this. I settled on inviting photographers to document the process if they were interested.  I did not want the final documentation and if there was some request for documentation I would connect the interested party with the photographer – it was their work. I wanted no ownership. Only one person showed to photograph. I thought to myself – let’s face it, watching me erase is like watching paint dry.

I was struck by how much time I spent trying to find a way to prove that I had done the work and had done it well – while at the same time working on not being attached to the work. Look at me! There was point that I was mulling it over in my mind to such a degree I became annoyed with myself. Celaya came to mind to further push the point. I was lying about my reasons for how and why I was documenting. It was all about proof that I had done the work. This was disingenuous. By the day I started erasing I was thrilled to be ridding myself of the burden of manipulating scenarios in my mind to make documentation a necessity instead of an act of ego. This became funny to me; the pettiness of proof for the sake of ego. The full circle of a continuous act by the ego based on egolessness.

So each drawing was difficult – a different intensity of thought and energy. I did these drawings and wanted them to be seen – to prove I had done them. But I erased them.

I thought I escaped.

When I wrote the title I described the process – free hand drawing. I did think that this was helpful for the viewer to understand when looking at the residue of the drawing. So they would realize the time element of the work. However, having identified the process to point out the quality of execution still points to an egotistic act. I could have said erased line drawing or erased drawing and left it to the viewer to find the marks I had made.

Ego did win. That is why all of this is called a “practice” – another set of drawings perhaps will escape, these did not.

Perfection in execution – working genuinely with an intention of work – of process.

To escape the ego