“Well Sees the Donkey” Artist Statement


Well Sees the Donkey #3

Painting titled “Well Sees the Donkey #3”

This series is inspired by case 52 from the Shoyoroko, which reads as follows:

Sozan asked Toku Joza, “Buddha’s true dharmakaya is like the vast sky. It’s conforming to things and manifesting shapes is like the moon in the water. How can this principle of conforming be expressed?”
Toku said, “It’s like the donkey seeing the well.”
Sozan remarked, “Well said, but that’s only 80% of it.”
Toku rejoined, “How about you, Osho?”
Sozan replied, “The well sees the donkey.”

2 posts · 

Boundary Waters – Artist Statement

Boundary Waters #19

Painting titled “Boundary Waters #19”

Boundary Waters

Boundary Waters is the name of a place and it isn’t. The horizon often orients these paintings as a boundary that mirrors water, land and sky; a boundary that unifies rather than divides; a boundary that isn’t a boundary.

“There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places”
Wendell Berry

Turtle Island Mandala Series

Mandala #9

Painting titled “Mandala #9”

Turtle Island is a term that comes from the American Indian tradition, used to describe North America. For me, the term carries with it a set of values I share about the sacred nature of the world. In this world there is respect for living in harmony with the earth, with the natural world, it’s communities, plants, animals and many beings.

I place these images in the context of mandalas. It’s difficult for me to describe in words what a mandala means. It is not a concept or a symbol, nor is it merely psychological, though it seems to have a healing power that can restore us to wholeness. Mandala arises out of how our experience organizes itself. It’s not about a center. Centers are uncountable. There can’t be a center without a periphery. There can be no enlightenment without delusion, so the mandala includes our confusion, bewilderment, and chaos. The order and chaos include each other. And then, there is the ground of totality beyond any reference point. The mandala is communicating the richness of this human experience, so perhaps it doesn’t need to conform to our visual preconceptions.

Robert Althouse


Mandala #22

Painting titled “Mandala #22”

I find it difficult to put into words, what mandala is about for me. It’s not a concept or a symbol of some kind. It’s not about a center. Centers are uncountable. Mandala arises out of how our experience organizes itself. There can be no enlightenment without delusion. The mandala includes our confusion, bewilderment, fear and chaos. The order and the chaos include each other. And then there is a ground that is larger than this duality as well. And the mandala is communicating the richness of this experience. Perhaps the mandala doesn’t have to conform to our visual preconceptions.

“Tide” Series Show Opening and Reception: Oct. 5, 2013

Tide #51

Painting titled “Tide #51

I am having an opening and reception for a show of some of my “Tide” series images on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 from 4:00 to 6:00 pm, at the Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago, located at 38 Lake Street, in Oak Park, IL, 60302. My works will be on view at the Center through October and November and will also be available for purchase.

I have been working on these images since I came back from visiting Grand Manan in Canada at the end of June 2013. June and I spent a wonderful week there with Peter Cunningham and Ara Fitzgerald. Because this island is in the Bay of Fundy, it is subject to extreme tidal movements several times every day. I spent many hours walking out on the beaches at low tide. Since then, I have been exploring the metaphor of “tides” which is very rich for me. I find tides to be very comforting – a large movement of sea and sand on a daily basis – the way the earth breathes.

These works are all digital images, done on a wacom tablet connected to an iMac computer in a software program called Corel Painter x3. I am working from my own photographs and occasionally from Peter Cunnningham’s. I enjoy studying the relationship of water, light, sand, rhythms, waves, rocks, texture, form and space. It is not until very recently that I have clarified that what really drives this work for me is a deep need to integrate form and space, to realize what in the Mahaprajna Paramita Heart Sutra is said to be “form is emptiness; emptiness is form.”

Sometimes my images are very busy and chaotic. They are very spacious and full of texture, but the form gets lost. So I am trying to realize through my work some balance in which the form is present but not solidified or frozen. The form is in the space, and the space is in the form and they co-create each other.

I believe the image I am attaching to this post, best exemplifies my fullest realization of this attempt so far. In my earlier life, I worked as a professional painter for about 13 years. I worked with oils and canvas, and did primarily figurative work. I stopped painting altogether when I co-founded and started the Zen Center of Hawaii in 1992 with my wife, June Tanoue.

Last year, on retreat in Wisconsin, I was inspired by the beauty of nature and the Hay River where we spent our time in deep silence and reflection, to begin painting again. I wouldn’t really call what I do painting, because a painting implies something that is a one-of-a-kind work of art. These are digital images which I can print out many times. I can also do numerous variations on an image. So I suppose they could be called “digital art” or “digital prints” though this sounds a bit cold to me. As far as my own process goes, I still feel that I am painting when I am working on these.

I’m grateful to be able to actualize and realize some creative vision again in my life. It gives me a great deal of joy and happiness to share these images with others, so I hope you will join me for my opening or come by the Zen Center in the next few months and enjoy these digital prints.

Diebenkorn’s Notes to Himself on Beginning a Painting

I find these notes Diebenkorn made to himself when beginning a painting to be very helpful in my own process. I grew up in California and remember the first time I saw a Diebenkorn painting, and I experienced California light in his work. So I have some respect for what he says here.

1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.

2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued – except as a stimulus for further moves.

3. Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.

4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.

5. Don’t “discover” a subject – of any kind.




I am opening this new web site as a simple way to share my paintings and art work with you. I hope you will take a look and feel free to give me your feedback.

Thank you,

Robert Althouse