By Morrison Polkinghorne
My path to creating art alludes to both the practice of making of artworks, and equally the symbolism of the materials used. My themes are indirect allusions to deeper messages without spelling out literally what is going on. The lotus is a symbol of Buddhism precisely because it is an allusion to the life cycle; to the path of enlightenment and to the ephemerality of humanity and all life. It points the way in terms of approach, not telling you what to think or do.
I seek an artistic expression that embodies the meaning within the genre. This has been my previous path in the realm of textiles. Each stitch in cloth, each strand in a tassel, each knot in ikat thread, each warp and weft in weaving. All are allusionary, with elements that look abstract and fragmented when seen up close, but which at a near distance are revealed to be parts of a pattern or picture. That image is not as smoothly joined like a swoosh of paint or a chiseled contour, but a composition of discrete elements, each separate, but which create an allusion of an image.
My work has commonalities with pointillism, the Impressionism painting style in which daubs of paint combine to create optical effects that resemble a scene. Computer technology has enabled something similar with the way pixels form a photograph in digital cameras, LEDs combine into images on giant screens, and algorithms can compose the allusion of a picture by assembling micro-pictures as if pixels. Yet each of those dot-based technological wonders is not real pigment, but an allusion using electricity and light. My allusions revert to a pigment that deceptively shines monochrome.
The lotus ink I apply is holy and sacred due to its origins. It is a natural colour, rich with organic variation, akin to the natural hues I use in textiles. It’s hues range from omnipotent jet fading to greys with hints of blue tinges, and umber. None are an absolute, not a chemical formula, nor a perfect consistency. My ink is made from the last stage of the lotus life after it has expressed its blooming potential – and now finds a new life to express that message a fresh way. But an inked stalk likewise only lasts a few impressions before it too fades. Each stem makes a limited number of impressions before it wilts and I must recut a fresh, firm new cross section.
Nor is the image a clear representation. These artworks could be read as rivers or branches, contours or cliffs, even sensuous architectural shapes, and should be as whatever one’s mind conjures up. Some draw comparisons with Chinese or Japanese ink paintings of misty mountainous landscapes, which also have a vagueness and symbolism in their very play with perspective. My art form is not quite brush strokes, nor printing, but a new medium in which the implement and the colour are both part of the same plant, an organic art alluding to its subject, and symbolism through its very form.
Just as important is auspicious numerology. Meticulous counting has become my chant, my rhythm, my mantra. Decades ago I began a career in textiles where I created bespoke weaves using traditional techniques. Counting — from the number of shuttles going from side to side on a loom, to tallying warps and calculating sums — became the syncopation of my work and the self-perpetuating rhythm of my being. This drives me, as Albert Einstein wrote, to “this nearly religious feeling I have towards life.” I feel compelled to perpetuate such cycles of energy in all that I create, signifying both process and artistic labour, and as a grand gesture to the universality of numeric harmony.