Abstract Art Inspired by Peacock Feathers & Enso Circles of Zen

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In a documentary titled “The Brush Mind“, Japanese Calligrapher and Zen teacher Kazuaki Tanahashi was asked about the process of how his brush followed him when he created his art. He replied –

You follow the brush too. It works both ways, it’s like a dance.

The distinction of who is leading whom, becomes obscure, and insignificant.

I watched the Zen artist’s interview as part of my continuing intrigue with the Japanese painting technique of Sumi-e. Not only the profound spiritual element present in the free-flowing, unconscious movement of a Japanese brush is fascinating, I find the appeal of the rustic texture left behind by its bristles irresistible too.

When a recent design challenge by Spoonflower required me to come up with an animal print imagined in an abstract way, I made the abstract version of a peacock feather’s pattern by interpreting it as the circular strokes of an Enso Circle.

Enso Circle, or Zen Circle, is an important symbol in Buddhist calligraphy art – a circle that is hand-painted in a single, uninhibited, fluid brushstroke to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create.

Enso Circle
A closed Ensō by Kanjuro Shibata XX, Source: Wikipedia

Kazuaki Tanahashi explains the process of creating an Enso Circle as follows:

Because it does not depend upon language, you can by-pass intellect and communicate more directly. It is simple because it is a circle but it is a very demanding experience because there is no explanation. You need to live with it. An Enso is done decisively, once, no correcting. But it is not so creative. So drawing a Zen circle is a creative experience without using creativity.

in Zen art, the act of painting an Enso is the practice of expressing the imperfect beauty of now, letting go, and then starting all over again, as the calligrapher, with the awareness of a new present moment creates a new Enso, leaving the last one behind. This transition effectively symbolizes the impermanence of every single thing in the universe.

Essentially thus, an Enso circle ends up being a unique expression of the artist’s present reality, in all its fallibility and triumph. But then how about if these never-ending circles of enlightenment take on the color of something exquisitely beautiful from the wilderness? After all, as Dogen often expressed through his poetry, different forms of nature do not manifest buddha-nature, they are buddha-nature.

With this in mind, I borrowed colors from a peacock feather to make a pattern of concentric Enso circles, with an aim to fill a space with contemporary, minimalist, yet vibrant home decor items that remind one of a beautiful being from the natural world and also exude the calming vibes of a unique zen practice.

Art ©2023 Gyaneshwari Dave

Feature image: Pixabay on Pexels

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