Give You My Breath
The Buddhist-Inspired Art of Melissa Gill
Melissa Gill (Artist Statement)
Melissa Gill’s imagery is informed by her interest in personal transformation, and her personal experience as a Buddhist practitioner. Her works on paper and fabric are a combination of media including intaglio and relief printmaking, drawing, painting, collage, and embroidery. The interplay of organic and geometric patterns with the silhouette is a metaphor for the energetic dynamics of experience.
Printmaking is a process of repetitive motions; a circular path around the shop, rolling the ink and the block over and over again, turning the crank on the press, the cutting, scraping, wiping, marking and burnishing. It is a practice of internal call and response necessitating intense concentration and focus-very similar to meditation.
In this sense, Gill conceives of the practice of making as a kind of ritual. Similar to many Buddhist practices and rituals, she holds the intention for her work to strengthen or benefit the viewer in some way. In this approach, the original ritual function of art, which has always been implicit, is made more explicit.
It's All Prayer: A Viewer's Appreciation
I see Melissa Gill's art as a combination of prayer and magic, Buddhist-style, and I like it. The magic is relational rather than unilateral; it cannot be effective all on its own. It’s a little like faith. It can move mountains, but only if the mountains are willing to be moved.
Sometimes mountains are moved. If the art carries within it the healing intentions of the artist, it can indeed have a healing effect in others; and sometimes the art can have this effect even if the artist did not intend healing in the first place. Art both reveals and transcends the intentions of its creator. It is like a talisman or an amulet with power of its own. Once it is released into the world it has power not reducible to the artist’s power. It is a lure for feeling.
The healing may or may not be a curing. People at the end of their lives cannot be cured but they can be healed. The simple presence of a loved one can be an amulet in its own way. It is an act of saying I am with you and you can take my withness with you. Withness is kind of magical, too. It is an act of creative transformation, of turning sadness into beauty.
Some people think – or think they are supposed to think – that it is wrong to ask for prayers. They believe that, in the best of worlds, we would all be so independent and secure that we would never need to ask anyone for a blessing of any kind. We would live in a talisman-free world. For them, amulets are superstitious and silly.
Indeed, some people think that even the very Soul of the universe -- even the great compassion in whose heart the universe unfolds -- disapproves of the talisman sensibility. They imagine the Soul as a divine Caesar, cut off from the world by the boundaries of divine transcendence. We need the Soul, they say, but the Soul does not need us.
But those of us with a relational perspective see things differently. We agree with Melissa Gill. We all need to feel and be connected with others. We need to bless others and we need their blessings, too. For us, the Soul needs our blessings, too. A world free of amulets would be empty of magic and empty of Soul.
Sometimes, in magical moments, the world becomes luminous as an event of inter-blessing. The world becomes prayer and the Soul of the universe is made whole. The magical moment doesn’t last forever but that doesn’t matter, because in the moment it is forever. To pray for someone is a gift to them, and to ask for their prayers is a gift, too. In the giving and the asking a connection is made and the talisman has done its work. The gift has been received.
-- Jay McDaniel
Thinking about No-Self
with help from Melissa Gill's Art
As I look at the faces of these pieces by Melissa Gill, I see many pulsations of energy. Some people think of a human being as one thing. A photographic image can give this impression. But Melissa Gill shakes up boundaries and definitions. She takes me back to Buddhism, with its idea that we are composed of events, of dharma-moments. Or to Whitehead, with his idea that we are composed of energy-events, pulsations of feeling. Whitehead and Buddhists tell us that these pulsations are in our bodies and also in our minds. Some of them are flashes of insight. Some are flashes of fear. And still others are flashes of love. Whoever thought people are just one thing has not looked long at faces. (Jay McDaniel)
Thinking about Body-Mind
with help from Melissa Gill's Art
When I look at this woman, I see body and then, when she turns to her head, I see her mind. I am reminded that in Buddhism body and mind are not two, but also not one. As she looks down with her eyes, who is the she who is looking? Is she her eyes? Well, not quite. Is she apart from her eyes? Not quite, either. I am told that, as the photo was taken, she was looking at her dog, who had just run in front of her, distracting her for a moment. I am reminded of Joshu's famous koan: Does a Dog have the Buddha-Nature? Joshu's answer was mu. Maybe that's the secret. Maybe the she who is looking is the Buddha-nature. And maybe the she of the dog is the Buddha-nature, too. Mu literally means no. But you know Zen. Every no is a yes, too. As Melissa Gill puts it: "Something is buried and something revealed." That's what I see when Melissa Gill buries a face with layers of markings and stitchings. With every burial there's a revelation. (Jay McDaniel)