06 November 2010
'THE DEVIL WITHIN, NIRVANA AND ME'
by Sonya Rothwell : mixed media on canvas : 60 x 60 cm : Dobell Prize for Drawing 2010 submission
Sonya's thoughts about this self portrait
This drawing is my response to the painting 'Satan Exulting Over Eve' 1795 by William Blake : It depicts Satan hovering malevolently over Eve who is entwined by his alter ego – the serpent of the Garden of Eden : In my drawing, like Eve the mother of humanity, fallible and imperfect, I lie naked : I am also tightly bound by a serpent; my ego – The Devil Within :
Blake shows Satan as a separate entity outside of self, leading one into temptation; a notion that removes all responsibility of self; "The Devil made me do it" : I am reminded of Gandhi's words; "You must be the change you wish to see in the world" : Change lies with self : We create poverty, starvation, war and so on : We are literally possessed, consumed by our ego : Our 'demons' – our thoughts, our judgements, our ignorance are a self created Hell : Perhaps then, the Devil is really our egoic self feasting on our incessant mental chatter :
In the Buddhist context 'Ignorance' is the unawareness of our two selves – our egoic self and our true self : Heaven or 'Nirvana' is the true self which equates to the end of suffering : Nirvana means literally "blowing out," "to let loose," "let go" : Liberation from Samsara (the "continuous flow" of birth, life, death and rebirth) by blowing out the fires of greed, hatred and delusion : "Release" comes through practices such as meditation, loving-kindness and mindfulness : When the mind reaches its purest state it is luminous, radiant, clear – free from craving, grasping and attachment : Empty : There is no identity left : It gives up obsessions and fixations and becomes boundless : Eternal : Enlightened : One is at peace with the world and has compassion for all :
William Blake summarized this beautifully in his poem Eternity;
He who binds to himself a joy,
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies,
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.
I have surrounded myself with unfolding lotus flowers to suggest the expansion of my soul; like the lotus, from murky depths I emerge through clear water into sunlight towards enlightenment : Lotus flowers also resemble the Chinese 'Peony' – my daughter's name : Peony is Nirvana : She is my daily example of pure, joyful and open loving-kindness; my precious gift : Maybe she is the angel in this picture, saving me from myself : Or perhaps the angel is the one who paints my pictures, I'm not sure : Anyway, I now understand the plight of the 'tortured artist' : Quite the opposite of being cathartic, I found the process of tackling this drawing extremely difficult : I can identify with the awkward girl in Edvard Munch's painting 'Puberty' 1894 who sits exposed with her ego, her shadow side looming ominously above :
I hope we all become Warriors of Spirit and battle The Devil Within : As Toltec master Don Miguel Ruiz says "the war is not outside, but inside" : The inner silence comes when we win the war in our own heads : So, like Max in Maurice Sendak's 'Where The Wild Things Are,' when my beasties rear up and roar their terrible roars and gnash their terrible teeth and roll their terrible eyes and show their terrible claws, I say "BE STILL!" :
^ In reference to Australian artist collective, 'The Ministry of Clouds'