Painting Workshop with Max Gimblett


All I knew about Max Gimblett when I learned he was leading a sumi ink workshop in Wellington was that I liked his “Low Tide” installations at the Asian Contemporary Art Fair and Asia Society in New York and his lustrous signature quatrefoils.

I arrived at Capital E for Max Gimblett’s sumi ink painting workshop to see the chairs arranged in a circle that resembled an ensō, which would be our first painting exercise.

Max introduced himself as a mad monk (affiliated with the San Francisco Zen Center) whose monk name means “Diamond Brush Awareness”, and stated we were now a group, a Gestalt, and to speak only to the whole group and the centre of the circle, not to each other. Furthermore, he stated he is very intuitive, and any resistance would not be helpful. Of course, that just made me resist like crazy. But it all dissolved the moment we picked up our brushes and began our wild ride.

all mind... no mindWe began with the ensō [Max’s, mine], and made several attempts each. Max paints like Tibetan Buddhist monks debate, animated with kinetic punctuations. He describes it as automatism, “one stroke bone” and “all mind and no mind”. Think very clearly of what you want do before you start, and then let go and free your mind while doing, “a little like making love.”

What was your face before the face you were born with?We expressed koans in ink. What was your face before the face you were born with? Then we dove into Jungian typologies and cognitive processes: thinking, feeling, intuition, and sensing. Which one is the hardest for you to reach? That one’s your shadow. What is your dominant process? (I’m an ENFJ, in case you’re curious.)

Between each exercise we held up our paintings for each other to see and comment upon into the circle. By the end of the hour, we’d produced quite a body of work and harmonized into a group. Afterwards he walked around and discussed our work with us individually; above are some video clips from the conversations. We also discussed the edge vs the centre, an idea Brian Sweeney explores in depth at and one that captivates me as a recent migrant from NY to NZ. His last advice to me was if things weren’t working, to add a little red: “Red always makes things zing.”

Max is currently has exhibitions of new work at Paige Blackie Gallery, “White Stone Clear Water,” in Wellington (19 May – 20 June 2009) and at Gow Langsford Gallery, “Full Fathom Five” in Auckland (5 May – 29 May 2009). His work was included in the Guggenheim Museum’s exhibition The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia (recently completed, but interesting presentation online).

NB: Good source for Chinese calligraphy brushes and Chinese Traditional Medicine in Wellington: Wellcare Chinese Medicine Shop 215, Left Bank, Cuba Mall, Wellington, 04 382 9451.

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