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Keya Keita – The Garden Island
Linda Shimoda is awake and practicing while the great yawn of the morning rises over the island each day. With brush and black ink, Shimoda moves from meditation to action, attempting to tame her sea of thoughts and language into one simple stroke. The art of Zenga is the brush art of Zen Buddhism — the emptying of language, belief, identity and conclusion into the now, the nothingness and the question through a moving meditation. In the tradition of the Tea Ceremony created to practice surrender to the ephemeral and eternal, Kaua‘i artist Linda Shimoda uses the brush to wade through the process of thought, consideration, life’s unanswerable questions and fleeting conclusions.
Shimoda’s interest in Asian art began as a child, but had little opportunity to explore the “exotic” style of Shodo (traditional Japanese brush art). In Austin, Texas, she trained in Western styles of painting and to her parent’s satisfaction, eventually earned a degree in “marketable” graphic design. Yet Shimoda yearned to explore her fine art career and finally dedicated her time and life to her personal work 10 years ago. Meeting her husband, Todd Shimoda, a nisei-generation novelist from the Big Island, at the same time was fortuitous, as the two would spend the next several years traveling the world, living in Japan, Europe and Northern California where Shimoda began her journey with Shodo brush painting.
Shimoda’s discipline requires that she practice every day. “Some artists might wait for inspiration to strike, and then they create from there. Because this art comes from a spiritual tradition, it requires daily practice. It is a way I center myself and explore ideas,” said Shimoda.
Without the emphasis resting primarily on the product, the process is what the Shodo artist engages with — and like an on-going meditation, the journey is long, with no destination in mind.
“In realizing my art is the only thing I do well, I became thankful for it and dedicated myself to do it everyday. And if I can share it, that’s extra, that’s one step beyond my primary intention,” said Shimoda.
The discipline that Shimoda describes is that of a spiritual practice, one without attachment to outcome, one free of direct purpose. Therefore varying series in her work take time to fully develop. “It can take about one year or so to explore a complete thought or a series,” Shimoda said.
In essence, Shimoda is engaged in a meditation where the spontaneity of the brush stroke acts as a breadcrumb along the path of a much longer journey. “For me the images are very specific. I can look at what is seemingly abstract and derive particular meaning from it because I recognize it as a step along the way. I write a descriptive paragraph that accompanies each image to help frame the concept for the viewer … but often someone who looks at this work, interprets it in a completely different way,”
Shimoda added that this diversity in meaning is not something she views as a failure to communicate, “I want people to see this work in a new way, their own way. I actually hope they see something beyond what I do.”
At her upcoming exhibit at the Kaua‘i Museum, Shimoda will present three separate series of works that each took nearly a year to complete: “2-Word Glyphix”; “What I Make of What I Think” and “Dirty Little Secrets, Imperfect Little Life.”
While each of the works consists of abstract symbols, black and colored ink on scroll paper, their origin of concept begins from a very different place.
“In ‘2-Word Glyphix’ I would begin with a noun and a verb like ‘live this’ or ‘deny nothing’ and work from there. In the question and answer series of ‘What I Make of What I Think’ I would be considering something I saw or experienced. One day I was walking and saw a beautiful butterfly fluttering around a giant stone. I noticed how amazing the stone was and realized that it was the butterfly that had made me notice it, and I wouldn’t have considered the stone if it hadn’t been nearby. So from that experience I wrote, ‘What softens a stone? Butterfly.’”
Shimoda’s ability to encapsulate and simplify experience and thought is an enormous element in what makes her work both profound and provocative — reminiscent of the Zen Koan, which traditionally acts as the runway for meditation.
The bridge between language and symbol, image and word, is a connection that Shimoda’s work purposefully explores. “People always say ‘you are so lucky you get to express your feelings through your art,’” said Shimoda, “but I realized that it’s not my feelings I am expressing, it’s what I think about what I’m feeling. This is a difference.”
The literal world translated into symbol is the origin of all language, and the interconnectedness of both cannot be denied. Shimoda’s work taps into the ancient mystery of this connection.
In “Dirty Little Secrets, Imperfect World” Shimoda used her frustration and anger as subject matter. What ensued was a cathartic experience that produced a unique series among her portfolio. “I always wake up with the feeling that the world is full of possibilities, by the end of the day I am often bogged down by the ‘realities’ I encounter. This was a series that helped me think about all the really ugly, gnarly things in life and put them down on paper. It was actually one of the most enjoyable series’ I’ve done,” said Shimoda.
“Dirty Little Secrets, Imperfect World” was painted on wrinkled paper that naturally occurs at the end of each scroll Shimoda works with. “It felt like these were the things I crumpled up and threw in the corner, erased them from my mind,” explained Shimoda. Titles in this series include, “Manipulate,” “Phony,” and “Inconsistency.”
“The source of a true spiritual life is in a question. By asking we show our willingness, our desire to hear the answer. This worthwhile practice helps us express our thoughts, tell our stories, form our path, and create our lives. Questions and answers are our lives. They help us know our lives, and the world around us,” writes Shimoda.
The Kaua‘i Museum exhibition of Linda Shimoda’s “Zenga: What I Make of What I Think” will be displayed in the main atrium. The reception is open to the public and will be catered by Blossoming Lotus. The exhibit will run from June 7 to Aug. 3.
Meet the artist
What: Opening reception for the artist
When: Thursday, June 7, 4:30-7 p.m.
Where: The Kaua‘i Museum,
4428 Rice St., Lihu‘e
Info: Museum at 245-6931;
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