This story was originally published by ArtsATL.
The title of Alan Caomin Xie’s “Seven Dreams of the Lotus Sutra,” at Sandler Hudson through June 10, is drawn from seven Buddhist parables familiar to the artist since his childhood. However, these subtle works on paper are related to the parables mostly by what Xie calls (in his artist’s statement) a “far-fetched” spiritual kinship and shared sensibility; they are in no way illustrations.
And yet their imagery is as evanescent as the boundary between our everyday world of illusions, which Buddhism calls samsara, and the Reality that Buddhism calls — which, as Xie has commented, is anything but the “emptiness” of the usual translation.
Credit: Courtesy of Alan Caomin Xie
Credit: Courtesy of Alan Caomin Xie
Commenting on the Buddhist concepts underlying his art in recent years, the Atlanta-based Xie modestly says: “My superficial understanding of Buddhist philosophy leads me to favor imagination, perhaps delirium, over symbolism.”
Xie begins with large sheets of paper, which he covers with a layer of liquefied powdered graphite, After this preparatory stage, the paper is allowed to dry, but is then re-wet, frequently by rainfall rather than by artificial means. (On one occasion, the wet paper froze overnight, creating extraordinary textures.)
After the paper dries again, he applies glue, to which he sticks tiny dots of silver that form patterns, many of which look like constellations. Other line drawings, barely visible, suggest creatures that figure in the Buddhist parables, or other images such as butterflies and the outlines of buildings. Further effects of texture are achieved through erasure.
The impact is magical — a word that is usually just rhetorical excess, but in this case is an irresistible analogy. What finally emerges on the paper is difficult to see, fully emerging only at different angles and in different lights. All the works are between difficult and impossible to capture fully in a photograph.
Despite the linkage in titles (and, eventually, in subtle images) to the parables of the Lotus Sutra, Xie began the series with the notion of viewing things from a landscape on Mars, an inspiration that is surprisingly visible in his 2020 “Transparent Mountain”: The ghostly landscape bears an extraordinary resemblance to the scene revealed by the Mars Rover.
Xie chose Mars as his metaphoric landscape because it represents a place that no one has ever visited in person yet is a destination that many people find alluring despite its barren bleakness.
I could explicate in detail other paintings in the exhibit, for instance “Deer King Jataka,” which is based on one of the Jataka tales about the previous incarnations of the Buddha. But these artworks incarnate their message in a different way from the stories to which they refer. The best way to experience them and feel their impact is to see them up close, in person.
It is better for me, then, to stop here, and recommend an immediate gallery visit. After experiencing them, you may believe of this review what Xie wrote in his artist’s statement about his motives for the work, which are followed by a retelling of the seven parables:
“Upon patiently reading through these wonderful seven parables of the Lotus Sutra,” he writes, “you may discover that my previous statements were mere gibberish.”
VISUAL ART REVIEW
“Seven Dreams of the Lotus Sutra”
Through June 10. Free. Sandler Hudson Gallery, 739 Trabert Ave. NW, Suite B, Atlanta. 404-817-3300, sandlerhudson.com.
Jerry Cullum’s reviews and essays have appeared in Art Papers magazine, Raw Vision, Art in America, ARTnews, International Journal of African-American Art and many other popular and scholarly journals. In 2020 he was awarded the Rabkin Prize for his outstanding contribution to arts journalism.
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