Friday, June 10, 2011

A talk about Enso with Matt Jones

Matt Jones is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. His most recent show at Freight + Volume was entitled Multiverse.

This interview was conducted for the Artstep Facebook page, where I'm spending few weeks looking at line in art.

Molly Stevens: Can you describe what it's like to watch an Enso being made?

Matt Jones: The only Ensos I've ever seen made have been by the artist I work for, Max Gimblett. Here’s how it usually goes with him: a piece of his favorite paper (Thai Garden Smooth) is set on a drawing board, usually a piece of cardboard. He then either places his hand on the paper - I usually think this is him absorbing its power or making friends with it - or he doesn't. He stands up very straight, breathes in very deeply, and exhales audibly. He always dips his brush (usually a large Japanese or Chinese brush) in and out of a quart container filled with sumi ink; up and down, letting the brush absorb the ink, so maybe the brush is as fluid as the ink. One more quick but deep breath in and then (most of the time) a loud guttural shout as he puts brush to paper. The result is an Enso.

MS: Wow, it’s really a ritual or practice. In the art world, we'd call it a performance. And is the result a circle or a line?

MJ: The result is a circle, though one could obviously argue that a circle is a line that connects to itself. And yes, it's very performative.

MS: And does the result matter?

MJ: For Max, yes. Sometimes there are good ones and sometimes bad ones. Bad ones get ripped up. It’s based on his rules and taste about what a good Enso is versus a bad one.

MS: Do these Ensos serve anyone else? Do they have value for the viewer?

MJ: Yes, I think, in two very specific ways. First: anyone can make an Enso. There is no mystery about it technically; it's a circle on paper. Max talks about this in regards to his workshops. He often says "every participant leaves with one or two masterpieces they've made and it really makes them feel great." That's so important.

MS: I dig that. It really un-geniuses the masterwork.

MJ: And second: Ensos signify many things. The cyclical nature of life. A single moment in time. The relationship between that Enso's moment in time and the next Enso's moment in time. All mind, no mind. Beauty. Clarity. Removal of suffering (confusion), etc. The viewer can do a lot of work with these ideas. The Enso is a marker and catalyst for the viewer to access these things.

MS: Do you think you can see those concepts visually in the line, in the Enso.

MJ: Are you asking if there's an "essence" to an Enso that allows access to that information regardless of context?

MS: Yes.

MJ: No, there’s nothing in an Enso that tells you any of the things I mentioned before outside of the context. There’s no "essence" of an Enso as there is no "essence" of any thing. Context is king when it comes to relaying information and its usefulness.

MS: In twitter form, what is "all mind, no mind.”

MJ: Max would say, I think, that one approaches the paper with every experience of one's life (maybe even all lives of that person and/or all lives of all sentient beings ever, the creative unconscious) and when the action of "painting" is made, it's all emptied out, all of it, and that moment is recorded on the paper. No concepts, only the mark. I think that's what the noise is. The shout. Breathing in everything, breathing out emptiness. Pretty literal metaphors.

MS: I pulled this quote from one of Chogyam Trungpa's essays: “Obviously, the sense of being can’t be one solid thing. It moves constantly. It projects out and in, and is very fickle. Nevertheless, there should be some attempt to relate to the overall situation, to a sense of the whole.”

MJ: A good quotation! But what’s the "overall situation"? What’s the "whole"? The work of art itself? The materials it’s made of? The studio it's produced in, the gallery or museum it's shown in? The city the studio, museum, or gallery it’s in? The state? The country? The continent? The planet? The solar system?

MS: Well, all the artist has is the moment of making. A moment of being on paper.

MJ: And then what if you have 100s of Ensos, as Max does.

MS: Then I think you have 100s of moments of being. And all of them are the big picture.

MJ: And what do you do with those? What is the "whole" there? I think they all add up to objects about a certain attitude relating to a specific moment in time. And one can look back at the 100s of them and see a life. It’s literally Max's life in Enso form.


LXV said...

I confess to being a dunce about this particular form, but the image is stunningly beautiful

Molly Stevens said...

I don't think there is such thing as a dunce with this form. The line and the making of it is what it is.

Matthew Jones said...

My name is Matthew Jones... and I've just discovered zen. I found this page searching for images of ensos. How fantastic that this artist shares my name. I have also been meditating on enso, creating them daily.

Molly Stevens said...

Welcome, Matthew!