Eyes Wide Open

The art of Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

By Joe Dizney

Sunday, Oct. 12, the Garrison Institute (14 Mary’s Way, Route 9D at Glenclyffe, in Garrison) will host a public art exhibition and lecture, Wide Eye Exhibition: Art & Wisdom Talk, by internationally known teacher-scholar and artist Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel.

Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel at work in his studio, in Crestone, Colorado (Photo by Sasha Dorje Meyerowitz)

Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel at work in his studio, in Crestone, Colorado (Photo by Sasha Dorje Meyerowitz)

Born in 1964 to a Tibetan family in Northern India, Namgyel was recognized in youth as the incarnation of a 19th-century meditation master and scholar. He was consequently raised in a strict monastic environment and received extensive training in the deepest practices and philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism.

A move in the late ’80s to Boulder, Colorado, as a tenured professor of Buddhist philosophy at The Naropa Institute ultimately led him to found a retreat center, Longchen Jigme Samten Ling, in Crestone, Colorado, where he still lives and works much of the year.

As much a student as teacher, Namgyel’s own spiritual pursuits, practice of meditation and personal experience of the states of mind such practices support, coupled with training in traditional Tibetan calligraphy led him to an interest in and study of European modernist art traditions and thinking — particularly the pure abstractions of Wassily Kandinsky and the expressive intelligence of Picasso.

This curiosity prompted a study and personal exploration of the techniques and ideas of creativity and freedom embodied by abstract expressionism, and ways of thinking and making art free of the constraints of ego, self or “ownership’ and the need to be “authoritative,” ideas which dovetailed with his spiritual training.

Work as a process of destroying and creating

Namgyel’s own work is exuberantly gestural and as much a process of destroying as creating, more a constant push and pull between the two, with the ultimate work being a visual artifact of the process for which he is loathe to take proprietary credit. The colorful, vibrant surfaces of the paintings exist as an energetic, visual manifestation of their creation.

Aurora (Oil on canvas. 26" x 48". August 2014)

Aurora (Oil on canvas. 26″ x 48″. August 2014)

Namgyel says, that like meditation, “creativity can be understood, in essence, to be the practice of our own nature and that nature’s expression. You may find your way in to the nature through creativity; or you may come out from the nature to express creativity. Both have to be appreciated as the best of our mind’s potential.” And while works with aptly descriptive titles like Aurora and Brilliance are the norm, anomalies like Peace In Gaza belie a larger vision.

He says, “Peace in Gaza is an aspiration. So much has happened in the Middle East recently and the situation often seems hopeless. But many such hopeless situations in the past have changed through the power of aspiration. So Peace in Gaza is an aspiration that what seems hopeless right now may change for the better in the near future.”

Peace in Gaza (Oil on Canvas. 48" x 72". August 2014)

Peace in Gaza (Oil on Canvas. 48″ x 72″. August 2014)

The event is free and open to the public from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and will feature a talk at 2:30 p.m. by Namgyel, an elaboration of his understanding of wisdom from a Buddhist perspective and its interaction with Western concepts of art and creativity and the sources from which art springs. For more information call the Garrison Institute at 845-424-4800 or visit garrisoninstitute.org.


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One thought on “Eyes Wide Open

  1. Dear Rinpoche, thank you for your pieces ‘Peace in Gaza’ and Áurora.’ Maybe your talk will be posted online? It seems that you expand art into another dimension, which hopefully will touch and inspire us all and make us contemplate the meaning. Thank you so much!