The Healing Art of Guo Fengyi

 

ToSeeFromADistance

Essays by Rosario Güiraldes, Laura Hoptman, Kathleen M. Ryor, Xu Tan

Chinese artist Guo Fengyi (1942-2010) created mesmerizing ink drawings, intricate images derived from visions that came to her during qigong practice. Qigong is a subtle body practice from the Chinese tradition, and Reiki–Japanese in origin–is sometimes compared to it. Both practices are meditative and seem to facilitate healing experiences. (You can find an earlier post about qigong, here.)

Guo began practicing qigong for pain relief, after severe arthritis forced her to quit a career at a chemical plant, in her late 40s. Guo understood qigong as a method for understanding, and healing, her body; she made detailed descriptions of how her body, mind, and spirit moved as she practiced. In one journal entry, she encouraged herself:

“You have to have a strong will and endurance. Through sustained practice, you will achieve enlightenment. If you hold on to the [qigong] practice, naturally, everything will be achieved through real practice.” *

As Guo immersed herself in qigong, written descriptions quickly gave way to powerful visual images, which she inked onto paper. The images became more convoluted. Guo strongly believed that these drawings were healing, and she never wavered from that intent. The contemporary art world of China regarded her as a curiosity; even those who admired her work were hesitant to call it “art.” Her images were too raw, too weird. And they were rooted in a quest for personal healing—the work of a middle-aged woman, who had no art education, circling at the fringes of a contemporary art scene dominated by men.

No matter.  Guo Fengyi kept practicing. A decade after her death, the first major institutional exhibit of her work in the United States took place at The Drawing Center in NYC. How is wish I could have seen it! Maybe I’ll be able to catch it in Savannah, Georgia, the next stop. For now, I have to settle for the exhibition catalogue, which has well-written, accessible essays and lovely reproductions of Guo’s detailed images.

As I read about the artist’s work, nourished by her qigong practice, I noted how much it reflected my own experience of Reiki. My background is in the arts, but when I first learned Reiki, I had consciously stepped back from art, to focus on a demanding job. However, after a few years of Reiki practice, I noticed that my perception of color seemed to shift; in particular, I perceived a new sense of relationship between colors, a rich conversation that I suddenly felt privy to. The spectrum of color–our old friend ROY G BIV–seemed to stretch and deepen. It was like discovering new flavors that I’d had no idea existed.

When we practice paying attention, we gain new information about ourselves, and the world around us. When we have new information, new options may appear. Often, these options were completely out of our line of sight: out of the blue, we might say. Through focusing on our practice–Reiki, yoga, meditation, qigong–anything that takes us simultaneously out of ourselves and deeper in–we soften our gaze, which allows us to see what is at the edge of our vision.

In many ways, Reiki practice reminds me of walking a path in snowy woods, at night. If I look for the path, it’s difficult to see it in the darkness. But if I move ahead slowly, my eyes roaming gently side to side, the path emerges as a muted brightness, winding ahead of me. It’s the subtle difference between looking at something, as opposed to taking it in.

Practice. Walk the snowy path of whatever practice speaks to you. We commit to walking the path, but we need not stare at it–we simply need to show up, and be receptive.
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* Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance, exhibition catalogue, Footnote 5, p 27

Bloomington Open Studios Tour

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This weekend! FREE!! Visit over 30 artists studios in the Bloomington, Indiana area.

Studios are open Saturday, Oct. 21st from 10-6 and Sunday, Oct. 22nd from 10-4.

For details, including a list of participating artists and maps, visit the BOST website.

My art practice is nourished by my Reiki practice–and vice versa. If you’re curious about my “other work,” please stop by my studio this weekend and say hello. (There will be home made pie by the multi-talented David Ondrik!)

And if you can’t make it to the open studio, please visit my art site, beckytomato.com.

Reiki, art, and “soft eyes”

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Before starting to practice Reiki, I’d been practicing art for many years. This proved helpful to me when learning Reiki, because I understood the value of a daily commitment: with any regular practice, we strengthen muscles both physical and mental, and stay familiar with our tools. With daily effort, we worry less about “good” and “bad” practice, and keep the focus on consistently showing up.

One of my tools for art practice is something I call my “soft eyes.” This is when I step back and look at something I’m working on with my eyes slightly unfocused, which offers me a chance to see the work in a looser way. (I do this when looking at other artists’ work, too.) Problems–and strengths–in the image often jump out, and deciding what to do next is easier. Other times I realize it’s time to let something alone.

It took me a long time to notice this “soft eyes” effect, and it took me even longer to consciously employ it as a tool. Years later, when my Reiki teacher encouraged me to observe with “Reiki eyes,” it then took time to recognize that, for me, Reiki eyes were the same soft eyes I called on in the art studio.

Whether in Reiki or art practice, soft eyes encourage me to wait for pattern and meaning to emerge, rather than letting my mind carry me to a premature conclusion. The soft gaze of not-knowing can be an important space to hang out in, if slightly uncomfortable.

I sometimes think of art as something that I do “for myself,” and Reiki as something I offer “for others.” But I self practice with Reiki almost every day, and my art does find its way out into the world. (I’ll have some work in The Vault at Ivy Tech’s John Waldron Arts Center, in May.) Both art and Reiki help me stay aware of the big picture, while keeping a soft eye on the details.

 

 

BOST, June 3-5, 2016

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Orange Flower Healing is happy to support BOST 2016, the 5th annual Bloomington Open Studios Tour…. This free event offers the opportunity to visit the studios of 36 local artists–meet the artists, examine their materials and tools, and ask questions about what makes them tick. Then buy some art!

There’s a preview launch on Friday June 3rd, and studios are open Saturday and Sunday, June 4th and 5th. Details here.

BOST’s mission is to strengthen connections among artists, the public, and BOST supporters in Bloomington’s vibrant visual arts community.

Art is healing, ya’ll. I encourage you to get out there and see what the artists in our community are up to. Hope to see you there!