The power of the natural world, its intrinsic energy and fundamental properties, is dependent upon a fine balance.  The balance of positive and negative forces resides from the smallest particles that make up our universe to concepts we live with every day:  night/day and dark/light; finite/infinite and one/zero; quiet/loud and soft/hard; organic/manmade and the natural environment as opposed to the constructed cities. 

My work has been centered on concepts of this balance of opposites, as well as methods of numerical systems and patterning we use to construct an order to our world. Counting and measuring have been our way to bring order to the disorder around us. I have been pursueing a deep investigation of the symbolic number, 108, a number with powerful meanings, especially in Eastern religions and traditions.  The repetition of 108 occurs in many of my paintings as background, a regular pattern or a block of forms, usually related to the circle or spiral.  I often use a vertical red line or bar symbolizing the energy of life between heaven to earth, as it weaves through our lives, past, present and future. 

Repetition used as a practice allows for focus.  The completion of this work over time takes determination and concentration, which leads to an inner center of quiet, the dissolution of the self into the whole.  Purity and simplicity come with the commitment in this ritual of patterns and their echo. Energy and a sense of order are concentrated in the work by the continuous reiteration of the same path, the same pattern, the same practice.

Numerous methods have be used to go through the number of cycles in ritual repetition, thus eliminating the distraction of keeping count.  The earliest method was stones counted out and then dropped into a bowl of water, as prayers were recited.  Knots or beads on a thread are called a rosary or mala, and have been used for centuries to count prayers.  The word “bead” traces to the Saxon word, bidden, meaning “to pray”, and the Sanskrit word buddh, meaning self-realization or enlightenment, from which comes the word, Buddha. The Buddhist mala has 108 beads, often bodhi tree seeds, an encasement of life.  The Sikh tradition has a mala of 108 knots tied in wool twine. 

 Gya-gye (Tibetan for 108 and one of my series) has powerful meanings, the numbers themselves adding up to nine, but also divisible by 9, one of the sacred numbers in Buddhism and Hinduism. According to their beliefs humans tell 108 lies, have 108 earthly desires and 108 forms of delusion. There are 108 feelings; with 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present, and 36 related to the future.  The 1 in 108 stands for God or higher Truth; the 0 for completeness and emptiness achieved with the abrogation of the ego to the universal spirit. The 8 symbolizes infinity and the idea of samsara, reincarnation and the repeating cycle of birth, life and death of the soul.

As a mark-maker, I am drawn to marking methods that have been used by peoples and even some animals to indicate presence and construct a deeper relationship to place and nature. Our cultural memory lies within the physicality of place, as well as its historical and metaphysical meanings.  We live in a world where it may be difficult to feel a part of the whole, but we continue to find ways to connect to place, striving ultimately to create a connection with each other.

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The five Tibetan elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether or space also inspire my use of artistic materials.  These natural materials are often combined or used in juxtaposition to each other:  beeswax, damar resin, oil paint and pigments, stones, old cloth, silk and collected threads, wood, lead, steel and copper wire.   The papers used are Himalayan handmade papers made from Edgeworthia bark, 100% Rag photo papers and antique papers from Japan, India and Myanmar.  The challenge is to balance and oppose the elements simultaneously.  Beeswax mixed with damar resin is applied molten to a prepared wood panel.  Colored wax and oil stick are built up, erased, scraped and layered, and fused multiple times with a hot air gun.  Different colors melt at different rates because of the varying chemical composition and value of the pigments.  Layers can be transparent or opaque and the colors gently moved when the wax is in liquid form.  The durability of encaustic is due to its imperviousness to moisture, an archival protection for the papers. The final paintings incorporate the fragility of their components within a durable, lasting presence.

Catherine Eaton Skinner

2014