The Buddha Heads

My interest in Asian art has been the source of much of the work I have done for several years. The Buddha Heads were inspired by sculptures and architecture from many cultures and times where buddha figures predominate. They are representations of representations that focus not on the religious aspects of the Buddha, but on the calm and stillness created in these works.

The Buddha Head series consists of fourteen paintings began in the spring of 2005 and completed in the spring of 2008. The origin of this series, the small green Buddha Head #1, was inspired by an earlier small painting, Crown, 2003, an image itself that was abstracted from a photo of a buddha sculpture. At first I concentrated on the shape of the top of the head, hair and top- knot, the usnisha, an aspect of most buddha sculptures. As I worked on the drawings for these new images I wanted the shapes to make reference to both a figure and/or a vessel. For this reason it seemed appropriate to represent the Buddha from the back or looking down without the conventional characteristics. I thought to eliminate the possibility of the paintings being interpreted as religious or votive images by extreme cropping and expanding the different poses of the head to the edges of the panel. As the work began to evolve the paintings included more of the traditional buddha features, curls, long earlobes, neck rings, until three of the final four Buddha Heads #11, #13 and #14 were posed in positions that showed portions of the face.

After deciding that these pieces were to be a group in themselves, it also seemed appropriate to continue with the relief painting process that I had developed for earlier work. This would give a sense of the physicality of the sculptures and temple statues that were the inspiration for the paintings.

Each painting starts from a simple line drawing that is transferred to a wood panel. Using an acrylic modeling paste that hardens when dry and creates a porous surface, the image is slowly built up in layers to a shallow relief. Color is added with a water-based paint to each layer to soak into and bond with the surface, much like fresco painting. Each layer is sanded and the process continues for many layers until the desired amount of surface and color is achieved. By layering and building the relief at the same time, the color becomes inherent to the surface, an ongoing concern in all of my work. The palette of mostly complementary colors was chosen to create tension between color and the physicality of the relief.

Cherie Raciti October 2008