I have a thing for painting White Taras. A few years ago I was going through a scary time: there was a chance my husband’s cancer had returned. I was filled with the desire to make or do something that felt healing. But I didn’t just want comforting, I wanted to create something for our home that would affect the energy of the household. I had a photo of an antique Tara thangka painting from a Buddhist calendar pinned on my bulletin board and I found myself attracted to and comforted by the image. Her sublime beauty, relaxed and sensuous face, bejeweled- and silk- draped body sat both erect and comfortable in a lotus posture, all the while seeming to exude a subtle power and comforting beneficence. She felt to me as if she was both enlightened and yet profoundly physical. I read up on what Tara represented in the Buddhist tradition and discovered that she embodies a healing, compassionate, and mature female energy who represents long life. Could we use a little of that in our home? You bet. I envisioned a large version of this Tara image hanging in our entryway. And there was only one way to get it– I was going to have to paint it.
Painting Tara the first time was a challenge in trying to copy, as best I could, the small calendar photo of the ancient image. After a bit of research I learned that most Tara images follow a particular formulation, including posture, jewels and drapes, flowers and other items surrounding her. She sits upon a lotus seat, upon a luminous moon-disk, and usually has the golden aura radiating about her, with sensuous long black hair and seven eyes: in her hands, feet and forehead (from which she sees everything). Her hands are long and carefully placed in the mudras, the left over her heart holding a lotus blossom, and the right in a boon-granting gesture. The longer I looked at Tara, the more I was in love.
And painting her was a joy for other reasons. I forgot about the never-ending self-critical conversation in my head I usually played relentlessly when I painted, questioning whether what I was doing qualified as ART or not. Because, really, this had nothing to do with “Art”. I was able to resurrect my old almost-rusty decorative painting skills and indulge in the blatant over-the-top enjoyment of applying intense pigments, sinuous brush strokes, intricate patterns, and gold leaf. I used acrylic paints and a deep 3’x4’ canvas and built up the layers, finishing the surface with gold patterning using pens and a fine brush. I realized that I had no formal knowledge of the iconic tradition of this type of Buddhist painting, but I felt supported in continuing with my own process.
She quickly found her place in the front hall of my home, and I am certain she immediately exuded her healing powers over the household. But it wasn’t long after that when I realized I wanted to paint another Tara.
This one needed to be a bit more from my imagination. The second Tara was a bit more dramatic, but I loved both paintings in different ways. For me, to “love” something I painted is unusual in itself—I typically focus on the faults in whatever I paint and, even now, I find it surprising that I can admit that I DO love these paintings.Tara #2 resides now with my good friend Lisa, hanging in her studio in Boston.
Then we moved to Maine, where I placed my Tara #1 in the center of the home. The first thing I wanted to do was paint another Tara that embodied elements of the new place I was to live in: the rocky shore, the pines, and the ocean. I still felt distracted and “blocked” from painting “real” art—but I found myself pulled to paint a Green Tara instead. She is the younger version of Tara that represents dynamic energy. I craved the fresh beginning and fruitfulness she represents, as part of my effort to summon the energy to start in a new home and a new stage of life. This Tara still patiently waits for me to complete her in my studio in Maine, where next summer she will receive her final layers of glamorous decoration.
Then last autumn came the crazy opportunity to move to New Zealand for a few years, and we were off again. So when we arrived in our new home, in the remote city of Invercargill in Southland, I set up a corner of the dining room in our temporary housing, and made a place to paint. I knew I needed a new Tara, and this one would reflect the spectacular and unique landscape. The move had left me feeling somewhat confused and disconnected, but I knew that painting a Tara would help me to integrate into my new life. Meanwhile, since my husband was working full time, it was up to me to start looking for a more permanent home, and I fast realized that we would want to live in the nearby beautiful, peaceful, beachy area called Otatara. Soon I found the perfect little house, tucked into the bush, where I moved my half-finished new Tara into the new “studio” I created on one end of the lounge.
Is it a coincidence that our new town is called Otatara? Sure, I would think so, except that this isn’t the first time I ended up living in the middle of something I painted. But that’s another story!