Iconographies of Dharma

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Integral Calligraphy

Calligraphy is the art of beautiful writing, the art of exquisite hand-written linguistic marks. Such is the aesthetic impact of the script that the verbal meaning need not be understood for the calligraphy to shine forth in profound significance.

Many world-historical cultures have evolved ramified calligraphic traditions, perhaps most well-known being those of Asia and Islam. Less popularly acknowledged amongst the Asian traditions, Tibet has its own remarkable lineages of calligraphy.

Tashi Mannox, an Englishman, and for many years an ordained Buddhist monk, has trained for decades in the arts of Tibetan calligraphy. Today he preserves this tradition as a vehicle to communicate and transmit dharma, all the while adapting and updating his approach within and for contemporary contexts. He identifies three streams in his work: (1) contemporary and traditional; (2) contemporary black on black, and (3) illuminated iconography.

In honoring contemporary contexts and concerns, some of his designs are presented as sacred tattoos. With certain commissioned work he offers the option of including bespoke seals that are specific to the calligraphic project and its patron. In all cases Tashi’s art is an expression of his long and devoted meditative practice and spiritual realization, such that his art energetically transmits the Tibetan Buddhist View.

Several of the circular designs in the present exhibition approach the status of calligrams—the arrangement of script to form a picture—a device most often associated with strains of Islamic artistic practice and with experiments in Western modernism aligned with the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. A work like Emanate from Emptiness and Samsara—Cyclic Existence visually articulates the verbal meaning in a picture-like manner, amplifying rather than compromising the calligraphic beauty and integrity of the script itself. Indeed, the variety of Tashi’s approaches is astonishing. With a work like Primordial Purity, Golden World, the pictorial is no longer built up from the script, but is an image in its own right, aspects of the script incorporated then meaningfully and expressively into the image. With Hum, Jyo-Protection, the mark-making itself is of a refined exquisite delicacy, the script streams and seals composed on the page to generate extraordinarily aesthetic coherence and expressive nuance.

Grounded thoroughly in the pre-modern Tibetan tradition, incorporating modernist visual schemes, and being multi-cultural and postmodern in drawing on other calligraphic lineages such as the spatial awareness proper to Zen calligraphic practice (while preserving the Tibetan core of style), Tashi Mannox’s art is an authentic and exemplary instance of an integral calligraphy for our age.

Michael Schwartz
February 2012

Watch this brief documentary to learn more about Tashi Mannox and his artistic process:

From the Artist:

Drawing on a lifetime of study and practice in the rich iconography and wisdom that the Tibetan culture and Buddhist faith offers, my creative enthusiasm as a calligraphic artist is the enjoyment of delivering what is initially born as ‘thoughts’. Though of no solidity, thoughts have an amazing ability to hover in the limitless space of ‘mind’, perhaps held by the glue of emotion and the ever reaffirming ‘memory’. Artworks may remain painted and stored in my consciousness for many years, before the right moment comes along to liberate these ‘ideas’ as an actual art piece.

Fundamental to me is the importance of a foundation in the discipline of a trained hand, which not only helps keep the scriptural traditions alive, but also gives the confidence to allow the creative freedom to emanate through the medium.

The whole creative process is likened to meditation, where calmness is essential for clarity to manifest untainted.

I like to think that my work provides windows, through which others can see the symbolic world, that may provoke to question and even to wake up, if not to be pleasantly inspired. All I wish, is for people to be happy. If I can simply cheer people up, then my intentions are rewarded.

Tashi Mannox
February 2012

Tashi Mannox

About Tashi Mannox

The name Tashi Mannox represents both the Eastern and Western artistic disciplines in his 30 year journey as a painter and calligrapher. Born British to the family name of Mannox, that originates in Celtic Ireland and coincidently translates as 'the monastic'. His first name Tashi was given shortly after gaining a BA [Hons] degree in Fine Art, when he became a Buddhist monk of the Tibetan Kagyu order, at the tender age of 22. He is now recognized as one of the world's foremost contemporary Tibetan calligraphy artists. Exhibiting across the globe in London, Moscow, New York and Sharjah of the United Arab Emirates. In resent years Tashi has established his home and studio near Hay-on-Wye in Herefordshire, Great Britain.