Artist Lasha Mutual discusses the dharma and dedication that go into her vivid visual meditations of Buddhist deities.
Devotion permeates Lasha Mutual’s art, which pays homage to Buddhist deities. Looking through her gallery of work, you’ll find a vibrant Red Tara crafted with egg tempera and gold on wood, a White Tara with Infinite Yes rendered in watercolor, ink, and gouache, a resplendent portrait of the Wisdom Dakini (which adorned the cover of Buddhadharma’s Winter 2019 issue), and much more. Formal meditation and a rich exploration of Buddhism’s artistic traditions are woven together in Mutual’s body of work. Beholding these pieces, it is easy to see the artist’s intention of cultivating a generous, peaceful, and clear mind for the viewer.
Lasha lives with her husband, son, and an abundance of pets in a little yellow brick cottage in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. She took time away from her artistic practice to speak with Lion’s Roar about her process and practice.
Ross Nervig: Do you consider your art practice to be a form of meditation?
Lasha Mutual: I love the idea that the physical act of painting could be blended with mantra recitation to imbue an image with that extra layer of intention, but at this point, my inability to focus on these two things simultaneously doesn’t create a feeling of mental ease or flow. I’ve experimented with reciting the 21 Praises to Tara silently while working on a painting of this same theme, but I wasn’t able to fluidly make those instantaneous artistic decisions necessary while painting and still remember each stanza in the prayer. It was really humbling to realize how hard this is! It feels like a lovely compromise to listen to dharma talks while I paint, and then focus on mantra recitation during sitting practice.
What drew you to Atisha’s 21 Taras? What inspirations do you take from the Taras?
I’m drawn to both Atisha’s and Suryagupta’s versions of the 21 Taras. It’s fascinating that these two lineages have such different iconographic forms. The Taras in Atisha’s lineage differ from each other mainly in the color that each one manifests in, while Suryagupta’s Taras have unique physical positions, a number of arms, and a variety of symbolic implements that each figure holds. Working with these multifaceted representations of Tara is endlessly captivating, and I’m looking forward to focusing on a series of paintings of Suryagupta’s Taras when my current series of Atisha’s are complete.
Tell me about the significance of your 108 White Tara project?
The paintings that comprise the 108 White Tara project were completed from 2010-2016 and the motivation was to build a body of work composed of individual visual prayers to White Tara – similar to the 108 beads joined together to create a mala. The paintings are all identical in size, and White Tara is depicted in each one in her traditional position, with specific identifiable symbolic elements. The remaining slim areas of the composition provided a lot of artistic freedom within that structured format, and many of these were commissioned paintings that incorporated meaningful subject matter for the folks that engaged me to create them.
How does your Buddhism practice inform the art-making process?
My reverence for Tara’s embodiment of compassion and vast multitude of forms continues to deepen with each year of practice, and I find that that makes me want to be true to more traditional ways of depicting her in my work.
For the past three years, I have been part of an international community of students practicing Ngöndro within a program established by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. My gratitude is boundless for the invaluable guidance and structure that this has provided. The ongoing practice informs my life view, and as a result my art-making process as well.
Do you ever encounter creative blocks? What sets you free?
I do encounter creative blocks, but find that taking a break and then continuing to experiment with different visual solutions with a fresh perspective allows me to move forward. Some of my work involves illustration contracts with concrete deadlines, so diligence becomes more important than inspiration to continue forward with a project or body of work.
Do you have a piece that you are most proud of? What sets it apart from other pieces and why?
I find that I am more enamored with the process of painting than the experience of the final image, so I’m not attached to any specific piece. The excitement and creative spark of thinking of ideas for future paintings, and the mystery of not knowing how my form of expression might evolve over time is what inspires me. In the last few years, I have transitioned to working exclusively with digital media that take on physical form as archival giclee prints.
See Lasha Mutual’s prints available for purchase in the Lion’s Roar store.