Zen Calligraphy, Alok Hsu Kwang-han

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An Interview with Alok Hsu Kwang-han
by Suryo Gardner for NEW TIMES, Seattle, April 2003
On his Calligraphic Portraits


Suryo: Alok, you mentioned that in graduate school you had a certain skill, a certain sensitivity of reading people, and now I understand that you are painting calligraphic portraits of people. Exactly what do you mean by "calligraphic portrait"?
ALOK:  I love painting calligraphic portraits for individuals, couples and organizations! What exactly it is, is difficult to say because what happens is below words. When I first began in '74, I would try to read people and tune into people and allow that energy to come through my heart, down my arms, through the brush, onto the paper, which is a very beautiful way. Now I do much less. I don't try to see the images. I don't even look. I'm just present, available to existence and to who's in front of me. Then, one spontaneous movement after another, I allow the painting to happen. If I get an idea of how to paint (I'm trained in psychotherapy and pick up things about people), I always put these aside because I love the intimacy with the unknown. I trust and respect the moment so much that I don't want to be a Zerox machine of my ideas or my visions. So, this moment, right now, happening, is the creativity.
Suryo  "The Power of Now"!
ALOK  Amazingly, the painting always shows you what you have deeply longed for or needed to see of yourself-your essence, your beauty, your courage, your issues cast in a new light. Occasionally I look at a painting and my mind comes in and say, "Boy, Alok, you've really screwed up this time!" Then as we explore the painting together, it turns out it's exactly, exactly what the person or the couple needed to see. So after having done a thousand or so of these around the world, I'm relaxed with painting from emptiness.
Suryo  It seems like our deepest knowing of ourselves comes through metaphor and symbol. And so I would imagine that when your clients look at their calligraphic portrait something is touched in them that is profound.
ALOK  Yes, the people become very connected to themselves through the painting. In Sedona a German woman came up to me and said, "12 years ago you did a calligraphic portrait for me. It's still hanging in my bedroom and I look at it everyday." I am reminded of "wei wu wei" -- doing through not doing or knowing through not knowing. It's a wonderful interplay between what is hidden and what is revealed.
Suryo  This work feels vast, Alok. I feel very touched by what you've said.
ALOK  What's wonderful about it is that this vastness can be touched or contacted through something very simple like one stroke of the brush or a particular ink blotting on the xuan paper. It occurs to me this work is a fresh synthesis of the beauty of Chinese calligraphy, the spontaneity of Zen, and the evolution of Western psychotherapy.
Suryo  What a combination! Are you the only one in the world that does this work?
ALOK  As far as I know at this point, notwithstanding what happened in past lives!
Suryo  As you are talking, I am thinking about all the people that have psychic abilities, how they would be so inspired to connect with something even deeper than psychic abilities. Is your work open to everybody?
ALOK  Sure, it's open and available (both laugh).