Kmilo Morales: revisitation of Zen

/ 20 August, 2015

“Zen generates everything, penetrates it, strengthens it.”

Daisetz Suzuki


Japanese is a culture of restraint, serenity, calm. Delving into its innermost philosophical, aesthetic and moral systems is a challenge to foreign viewers, while Nippon reveals to us as rarity of cultural landscape through the authentic ways it has chosen to manifest itself.  Not few Cuban artists have been seduced by the culture of the Asian archipelago. Kmilo Morales (Holguin, 1990) is a young painter who rescues in his work the feeling and expression of Zen by becoming his painting into a space of meditation that begins in the creative process itself. For this he proposes us in his personal exhibition “Lugar, tiempo y espacio” (Plaza House of Culture, 2015) a series of paintings recalling visuality of Japanese rock gardens, authentic result of Zen spirit. In the Cuban context, this exercise of subtle refinement could go unnoticed to the viewer unfamiliar with such knowledge. So, it would be worth to point out the main features of this philosophical and aesthetic branch within Buddhism.

Zen Buddhism is largely responsible for distinctive stylization and formal elegance of Japanese aesthetics. This phenomenon has its genesis in the Kamakura period (1185-1333) when the Zen school was created by master Eisai (1141-1215). From this moment, the Zen was especially welcomed by the samurai class due to its simple nature and preference for self-discipline and meditation (called zazen) as a way appropriate to attain satori or enlightenment. In artistic creations, Zen manifests itself in three main concepts: sabi, wabi and shibumi. Each separately, or coming together in a single object or art modelling, raises an ideal of elegance and refinement from formal simplicity.

Roughly, sabi proposes the beauty that the passage of time leaves on objects, also expressing a strong sense of solitude and contemplation. Sabi is understood as subtlety, suggestion, introspection. Sabi is the void, but not emptiness. In Zen, emptiness is the ultimate source of meaning, fullness; represents the possibility of vital expansion. It is, therefore, an act of annulment, but detachment, isolation and purification of thoughts and feelings. Wabi is the central axis of the Japanese aesthetics: the simplicity, refinement and calm that are revealed in the natural aspect of everyday objects: a cup for tea, vernacular architecture, humblest flower arrangement; before so much beauty, the viewer only finds a moving inner peace. Finally, the shibumi refers to the elegance and good taste from the simplicity, the synthesis of resources and the unveiling of the qualities of artistic material. Communion with nature is vital for shibumi: natural asymmetry is perfect, hence that man must imitate it, not confront it or being hostile to it.

Kmilo Morales´ work widely includes these neuralgic axes of Zen, wisely engaged in large-scale works that open a window to the inner world of public. Every rock is a separate universe in immovable appearances, with the intense energy of formal heaviness taking over the canvas. The powerful brushstrokes prevents hyperrealism in favor of establishing textural areas where the trace of the pigment raked on canvas recalls the homologous activity in the gravel soil of Zen garden.

This work should be seen as reconciling mechanism that balances the subject with its environment, while nature is an inseparable part of man and only harmonious dialogue with it allows inner peace. Morales uses his painting not only as an artistic proposal, but as a method and excuse of introspection. The predominance of white, gray and black tonalities eliminates any risk of distracting the viewer: the force is concentrated in the forms, not the color. For the Japanese artist, the black-white contrast expresses the non-confrontational struggle of opposites (yin-yang philosophy) while it recalls the stylized forms of calligraphy art and sumi-e painting, also the result of meditation of zen monk.

Hence the deep and inimitable harmony with nature, the evocation of the kami or spirits that form the essence of things, the search for the sacred through recalled shapes and colors, the deep spirituality that encloses the austere atmosphere of these rock gardens (also called “dry gardens”) are aspects represented by Kmilo Morales not as pictorial motifs, but as feeling and reflective states of “myself” and “being”. Timeless and subjective as the zen itself…



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