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(1) "Buddha on Moneybags", oil on canvas, 33 x 40", 1995.
(2) "Buddha on Moneybags", oil on canvas, 33 x 40", 1995.
(3) "Buddha on Moneybags", oil on canvas, 33 x 40", 1995.
(4) "Buddha on Moneybags", oil on canvas, 33 x 40", 1995.

by Ray Zone

(Random Gallery, Pasadena) With an exhibit of twenty-one "prayer Rug" paintings all titled Buddha on Moneybags, Stephen Seemayer explores the contradictory ideas of spirituality and materialism. More emphatically, however, the work extends Seemayer's work as a performance artist into the realm of static art. The canvases themselves are made from discarded money sacks from various financial institutions. Quite often a vestige of the printed name of the individual establishment shows through the oil painted surface.

The simple and direct imagery features variants of the Buddha, all of which are rendered in simple black and white. Sometimes the figure of the Buddha is rendered in silhouette, sometimes as a crude shape. The postures vary. He is even rendered once as a skeleton, a strong image which invokes the spirituality latent in our mortality.

The paintings are laid out on the floor of the gallery, thus inviting interaction from the viewer and different options for their inspection. The possibility that one may actually walk on the canvases does not dismay the artist. "With my paintings scattered about on the floor," he states, "their preciousness was subjective. Each viewer decided individually how to interact with them." Whatever damage to the work that might occur as a result of this is intended to become part of the piece. With the new prayer rug paintings an additional element of interaction has been incorporated into the actual making of the image. A butterfly shape, superimposed over the background image of the Buddha, is evident in each of the paintings. This shape was created by the artist, sitting in a lotus position on the canvas, and tracing with three large dramatic strokes around his seated body. The effect "imposes my physical presence on the work," he asserts.

For over a decade Seemayer has been creating art in a variety of media including video and performance art. It is not surprising that this multi-disciplinary artist has found a way to incorporate his physical presence into essentially contemplative images in a way that both reaffirms and subverts the underlying motif. The emphatic nature of the traced, butterfly shape integrates the temporal dynamism of Japanese brush painting with the painterly moment inherent in modernist abstraction. Working against the ironic subtext of the materials, Seemayer has nevertheless created works here that are directly hinged to the idea of representation. Whatever abstract accidents occur to the work as it is exhibitied with the various viewer options exercised gives the work additional interest.

It is also fitting irony that these Buddha on Moneybags paintings are actually mounted on pads which make them functionally serve as comfortable rugs. The artist invites you to contemplatively repose in comfort if you like. "One may passively observe and enjoy the ironic imagery of the canvases," he declares, "or site and mediate upon them, finding calmness and serenity in a refuge from the chaotic city in which the work was created."

Also on view are graphite drawings, pencil sketches and stencil templates used in the creation of this series.