Pictured, from left (see below for more information on each): suite of five from Prayer Series, c. 2010
Materials: Mixed media monoprint, 30” x 22” each.
Location at Summa Health: Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge St.), blue neighborhood, sixth floor, central waiting room.
Hui-Chu Ying has created a series of monoprints, of which these are five, which represent her interpretations of moments of prayer. Prayer can take many forms and have many purposes: In these prints, the artist uses the visual language of Buddhist spiritual practice. Two of the symbolic hand gestures or Mudras made by the Buddha are repeated in multiple ways in these five monoprints: The varada, which invokes compassion, represented in Maintaining the Balance, Following the Enlightenment, and Connecting Wisdom with Heart; and the dharmachakra, which is the hand gesture of teaching that we see in Gathering our Hope and Spreading the Courage. The artist depicts these being made with both right and left hands, a single template or stencil having been flipped to print these shadow-like forms. These images are offered to inspire reflection and meditation, reflecting the artist’s concern to provide us with an alternative to human suffering, whether that suffering be due to war, disaster, disease, or other loss.
Ying also includes the abstract leaf-form for the human heart, symbolizing love, and a bird, meant as a messenger of hope in each of these prints.These symbols elaborate on the purpose, mechanism, and context of the prayers of the title.
These gestures and symbolic elements, some drawn and/or stenciled over the printed layer, reinforce the ideas and meanings through repetition, just as we might repeat simple words or phrases in prayer. Cumulatively, the series brings an understanding of compassion and prayerfulness that are part of the ethos of Buddhist spiritual practice.
The artist prints a bright red background with abstract patterns created by a wandering, inscribed line. On top of this ground, two elegant hands, stenciled in green — the complement of red on the color wheel — gather the fine, scrolling tendrils of a trailing plant — painted on the surface and the hope of the title — by grasping the thin but tough base of the vines. This gesture, while motivated by grasping the trailing plant, is also the teaching gesture, dharmachakra: Hope is both gathered and taught.
Here the ground of the print has become increasingly busy, made up of two colored threads that appear to knot together at times. Hui-Chu Ying prints the gesturing hands multiple times again on top of this ground, varying the shades of green. The hands, in the gesture of dharmachakra, spread dotted threads, the courage of the title, across the surface of the print. While the artist does not try to control the curvilinearity that we see everywhere in this print, its liveliness animates the hands with their elegantly disposed fingers and simple rounded contours. In this series, courage comes next after hope.
This central print in the Summa Prayer series is, appropriately for its position, almost bilaterally symmetrical: That is, it is symmetrical around a central vertical axis. This organizational choice is reinforced by the pair of hands on that axis, depicted in the gesture of compassion, varada. Elements from the first two prints in the series — the golden knotwork of the heart, the messenger-bird, and the foliage of hope — are introduced to elaborate the message or iconography, not quite following the strict symmetry but maintaining the overall simplicity for which the artist strives.
Hui-Chu Ying for this work prints a series of hands in fine outline and represented in the teaching gesture (dharmachakra) in order to create a ground of the work. Against it, a single, dark painted hand at the upper right gestures in compassion (varada), giving the forms of hope and courage to the world, which gesture is heralded by the paired birds.The bestowal of gifts is an act of blessing; from the generally symmetrical composition of this print, we can infer that enlightenment brings peace and harmony in an ordered world founded on teaching.
If we look at the series as a whole, we might notice that this fifth print, at the right, more or less echoes the color, background, and composition (but upside down) of the first print, at far left.The gesture now is the varada, compassion, and since Ying represents it at the foot of the composition, she implies that this blessing is directed downward, as if the print were a snapshot of a much larger scene in which the action continues to bring its blessings, even if unseen by us.The inclusion of symbolic forms introduced in the prayer series elaborates on that message.