Barry Fishman is an architect, painter and poet who received his Masters Degree in Architecture from Tulane University. Today, he lives, works and teaches T’ai chi ch’uan in New York City. He has studied Eastern philosophy and practiced meditation for many years. His “I Ching Paintings: Yin Yang and the Ten Thousand Things” present 80 works as a poignantly beautiful meditation on and illustration of the ideograms of the Ta Chaun/The Great Treatise and the I Ching/Book of Changes embodying the Taoist philosophy of Yin and Yang. Each painting represents a particular situation beginning with “Earlier Heaven” and ending with Hexagram 64 “After Completion” from the I Ching/Book of Changes.
We recently spoke with him about these pieces and his life as an artist articulating these esoteric concepts.
Tell me a little bit about your background.
I was born and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. I spent weekends sailing on Long Island at my uncles. I lived in New Orleans for five years while attending college. After graduation I moved back with my parents who had relocated to Manhattan. I love Manhattan and have lived here ever since. I now live in Chelsea with Nancy.
When did you originally get drawn to Eastern Philosophy – tell me of your “a ha” moment, how that has influenced your life and how the whole philosophy drives you as a man.
When I moved back to New York I used to frequent books stores on Eighth Street in the East Village. I would scan the shelves and choose authors. I became familiar with Hermann Hesse, D.T. Suzuki, Ram Das, Rilke etc. and of course, the I Ching by Richard Wilhelm. I don’t know if there really was an a-ha moment. Looking back it’s like I was always on this path without being outwardly aware of it. For instance, I was in a movement class to help heal my back and a girl suggested I study Tai Chi Chuan. I had no idea what it was but I tried a class and have been playing it ever since. I became aware of the Tao through the practice of Tai Chi Chuan and this has greatly influenced my life and work. In a similar way I met my guru. I certainly wasn’t consciously looking for one. He taught me to be spontaneous and appropriate in the moment and to know everything is God. It’s interesting that this is basic to the Tao and Tai Chi Chuan. Shakti and Shiva are the similar to Yin and Yang. The philosophy that drives me is – Every thing in this universe is God or Tao, there is nothing that is not made of God or Tao. This is all-inclusive: you, me, the bird, trees, rocks etc.
Difficulty at the Beginning
A poem I wrote which expresses this Idea:
Speaking of miracles,
that is conceivable,
is the body of God.
from the smallest
to the largest,
Parts of God
are not parts;
we think of parts
All parts of God
as different shapes
There is the same
amount of God
regardless of size;
is not more God
than a mouse.
us and them
you and me.
There is only God.
For the laymen, give a two-sentence description in your own language about what the I Ching.
The I Ching translates as the Book of Changes and is the book of divination encompassing all phenomena of the universe and human affairs embodying the Taoist principle of yin and yang. Everything can be broken down in terms of yin and yang, although there is always some yin in yang and some yang in yin. As we know nothing is black and/or white. The only constant in this world is change.
What was your original interest in the I Ching and what about it intrigued you most?
I came across the I Ching in a bookstore and I bought it not knowing what it really was. So I would guess it was curiosity. I really didn’t understand what its implications were. I was, however, intrigued by the symbols, archetypes and the idea of this book containing answers to all possible human situations. It may seem odd but I myself have never thrown the yarrow sticks or coins for an I Ching reading.
When you decided to create the series of I Ching inspired paintings, what were you most trying to articulate and why?
One day I had an a-ha moment as an idea. What if I could translate the code/system of the I Ching, make it visible using forms, color and symbols to express its essence. Make it visual to access another understanding. As far as I knew it had never been done before – that was reason enough.
How did you go about coming up with your particular method and what materials do you use?
The paintings are acrylic on canvas. The Tao Teh Ching says the Tao that can be explained is not the Tao but I will try. It’s really hard to remember, as things tend to be on back burner in my subconscious. I have meditated for many years and who really knows what is going on in the inner workings of one’s mind. My first series of paintings were of the Bagua, or eight triple lines (trigrams) of yin and yang which when doubled and combined form the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching. I used three panels for each painting. The topmost representing Heaven, the middle man, and the bottom earth. These can be seen on my website. I made three lines: the next step was to figure out how to make six lines. Six panels would be too long and narrow.
I wanted the main forms to express their combinations of the six yin and yang lines and at the same time express the image/idea of the form. Therefore if the form was solid at a given line it was a yang line, if it was broken – had an opening or space, it was a yin line. It’s interesting to note that following the open and closed lines the forms naturally expressed the image. In many cases there was no other way.
Also I had to assign colors to the various aspects of the Hexagrams. It took quite a while to work things out. On my website there is detailed information about their structure and “Diagram showing how the lines express the form” do just that.
Once I worked out the basics I would pick a hexagram at random, I did not go in any particular order. I would read the hexagram and meditate on it, make sketches and meditate. I would meditate on the main image and each line until something emerged. Some came easily others not so. It took me five years to complete the series of eighty paintings.
There are eighty paintings in the series beginning with Earlier Heaven where everything is in balance, in stasis, Heaven at the top Earth below. Next is Later Heaven, which can be thought of in terms of the Big Bang, expansive and cyclic with Earth above and Heaven below. Then there is yin and yang – single lines. The lines are doubled to make four combinations. Adding a line to the double lines makes eight sets of three. The eight sets of three doubled form the sixty-four hexagrams, the I Ching.
Return (The Turning Point)
In your architecture practice, how did I Ching and Eastern philosophy inspire you or influence your designs – is there cross over?
There is definitely a crossover. I would say that my architectural training has had a strong influence on my painting in relation to form and space. Meditation and Tai Chi Chuan influenced my architecture and me by removing the clutter from my mind and my designs.
What do you think the artist’s role in society is?
To create beauty and wonder and to connect to and open the subconscious to new ways of seeing.
What is your mission as an artist?
Mission is a strong word. I do not feel as though I am on any kind of mission.
I do what I do because I love the process; it feels so good to apply paint to a surface. I wish to leave my spirit in my work. It must resonate. It must feel right. The times the painting does itself are wondrous. In martial arts there are both internal and external arts as there are in all art forms. External arts are extrinsic, moving from one’s extremities, from outside. Internal arts on the other hand, move from the center, from one’s core, from ones essence. This is beauty and grace. Going back to the “Tao that can be explained is not the Tao” I do not wish my work to be explained. I wish it to be experienced. Once a painting is finished I cannot believe that I created it. It just is.
What do you hope the I Ching pieces will impart to the viewer.
I would like the viewer to see the I Ching in a new light, to glimpse its underpinnings, to be able to meditate on and contemplate the forms to expand awareness. If those who use the I Ching have a deeper experience and understanding through my paintings it would make me happy.
Anything you would like to add?
I am presently dreaming of a Dragon Bagua Series.
Written by Kimberly Nichols
Newtopia managing editor KIMBERLY NICHOLS is author of the book of literary short fiction Mad Anatomy, a contributing editor to 3AM Magazine and has exhibited as a conceptual artist throughout California for the past decade. Her non-fiction articles have appeared in magazines and media internationally. She was a founding editor of Newtopia in its former incarnation where she was also a member of the NewPoetry Collective. She is currently at work on her novel King Neptune’s Journey and a conceptual art series. She has recently embarked on a journey of study in shamanic and medicine lore and wisdom under a series of respected teachers. Follow her on Twitter @LITGFOA or her arts and literature blog.