Karl Mårtens

Painting from Emptiness  - Artist's Statement


The famous pianist Arthur Rubinstein was considered, by many, at the pinnacle of his career when he had reached his eighties. At that time he was almost blind. His own opinion about the matter was that he was no longer so concerned with playing without mistakes. The fact that he couldn’t see the keys properly forced him to rely on feeling rather than technique.


In Kyudo, Japanese archery, one teaches the idea of shooting with the heart, kokoro, instead of with the brain. One also speaks about mu shin—no mind—in other words a state of mind where the intellect is” disconnected”. In Kyudo, this state of mind is manifested by an accuracy which cannot be achieved simply by learning to aim. Kyudo masters illustrate this by hitting the target dead center at 28 meters (92 feet)—in total darkness.


Shih-t’ao, a revered Chinese painter during the 17th century, maintained that the artist must trust his or her own ability. Being receptive to impressions is more important than knowledge.He also emphasized the importance of the first brush stroke. He called it “the holistic brushstroke”. It creates something where nothing was. Optimally it emanates from emptiness, void of thought.


I feel that these examples illustrate the strength of letting go of knowledge and intellect, and opening oneself to the unknown, and thereby getting in touch with one’s intuition. This is a parallel to Zen’s description of ”moving from emptiness”.


My belief is that intuition is simply the crystallization of all our knowledge and creativity. Perhaps it even contains inherited knowledge from several generations. When we are in contact with our intuition, or emptiness, we are not affected by all the limiting conditions that our intellect can give rise to; doubts, fears, expectations and performance-related anxiety. This way we also are in contact with our highest potential.


Through my painting I try to approach this state of mind by letting go of the knowledge, which is associated with my intellect, and instead act from emptiness. Hence, the purpose of my painting is more to train my mind for meeting all of life’s challenges—rather than creating art. And part of this training is to challenge my limitations and in as many ways as possible expose myself to the unexpected.