Self Portrait: Subject Matter

In this multitude of essays we’ve spoken about the history, the edge of realism/abstract, and accidental art. In this we’ll tackle the subject matter of the painting itself.


An obviously young man, despite the unusual, not so realistic rendering, is shown from the torso up. He is holding an avocado (deemed cosmi-cado by some due to its starry nature) in one hand and performing a Tai Chi posture with the other. With regards the former: Our subject had a huge avocado tree on his property that provided seemingly continual sustenance to the inhabitants. Re the latter: Tai Chi was a discipline he had just taken up a few seasons prior.[1] Our subject has long curly hair, bright red luscious lips, a necklace, a bracelet and a lush billowing shirt – the last three made by Laurie, his girl friend of 3 years and wife to be. These features indicate his androgynous nature – the incorporation of his feminine side. This is further indicated in the original drawing, which has the symbol for Venus in Aquarius (his natal planetary placing) in the upper right corner, also symbolizing the importance of astrology to him at the time. The youth is also wearing a leather watchband, also made by Laurie, with ‘NOW’ on the face – probably a reference to Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now - a very influential and popular book of the early 70’s.

The Sun/Moon face – integration of inner and outer

The avocado-holding hand points to a Sun/Moon face, which radiates light over the entire picture. This symbol replaced the astrological symbol in the 2002 redrawing. On the verge of retirement Master Ni, his Tai Chi teacher from when he had penciled the original ‘74 drawing, had given him some cryptic calligraphy – – which contained ming with its sun/moon symbolism – representing the merger of the inner and outer lights – the integration of inner and outer. (Read an excellent explanation of this symbol by the unknown Taoist – which arrived serendipitously as I was engaged in the painting – inspired by Master Ni’s last meditation class – given at the age of 95. See how my entire life is woven together by the visual threads of this painting.)

Ma Musa

But presently, ever since Ma Musa created a psychic disturbance which contributed to my Breakdown, I have viewed the enigmatic symbol as my genius, my inspiration, my Muse – meditating with half closed eyes to concentrate the energy and sense the Light – to discover the Divine Direction – the Path – the Tao.


[1] Little did he know, although he might have suspected due to its prominence in the drawing, that this would become a life long passion.

Unknown Taoist on Sun/Moon symbolism (5-21-2010)

Ni mentioned one purpose of focusing on the nose tip (or reflecting the vision from an imaginary mirror to focus back on self) was to combine the left and right hemispheres of the brain, sun and moon , yang and yin. From a practical standpoint, the goal of meditation is to get all the neurons oscillating coherently, in contrast to their normal, chaotic firing. It is also important to realize there are neuron-like dendritic nerve cells (ganglion) outside the brain.

Ni always speaks of 'seeing the light' as a goal of meditation. Based on my experience I suggest 'be the light' is a more appropriate term. The first preserves dichotomy (here and there), the second eliminates it (oneness).

My notes record Ni as saying:


"The eyes are the key to One Energy. Gazing downward at the nose and focusing there combines the yin and yang into one. Looking outward dissipates energy. Looking inward and downward conserves energy. Being able to combine the yin and yang energy is the first step to finding the Tao. The left eye is yang and represents the sun. The right eye is yin and represents the moon. Considering the left eye only, open is yang and closed is yin."

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