About Zangmo Alexander Visual Artist: Bio and Statement
I recall asking an art tutor on my Fine Art degree course, "How do I paint pure consciousness?" to which he replied, "Become pure consciousness, then paint". I'd also like to add that painting or any other creative activity can support meditation training. Discovering how to do this became my creative koan.
"Meditation is for you to realise that the deepest nature of your existence is beyond thoughts and emotions, that it is incredibly vast and interconnected with all beings."
(Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo)
Growing up in Hove, UK in a non-observant, dysfunctional, Jewish family, attending a Christian school and trying to make sense of traumatic childhood experiences raised questions of self and identity, stimulating a spiritual search from the age of 11.
Trauma was a wonderful, although not pleasant, teacher opening my mind to impermanence, the transience of all things and that life definitely didn't seem to be how I was told to believe it was. This led to questioning the meaning of life, undergoing psychotherapy and embarking on a spiritual quest.
Discovering the Power of Art
As a young adult wanting to learn more about the mind, I worked as a nursing assistant in a psychiatric hospital, where I was invited to participate in an inspiring six-month staff art therapy group. Seeing the vast possibilities of discovering, expressing and understanding my mind through art led me to practise as a committed artist exploring the mind and inner experience.
Contemplating Mark Rothko's paintings at the Tate Modern and listening to Mahler's Resurrection Symphony conducted by Simon Rattle further opened my mind to how the arts can reach beyond purely visual and aesthetic dimensions to be powerful, transforming, healing, revealing, and spiritually awakening experiences.
I began to understand that for me the role of art was to include both the suffering human condition and also point to our innate, timeless, universal essence. A new journey began exploring art, psychology and spirituality.
Art and Spirituality
My husband’s suicide in 1981 was the trauma that woke me up spiritually, and catapulted me into a search for my spiritual home. I studied Christian Essene spiritual healing with the College of Spiritual Psychotherapy. Wanting to see if my Jewish roots could help, I studied Kabbalah with a rabbi’s wife. Interest in the perennial philosophy led me to look east, study Hindu and Vedic teachings and travel to India, before arriving in 1991 at Tibetan Buddhism, my spiritual home.
Wanting to follow my increasing desire to integrate art, psychology and spirituality, I embarked on a BA Hons degree in Painting (1987-1991) at the then Brighton College of Art. I began studying Hindu and Tibetan mandala painting, the work of Agnes Martin, Jackson Pollock and Richard Pousette-Dart, Paul Klee and Kandinsky and travelled to India to research Indian women artists and miniature painting.
My art work became increasingly abstract as I searched for ways to make visible a sense of things beyond superficial physical appearance. In 1991 I wrote a dissertation, ‘The Symbolism of the Center in Religion and Sacred Art’, investigating the relationship between sacred art and the perennial spiritual teachings. In the midst of all this I discovered the joys and challenges of parenthood with the birth of my son Jacob in 1990, following fervent prayers for something that would help me destroy my ego.
Discovering Buddhist Psychology
In addition to exhibiting and practising as an artist, in 1995 I began a more committed meditation and mindfulness practice. I was so grateful to receive teachings from authentic, realized, spiritual masters including Ato Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche. In 2005 I discovered my main teacher, Mingyur Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher holding lineages for Mahamudra and Dzogchen, which includes shamatha and vipashyana meditation. These lineages offered progressive training in the path to enlightenment that particularly suited my mind and turned out to be life changing as well as deeply informing my art practice.
Integrating Art and Meditation
Following a period studying traditional Tibetan Thangkha Painting, I increasingly felt drawn to investigate ways of integrating meditation with more modern, contemporary fine art practices. This led me to study for a Masters Degree in Fine Art (2005-2007). For my examination exhibition in 2007 I created a short video, 'Letter to My Mum' in response to my mother asking why I wanted to ordain as a Buddhist nun.
A week after my MA show closed, I was ordained as a Buddhist nun in Oxford UK by His Eminence Thrangu Rinpoche. I remained a nun for seven years, living in semi-retreat in my house in Suffolk UK. In 2014 I was increasingly feeling that while being a nun had been extremely beneficial for myself and hopefully others, I needed to be more naked and integrate ongoing spiritual practice with creative practice, teaching art and everyday life as a lay person, for both my own and other people’s benefit.
Since 2007 I have been developing the evolving series of projects shown on this website, integrating art with the meditation practices given to me by Mingyur Rinpoche, along with teaching art and mindful creativity mentoring. While personally informed by meditation and mindfulness, all my work is presented in a secular way relevant for people on any spiritual path or none.
For me, making art is joy, an opening into timeless essence, a voyage of discovery. Spiritual practice, everyday life and making art have evolved together, intimately informing and nurturing each other in dance of mutual feedback throughout my life. Making art now supports my awareness meditation in a process which is also a spiritual practice. This has evolved over a lifetime of exploring my mind and the whole mysterious business of being an embodied consciousness.
In addition to holding a Masters Degree in Fine Art, I have received awards for my Mindful Creativity project from Arts Council England and the Marianne Oberg Foundation for Spiritual Art. I have been an invited speaker on art and spirituality on Channel 4 TV and at conferences and been awarded scholarships for studying meditation and art in the US. My work is in private and public collections in Europe and the US.