My name is Anthony Stevens, I am 40 years old and I work as an artist and as a support worker. I have practised Nichiren Buddhism for 12 years, which influences most of what I do. The art form that I work with is hand embroidery. This is mainly because it is a format that has been in my life since childhood.
My mother was a very talented amateur dress maker and would give me little projects to do which involved embroidering hand drawn pictures with a darning needle and wool. I picked this back up again in my early thirties when going through bit of a crisis. Since then, hand embroidery has become quite a meditative process for me, one where the different layers of meaning of the image that I am working come through and I can get a bit of insight into life. The support work keeps me rooted. Working with people in this manner is good for bringing home the fact that life is not all about me.
What is your relationship with your own mind?
My relationship with my mind is such that I realise that the brief description that I gave about myself previously is just a tiny fraction of what my mind is. So, I guess that it is a relationship of respect and awe. To use an analogy that was given to me, the mind is like the ocean. The ego, an aspect of the mind, is like a wave on the surface that rises up and eventually hits the shore and merges back with the larger body of water. The deeper you go, the more currents and unusual creatures you encounter until you go so deep that everything is just still.
How does your work relate to the theme the mind?
Well, the themes of my work are centred around personal response to either something in the environment or dreams or images that come up during my Buddhist practise. So in that sense, they relate to the mind because that is where they come from, my mind. I would think it is the same for everything, it starts out as a thought or an idea and is then brought into being by action. On a deeper level, because my work process is quite slow, there is an element of self analysis that happens during the making of each piece.
What Buddhist practice do you take part in?
It’s primarily a chanting based practise. I chant: NAM MYOHO RENGE KYO and two extracts from the Lotus sutra. This is called Gongyo. I usually do this for 45-60mins in the morning and 10-15mins in the evening. Although, if time permits, I do a sit afterwards for 20mins, but that is only about 3 times a week where as the chanting practise is x 2 daily.
What has creativity / art taught you about your own mind?
Art and creativity are perhaps a more natural language for the mind to express itself where words might fail or be insufficient. I think creativity and image making can bypass language barriers, it’s a universal language in a way. As for my own mind, it has taught me that I should always aim to slow down and look deeply at what is in front of me. When time is given to something, it will always pay back by revealing a little more of itself and in turn reveal a little more about the observer. I also feel that I am learning that it is a human need to be able to give lived experiences a narrative but at the same time not be defined by said narrative.
Please choose one piece and describe it…
The ‘Said the Bird’, embroidery relates to an image that shows up in my work extremely regularly, the image of a bird, which I feel represents and embodies my higher self (for want of a better phrase)This image came about from three incidents that happened within a few days of each other.
The first incident was a dream I had of a small bird struggling to free itself from water that was gushing from a hose pipe, it did eventually get free and was able to fly away. The following day, one of my cats brought in what appeared to be a dying bird. At first, I put the bird outside in a flower pot in the garden (it was winter time) to die, but I felt bad about this and brought the bird inside and popped it in a cat carrier with some seeds and water, before placing it next to the shrine in my work room.
The next morning, the cat carrier was empty, as the now revived bird had squeezed out from the bars and was flying around the room. I was able to open the window and let it fly free.
Find Anthony here: facebook.com/wabisabistar