- Chuan Kung Shakya -

What's in a Name?

My bizarre choices of names with which to sign my paintings and the changing of these signatures, may seem strange to others. Perhaps they give others the impression that I am confused. Thus I would like to shed some light on these choices of mine. By choosing and using names other than what I usually call myself , I am making a creative statement about identity. I have thus always brought the creative process even so far as the signature on the paintings. By using a name that I do not ordinarily go by, and by changing this signature, I am forever asking the viewer the questions, "Who am I? and "Who has created this work?", of course going far beyond the obvious answers of a woman with such and such a name. And this of course leads one to more questions of a similar vein. "Who are you observing this painting?" and "What does that mean?" and "From whence did you come?"

These questions are the same that we ask when we study Zen-- the big existential questions. This is what we seek in Zen. So, it is perfect for a Zen artist to ask these questions with her art, to call herself by so many names in order to bring attention to the lack of true identity in a name. The Zen artist thus shows how, through the process of labeling people with names, we highlight so many different aspects of a person, but we never get at the whole person, capturing even the heart of that person. Ultimately it remains just that, a label .

In keeping with my strong always-Zen approach to painting, I did not wish to sign my paintings with the name Gwen Goertzel. "Gwumbldy" was chosen. It had no particular meaning, and was difficult and silly. What I really wanted to represent was that whoever I was, I was not the originator of these paintings. Thus I could not just sign them Gwen Goertzel and take credit for them. She, the persona represented by that name, did not come up with their ideas. Besides, Goertzel was just a name borrowed from my husband, representing his lineage. A married woman's name shows her historical and biological place in society. She is the vehicle through which lineage is carried by being the bearer of the children who carry on the father's name. What does this have to do with the creation of images? "Gwumbldy" was thus more meaningful as a representation of who created the paintings.

But while I used this name I was always searching for something even more representative of the work. "Gwumbldy" had been a randomly chosen name, essentially. I wanted something to come to me, seemingly out of nowhere, as does the art. Ten years after the birth of "Gwumbldy", it did, "Aranta" was born, just as the paintings are born, from the same source.

Meanwhile, I have always had this strong conviction about the way of art and creation. Simply put, in the creation of art, you just go inside of it, do it, become it. And somehow you are not doing it through any effort or thought. It is utterly natural. This was my method, in keeping with the signature. Years later, I learned about Zen, and I practiced Zen. It was perfect. I knew immediately that my painting method was one with Zen. This was Zen painting that I understood and had always carried out, just so.

When I became ordained as a Zen priest, I was given a new dharma name: "Chuan Kung Shakya." "Kung" means empty, and describes the buddha-nature. This name perfectly describes Zen painting and its source. "Aranta", too, is an embodiment of this. My dharma, with or without formal Zen, is to paint in this way that I have always done, this way I consider Zen painting. Thus my dharma name is perfectly suited for use as my signature on my artwork.

Chuan Kung Shakya