Abstract prints by Will Towles embody a Buddhist concept. 

Controlled Objectlessness

In Zen Buddhism, there are two means of instruction to reach sudden enlightenment. One is zazen or focused meditation where the aim is to reach objectless thought. The other method is a koan or a paradoxical riddle that attempts to break through patterns of rational thought to reach the clarity of intuitive consciousness (e.g. "What's the sound of one hand clapping?")

Will Towles' collection of prints on display at the WRIC-Channel 8 Arboretum Gallery, seems to embody both these concepts in their controlled objectlessness, subtle tonality, and flickering spontaneity. Curated by Main Art Gallery, the approximately 20 prints hang in a corridor at TV-8's office and studio off Midlothian Turnpike. Although this may seem a rather unorthodox setting, the small, playful prints glide poetically down the hall, adding rhythm to the otherwise mundane office setting.

Towels' works are abstract calligraphic strokes and dashes of paint, both directly applied and printed on various paper surfaces. Clearly influenced by Asian calligraphy and painting, his works offer flitting strokes of ink, layers of organic matter such as petals, leaves and seeds, sensitive smears, and conscious imprints on both cotton and rice paper.

Almost all the works are untitled, even emptied, as Towles advises in his "Instructions," so that one should "not be challenged to figure them out." Despite this disclaimer, one cannot help but focus on the mesmerizing strokes and muted tones of color and iridescent inks, and attempt to cerebrally make sense of them. Like koans, however, Towels' works challenge logical and linear approaches. Many works have no center — they appear compositional-less—with lines cut off, writing references flitting and fading, and forms that recede, absorbed into the paper.

In one particularly bold print (No.3), a square paper contains gestural strokes of black lines and shapes. One form resembles a crucifix or human figure, but then turns into a meaningless mark, teasing the viewer with recognition then carefully disappearing into abstraction.

Like a Zen riddle, Towles' prints defy traditional approaches to thinking and looking. They quietly merge from one realm to another, claiming a calming wholeness that, indeed, at that particular moment and time, seems transcendental.


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