Happy Makes Me Happy

Two Maui artists paint His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama for a new traveling exhibit.

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Ashley Stepanek | Art by Guy Buffet and Dario Campanile

Dalai LamaI have fallen in love. He is short, bald, nearly 50 years my senior, and hasn’t been home since he ran away as a teenager. He has the most irrepressible giggle—which is surprising only because he is also one of the world’s foremost spiritual leaders.

I’m speaking, of course, about His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, who visited Maui this spring. As I sat in the audience at the War Memorial Complex, I became enamored of this modest and unassuming Tibetan man wrapped in saffron and red robes, sitting comfortably in lotus position, dwarfed in a huge, ornately carved wooden chair. There were 10,000 in the audience, but it felt as though he and I were having a conversation: His Holiness explaining secular ethics and Buddhism, and I answering back with subtle nods of understanding.

The Dalai Lama’s manner was gentle, easygoing, even amused at times through his public discourse. Finding something funny, he would stop mid-explanation and then laugh and laugh, letting the guttural outpour rumble until a deep-alto “Sooo” signaled that he was done. Every word he said made sense, but when he laughed something special happened: It’s like his heart exploded into a thousand beams of light that radiated to everyone who would receive them.

He had me at “Sooo.” And I’m not alone. Three years ago, more than 80 artists—some established, some emerging, some American, some from other countries—eagerly agreed to participate in a project in his honor that is only now coming to fruition. The transcendent sense of joy, soulfulness, and yearning for peace that His Holiness radiates are themes for The Missing Peace: Artists Consider the Dalai Lama, a traveling exhibit currently on view in New York City. A collaboration of the Committee of 100 for Tibet and the Dalai Lama Foundation, the exhibit has four goals, detailed in this mission statement: “To shift the world’s attention towards peace; to provide participating artists with an inspiring concept, and give them total   creative freedom to interpret it; to create a significant exhibition for an international audience; to find ways in which the project can have extended meaning in people’s everyday lives before, during and after the exhibition, in each country and community, and for people of all ages.”

Work by two Lahaina Galleries artists, Guy Buffet and Dario Campanile, are in the exhibit.

“About three years ago,” Buffet explains, “I was contacted by Darlene Markovich about joining the Committee of 100 for Tibet. [She] thought that I might like to be a part of the project and possibly recommend other artists.”

Buffet asked fellow artist Dario Campanile. Together they mulled over the process of creation and then visited Markovich, the project’s cofounder, at her Wailea home, to make a special request. Campanile tells me, “Guy asked Darlene if she could arrange a private audience with the Dalai Lama in India.” The two artists were convinced they could do a better job after meeting His Holiness in person, at his home. “She was a little surprised,” says Campanile, but their request was granted.

The trip became an adventure of global proportions. Buffet flew from his native Paris to New Delhi to meet with Campanile, a Maui resident originally from Rome; then the two artists hired an Indian driver for the long journey across the northern part of the country to Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile. “It was only when we started climbing the mountains that we started to breathe both mentally and physically,” says Buffet. “The sight of the Himalayas and the blue sky above made us feel that we were going in the right direction.”

Campanile adds, “Dharamsala was amazing because it was like a small Tibet outside of Tibet . . . a micro Tibet in India. I realized right away why the Dalai Lama needs help financially—he has to feed and lodge and give education to all these children and refugees every day. He has to accommodate everybody.”

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The Dalai Lama’s “heart opening” nature, and its resounding contagiousness, is expressed in Buffet’s His Holiness and the Bee, a painting that Buffet describes as a “‘cinematic’ style of work, like a story board depicting His Holiness in a short story, full of life and action with a touch of humor.”

In the first frame of the painting His Holiness sits in meditation. Everything is peaceful and in its place: his signature glasses rest on the bridge of his nose, his eyes are calmly closed, his hands are joined in prayer. Then things become . . . well, touch-and-go: the Dalai Lama tries to maintain his concentration while a little honeybee buzzes noisily in his left ear. The next frame shows him giving the bee notice with one open eye and a sternly raised eyebrow.

Then a frenzy of motion breaks loose!

Arms and robes swing everywhere as the Dalai Lama tries to catch the bee without getting stung. It flies near his head and then zooms to his right . . . then to his left, zipping down, bolting to his feet . . . and then back around. Successive frames show the bee and His Holiness going berserk, one a blur of color and flesh, the other burning a bright yellow flight pattern around the struggling spiritual leader.

The first three rows of frames are realistic, showing the distraction that can arise when a person is meditating. It’s the last few frames that push this painting beyond the realm of possibility to something bigger and more meaningful. After the Dalai Lama is able to catch the bee, he resumes prayer position, then moves right and left as though he’s shaking a martini, presumably because the bee is making him readjust. His hands open in the last frame to reveal a white lotus, an icon of purity in Buddhist tradition. I can imagine this frame leaving the viewer with the same feelings I had when I heard His Holiness speak: happiness, hope and peace, open to outcomes beyond our highest expectations.

Campanile’s contribution to the exhibit, Peace Found, is a more literal representation of that meeting with the Dalai Lama. In his remarkably photo-realistic style, Campanile depicts His Holiness holding a newspaper with the headline “Missing Peace Found,” and beneath it, a news photo of His Holiness smiling. Campanile adds a metaphorical reference to China’s ongoing occupation of Tibet with the image of a chained white dove. In the painting, the dove, a symbol of peace, is shown bursting through the newspaper, its graceful wings fully spread, the chain broken by its flight.

The newspaper in the painting was an actual mockup Campanile had created and brought with him to Dharamsala; for the artist, it symbolized the Dalai Lama as “a beacon of compassion and love and peace on the planet.”

“I was able to take a picture of the Dalai Lama holding the newspaper, and I was blown away by the childlike energy he had,” Campanile remembers. “He laughed a lot.” Campanile also shot video footage, which loops next to his painting in the exhibit.

A goal not specified in The Missing Peace mission statement, but profoundly important, is that proceeds from the sale of artwork in the show will benefit the Tibetan cause. “The original [Peace Found] has been sold for $60,000, to be received after the five-year show. All the proceeds entirely will go to the Dalai Lama,” says Campanile. “That makes me very happy.”

During their meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, Buffet and Campanile showed him their portfolios. “He started to look at Dario’s book slowly and attentively,” says Buffet, “making a few comments in Tibetan that I am sure were appreciative. . . . He then looked at my book, burst into laughter, and said, ‘Happy makes me happy! People need happiness and hope more than anything else!’

“I was touched and moved . . . and we both exchanged broad smiles.

The Missing Peace exhibit is on display until early September in New York City at the Rubin Museum of Art, in collaboration with the School of Visual Arts. The exhibit will travel to other major cities around the world through 2011. Log on to www.dlportrait.org for more.

Lahaina Galleries has giclee reproductions of His Holiness and the Bee and Peace Found at their Front Street and Wailea locations.

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