“When your mind is narrow, small things easily agitate you. Make your mind an ocean.” —Lama Thubten Yeshe

Born Shanghai, 1979

Looking at the sea makes Shi Zhiying feel calm and peaceful. The unbroken horizon and vast sweeps of water and sky suggest infinite space. She seeks a similar feeling of calm, and a similar sense of expansion, in meditation—and in painting oceanscapes, which she calls sea sutras. Buddhist teachings liken the mind to a sea that arises from, and ultimately merges with, the ocean of universal Mind. After painting High Seas (2008), Shi Zhiying read Italo Calvino’s novel Mr Palomar, which opens with the title character on the beach, trying to isolate “just one individual wave”. She was startled by the resemblance of that story to one she’d had in mind while completing the work: “Someone asks the Buddha how to preserve a drop of water. He replies: Keep it in the sea.” Shi Zhiying’s decision to paint the Pacific in shades of grey was also inspired by the Buddhist idea that egotism and attention-seeking block our view of reality. And “I heard that newborn babies are very sensitive to black and white but not other colours”, she says. “What the baby perceives is the truest thing.”

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