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Art with a cup of tea.

Calligrapher Bryan Mulvihill creates interactive spaces over tea ceremonies

For Bryan Mulvihill, art and tea are two factors that bind people in culA[degrees]tural dialogue. His work is reflexA[degrees]tie of the need to refrain from quickly putting a label, as is human tendency, or the egoisticompulA[degrees] sion to figure it all out. As a calligA[degrees]rapher, contemporary artist and tea historian the 63 year old is still learning, evolving every day.

Bryan has been living in Delhi for 40 years, frequently visiting hometown Vancouver. His research in Himalayan and Buddhist art took him to India first as a fine arts student. "Which was good because living in Delhi later allowed me to interact with many contemporary artistes of the time like MF Hussain," he noted.

Also known as Trolley Bus, Bryan's interest in tea grew out of the realisation that with most social interactions, tea featured as a common beverage. "In every traA[degrees]dition there are tea rituals, in some countries women have tea sets passed on from their grandmothA[degrees]ers. India is one of the largest proA[degrees]ducers of tea but funnily enough does not have a tea tradition apart from the chai wallah which is again from the British days."

"I have been studying teacereA[degrees] monies with lots of tea masters in Japan, China and Korea for close to 20 years. But I have been interesA[degrees]ted since the 60s." Bryan made it a point to visit tea houses wherever he travelled. "I have over 10,000 photographs of people drinking tea, in all kinds of settings," he said. Bryan's passion manifested as the World Tea Party, an art salon he formed together with MontrealA[degrees] based artists Daniel Dion and Su Schnee at the National Gallery of Canada in 1993. The project origiA[degrees]nated in the Mail Art movement in the late 60s where participating artists would post works of art to each other. Under a body of work called Image Bank, Bryan created his imaginary tea room, mailing collected pictures and objects related to tea under the identity Trolley Bus. "In Canada, there are trolley buses that go around the city all day so I chose the memory of that as a name."

Since its conception, the World Tea Party has travelled the world with Bryan serving free tea to people at venues as diverse as the Venice Biennale, Eiffel Tower, the Winter Olympics at Vancouver in 2010 and Buddhist temples; simA[degrees] ply because tea needs no other reason.

"Tea is a simple concept really, just hot water and tea leaves. But it always breaks the ice. I would like to know more about the tea ritual in Oman. The Middle East has a very sophisticated tea culture," Bryan observed adding that he also interacted with some modern calligraphy artistes in the city.

Passing through Oman at the invitation of Bait Muzna Gallery before heading to London and then China, Bryan hopes to be back in the sultanate for a calligraA[degrees] phy exhibition and hopefully, a tea party in the near future.

He shows some of his recent experiments with Arabic alphaA[degrees] bets and other works using Chinese letters. Like one of his works using Chung, the chinese alphabet which means 'in the midA[degrees] dle' or 'centre'. He keeps the meaning intact but takes the liberA[degrees] ty to play with the basic form. "In the West, people go to art galleries like how people go to temples in the East because it centres them. With my art, I try to free their minds and remain open to awareA[degrees] ness. In the times that we live in, people are constantly drawn to so many things that there is no calm mindful focus."

The seeker in him has also lead to his working with neuroscienA[degrees] tists at the Mind and Life Institute, founded by the Dalai Lama, on researching the influA[degrees] ence of art on the mind. "It is now proven that meditation immediA[degrees] ately lowers blood pressure. Art should incorporate the Zen phiA[degrees] losophy which makes the mind still but engaged."

He does not believe art and sciA[degrees] ence are two separate entities. "We have been compartmentalisA[degrees] ing things since the medieval times. Even modern art is a sepaA[degrees] ration of the human mind. Early calligraphic works look like modA[degrees] ern art. Islamic art has some amazA[degrees] ing works reminiscent of paintings by American artist Jackson Pollock," he said. "Art is a culture, a discussion. It is always growing. It has to use old roots to make new leaves to stay alive."


In the West people go to art galleries like how people go to temples in the East because it centres them. With my art, I try to free their minds and remain open to awareness. In the times that we live in, people are constantly drawn to so many things that there is no calm mindful focus Bryan Mulvihill

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Publication:The Week (Muscat, Oman)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Dec 26, 2013
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