The New York painter Max Gimblett and Lewis Hyde have made a modern American version of the twelfth-century Chinese “Oxherding Series,” a set of drawings and poems that constitute a parable about the conduct of Buddhist practice. (A good example of the traditional drawings are those done by Shubun in the fifteenth century, now preserved at Shokoku Temple, Kyoto, Japan. An Internet search with key words ‘Shubun’ and ‘oxherding’ will usually reveal the images.)

Originally exhibited at Japan Society in New York in the fall of 2010, the Gimblett-Hyde collaboration has subsequently been shown at Kenyon College’s Graham Gund Gallery (fall of 2011) and at the Sullivan Galleries of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (fall of 2014).

Under the auspices of Kenyon’s Gund Gallery, Oxherding is available for exhibition in additional venues. An illustrated prospectus describing the exhibition in full may be downloaded here (10-page pdf).  Interested parties should contact Hyde or Gimblett directly.

The Gimblett-Hyde “Oxherding” is a series of sumi-ink paintings by Gimblett, each one matched to a set of letter press-printed poems in Chinese with English translations by Hyde. Hyde offers three different English versions of each poem: a "one word ox" which sticks slavishly to the Chinese (one word per character), a "spare sense ox," which puts each Chinese syntactic unit into a simple English sentence, and an "American ox" (or "fat American ox") which takes considerable liberties while trying to be faithful to the meaning of the series.

Copper Canyon Press will publish a print version of the Gimblett-Hyde “Oxherding” work in the fall of 2020.

Lewis Hyde's translations (1-page PDF in each case):

Max Gimblett's paintings

Searching for the Ox

I: Searching for the Ox
Seeing the Traces

II: Seeing the Traces
A Glimpse of the Ox

III: A Glimpse of the Ox
Catching the Ox

IV: Catching the Ox
Taming the Ox

V: Taming the Ox
Riding Home

VI: Riding Home
Ox Forgotten

VII: Ox Forgotten
Self and Ox Forgotten

VIII: Self and Ox Forgotten
Going Back to the Beginning

IX: Going Back to the Beginning

Entering the Village with Helping Hands

X: Entering the Village with Helping Hands

Lewis Hyde's Essays on "Oxherding":

“To Complete the Incomplete” is about the relationship between Buddhist practice and the process of translation; “Cicada at the Gate” is a meditation on the role that the senses play in the “Oxherding” poems and in Buddhism generally. These essays originally appeared in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 52-72. (21-page PDF)

Translations copyright © Lewis Hyde; images copyright © Max Gimblett.