Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Kukai (Kōbō-Daishi)

Kukai (Kōbō-Daishi) was a 9th century Japanese monk, civil servant, scholar, poet, artist and founder of the Shingon or 'True Word' school of Buddhism. According to Japanese folklore, he is not dead, but 'meditating' beneath Mount Koya, awaiting the coming of Maitreya. Kukai's followers deliver him nourishment and a change of clothes daily, and a massive cemetery has sprung around his resting place.

This fifth piece in my King Under Mountain series was perhaps the most enjoyable to make, as it was rendered entirely in pastel. Despite the trickiness of the medium, it yields beautiful effects with enough patient experimentation.

Le Morte d'Arthur

"His life was gentle; and the elements 
So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up 
And say to all the world, This was a man!"
William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Scene V

King Arthur (Arthur Pendragon) is a legendary British leader of the late 5th and 6th centuries who led the defense against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. The fine points of Arthur's tale have been gleaned mainly from folklore and literary convention, and his sparse historical background from various posthumous sources including the Historia Brittonum and the writings of Gildas. As he and his warriors prepared to march on Rome after a series of conquests in Norway, Denmark and Gaul, Arthur heard word that his nephew Mordred, whom he left in charge of Britain in his absence, had seized his throne and married his wife Guinevere. Arthur returned hastily to Britain, defeated and killed Mordred on the river Camlan in Cornwall but sustained mortal injuries of his own. On his deathbed, he bequeathed his crown to his kinsman Constantine and was taken to the isle of Avalon to be healed. From this point the Arthurian legend curtails for he was never seen or heard from again. Local folktale sources claim that Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table currently reside in a remote mountain dwelling, sleeping until the hour of Britain's greatest need.

In nearly all of my thesis pieces, I have used a common visual motif where nature encroaches on man or the long-time sleeper. For the sixth painting in my King Under Mountain series, I capitalized on the watery element of Arthur's katabasis or symbolic journey toward death in Avalon.