Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Syncretism

I was honored to be one of the artists chosen to participate in Light Grey Art Lab's show, "Never Odd or Even."

Light Grey Art Lab always chooses challenging topics for their shows. This one is about "exploring the intricacies of duality" and "paradoxical questions" and "yin and yang." After reading the rather enigmatic artist brief, I have to admit that I momentarily regretted applying for the show. I ran the theme by a couple of artist friends, hoping for some fun brainstorming together, but they just got paralyzed looks on their faces. I was on my own.


As I thought about this theme, I remembered a temple I visited in Japan called Kiyomizu Temple. It's a gorgeous Buddhist temple with a fantastic view of the Kyoto skyline. But the thing that always stuck out to me was that there was a Shinto shrine right behind the temple. The two shared the hill, back to back, and people visited and brought offerings to both.

Buddhism is a monotheistic religion, and Shinto is an animistic religion native to Japan. They are quite different, and yet they have always co-existed peacefully in Japan. Japanese people participate in rituals from both religions; generally, weddings and christenings are celebrated in the Shinto style, while funerals are celebrated in the Buddhist style. Japanese people don't see this as contradictory or problematic, but more of a matter of cultural tradition than personal faith.

You want intricacies of duality, Light Grey Art Lab? I've got your intricacies of duality, right here baby.
Originally I had some sketches depicting the Kiyomizu Temple itself, and then that evolved to having a Buddhist priest and a Shinto miko (a priestess or shrine maiden) being a part of the scene, and then finally I ditched the temple altogether and focused just on the priest and miko themselves. After all, simplicity is a Japanese virtue.


The miko is holding a tamagushi, a branch of a sacred sakaki tree decorated with special strips of paper. It is a type of offering used during prayers.

I ran the sketch by a Japanese friend to make sure that I wasn't drawing anything in a culturally insensitive way. She said that the miko was showing a little too much wrist by traditional standards. "My grandmother would tell her to cover that up," she said.

From there I worked on establishing a serene, gentle color scheme.


I'm really happy with how this came out. It's channeling a bit of Miranda Meeks and Sam Weber. I think it would look cool printed on metallic paper, don't you think?


In America's current climate, it feels like every aspect of religion and culture is a minefield of controversy. We can't stop tearing each other apart over every little thing. While Japan is hardly a utopia of open-mindedness and acceptance, I found it therapeutic to draw while focusing on the fact that there is a small place in the world where two different things exist together peacefully.

You can see all the other artwork from the show, and purchase prints, at Light Grey Art Lab's website. Check it out, there's some phenomenally cool artwork on interesting topics.

1 comment:

  1. I love the simplicity of this, and its lovely message too. Very beautiful!

    ReplyDelete

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