Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Three paintings and a landscape of abundance

My Fulbright in Sri Lanka has focused on cultural landscape ecology. With a strong interest in the amazing irrigation tanks of this place, some 30,000 human-built lakes that have been in use since ancient times, my research has taken me to spots of incredible beauty. These are not the kind of take-your-breath-away scenic marvels like the Canadian Rockies. In fact they are peaceful, gentle spots of intense intimacy. They are also emblematic of the abundance of this country. As the chief source of water for dozens of strains of rice that are native to Sri Lanka, the tanks and tank landscapes are synonymous with the culture of plenty that characterizes this generous land. 

This brings me to one of my favorite topics, iconography the study of images and symbols. Religious imagery abounds in Sri Lanka. You can't take a bus ride without running into a portrait of Lakshmi, the goddess of plenty. At almost every tank I've visited there is a shrine to Ganesha, the elephant god. And on less frequent occasions, especially in the North, I've had the delight of encountering Hanuman, the god of many positive attributes, not least of which is his monkey-like face. 

All of these gods embody or are associated with some aspect of plenty. In a recent trip to Jaffna, in Sri Lanka's far north I came across another religious image in front of a Hindu kovil that I've pondered upon. I can see that it depicts a conch shell. But can we interpret it else wise? Could this "vessel with wings" actually represent a kind of vision of plenty, with bounty overflowing its rim? Kind of a "cup runneth over" reminiscent of the stupendous spillways of irrigation tanks I saw last May after the rains?

Going only on instinct I decided to depict this image using my new oil paints and board. As I worked on and squinted at my emerging triptych it came, in my mind at least, to represent the gods I mentioned above. My paintings are abstract to the max but I hope you'll enjoy them. 

Here is Lakshmi. Instead of the lotus on which she's traditionally situated, I have her floating atop the furrow patterns you see in a typical rice field. 

Sorry I don't have a photo of her. As I look through my images there are so many of the other deities. 

Like Lakshmi, Ganesh is ubiquitous all over Sri Lanka, including the Sinhala Buddhist south. I was drawn to this runic Ganesh I saw next to a tank in the Dry Zone, painted on a rock. There are so many more. 

My Ganesh happens to have the suggestion of a bodhi leaf for a trunk. 

Finally, Hanuman. It seems the farther north you travel the more outrageous his depictions. This one was sitting in a cage outside of a kovil on an isolated road between a Point Pedro and Vallipuram, a long walk we undertook without getting lost. Maybe this Hanuman, who's covered with rolled betel leaves, was watching out for us. 

No comments:

Post a Comment