Friday, December 19, 2008


Here's the bluejay painting, mate to the redbird in the "Daughter of the Sun" post. Odd that the two related myths would echo in this pair. I tried to show the gold background in this photo. A viewer, if there were one, familiar with all of my paintings, would recognize this pair as one of many "primary paintings" - where the subject is, in part, the primary colors; red, blue, and in this case, gold standing in for yellow. I think they were painted about 5 years ago.

The trees; a dogwood for the bluejay, an oak for the cardinal, are by the studio porch.


Mary Beth said...

I'm enraptured by this work!

For years, maybe 30 now, I've dreamt of speaking to ancestors while feeling safe and relaxed in a house with golden walls. Thus, I've very purposefully painted the living room, dining room, kitchen, and main hall (which all open on to each other) a pale golden shade called "corn silk." I want the ghosts to feel at home should they float out this way.

My step-father escaped from mainland China in the early 1960's. During the year that his mother came to stay with us, I learned that in Chinese mythology, gold is the heavenly color.

Have I told the story of how koi turn into dragons?

Art, myth, life, even beauty itself is all about those moments when the distinction between here and there, the momentary and the eternal, are blurred.

The cardinal sat in an oak. Is the blue jay in a dogwood?

Dan Dutton said...

Oh I'm glad you like it! The gold backgrounds & the free hand of the drawings were inspired by oriental art. "Brush makes bone" says the Chinese painting instruction, a line that I live by.

Yes, the blue jay is in a dogwood.

These two paintings (on paper) went into my flat file after they were finished and never made it into a show.

In one way these two can represent the two fabulous animals of the orient; the phoenix and the dragon. The dragon in a rather round about way; we say that the blue jay's calls "snake!" "snake!"... & that is often true!

Koi turn into dragons? I'm sure SBD (who has some of the former) would like to know how that happens...

Mary Beth said...

SBD owns koi too? How exciting to have something in common with such an elegant lady!

How Koi Turn into Dragons

In nature, koi are cold water fish who gain strength by swimming against currents.

Many years ago, in the time before history, a huge group containing thousands of koi swam up the Yellow River. The colors of their well muscled bodies flashed in the sunlight making them seem like a million living jewels. All was going well until the koi reached a waterfall. Immediately, a large of them grew discouraged and turned back, finding it much easier to simply go with the flow of the river.

Yet, a determined group of 360 koi stayed on. Straining and leaping, each koi strove to reach the top of the falls. Again and again they flung their bodies into the air only to fall back into the water. All this splashing noise drew the attention of the local demons who laughed at the efforts of the struggling koi. Adding to their misery, the demons sadistically increased the height of the falls. Still the koi refused give up!

The koi, undeterred, continued there efforts for one hundred years. At last, with one heroic leap, a single koi reached the top of the falls. The God’s smiled down in approval and transformed the exhausted koi into a shining golden dragon. He joyfully spends his days chasing pearls of wisdom across the skies of the vast and eternal heavens. Whenever another koi finds the strength and courage to leap up the falls, he or she too becomes a heavenly dragon.

The falls have become know as the Dragon’s Gate and, because of their endurance and perseverance, koi have become symbolic of overcoming adversity and fulfilling one’s destiny.

Swimming koi became symbolic of worldly aspiration and advancement and carved stone seals bearing pictures of koi and dragons were given to young Chinese men who past the requisite tests to become government officials. I have such a seal in a decaying paper box. The box is skillfully decorated with flowers (lotus? Mums?) and lined with fraying red silk. The seal, carved from a golden brown stone which shows dark chocolate venations, is cylindrical in shape. The lower body of the seal is craved with a poem and a scene depicting the Yellow River. The top is crowned with a delicate pierced work lattice of koi kissing a single pearl. The bottom of the chop retains traces of black ink. It’s age is unknown but I’m guessing it pre-dates WWII .

The Chinese delight in homophones and carving little good luck objects. My seal may have belonged to a tradesman. In Chinese, "Carp" is similar sounding to the word "business". It is also homophonic with "profit" or "advantage." "Fish" is homophonic to "surplus" or "wealth". Koi are therefore considered symbolic of good fortune in business or academic life. It would seem only right that a professional academic should now own it, yes?

In Japanese, Koi no takinobori (Koi's waterfall climbing) means, to succeed vigorously in life. Conversely, manaita no ue no koi (A carp on the cutting board) refers to the situation that is doomed.

Tonight, I’ll skip the sushi please. We’ve just had a minor earth quake as I finished this piece. Time to stop tempting the fates!

Dan Dutton said...

At one of the Zen temples that I visited with Chisato in Kyoto there was a Dragon Gate. It was huge and ancient, with iron bound wooden doors maybe 20 ft tall- BUT it was standing by itself in the temple forest, unattached to any walls. The doors were open just enough to pass through. I went through and started wondering why on earth they made a gate that went to nowhere in particular, and was about to ask Chisato, when I had my Zen moment & realized the gate also opened on the path to everywhere.

The sides and top of the gate were two towers, attached by an enclosed walkway that formed a room above the gate. In the ancient darkened ceiling there was a rondel painting of a dragon, peering down through the hole and the rolling clouds behind. By itself it would have been a wonder worth traveling to Kyoto to see, but there were many more.

I liked the Zen temples so much that the thought passed through my head that I COULD stay, become a monk and spend the rest of my tending the moss (and koi!) in those exquisite gardens.
But, as the dragon gate pointed out, the path goes in both directions.