Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sketches of a Gentle Art

Head of a Bodhisattva, 5th c., Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Continuing the mention of South Asia (see last week), I want to introduce you to some of the art from the Gandharan region of Pakistan dating from when it was Buddhist, before the advent of Islam.  Gandhara was an ancient kingdom in what is modern-day northwestern Pakistan and parts of eastern Afghanistan.  Yes, a hot spot today but one to which I feel an especial affinity ... even a long-seated familiarity though I only passed through it once back in 1970 when my husband and I were on our way overland to India.  I valued its high dry landscape, deep blue skies, lamb kebabs, sun-warmed apricots, and men playing stringed instruments.  And now that I am familiar with the Buddhist art that came out of that region, I value it as well--its early representations of the Buddha, bodhisattvas, as well as ordinary men, women, and children.

I won't go into the history except to say that as well as being a center of learning, this was the collection point for such goods as lapis, turquoise, and silk from three major trade routes that came together--from Persia, Central Asia, and India.  Darius added this region to his Persian Empire.  Alexander added it to his.  (He is said to have feasted on 3,000 oxen and 10,000 sheep when he crossed the nearby Indus River.)  Bactrian Greeks later took over.  Then Kushan kings who gave this region its golden era centered in what are today the two Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Taxila.

The art got started by a Kushan king who read Buddhist scripture daily.  (He even wrote a history of Buddha.)  Already acquainted with the West from trade and diplomatic connections, he hired Greco-Roman sculptors to decorate stupas and monasteries with Buddhist art as well as to produce small pieces with which to embellish niches.  These were made from stone, stucco, terracotta, lime plaster--some still with traces of pigment.

This all peaked from the first to the fifth centuries, all with those Greco-Roman elements--Buddha wearing classical Roman drapery, Buddha's mother resembling an Athenian matron, Buddha with an open, Apollo-like face, plus such Roman-style embellishments as vines, scrolls, and garland-bearing cherubs.  Then it all shut down when the Huns invaded after their grasslands dried up and the Great Wall of China stopped them from going in that direction ... and when the Muslim conquest then arrived.

Future Buddha Maitreya as a Bodhisattva, 3rd c., Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena.

Though my husband and I traveled through that region in 1970, we were not then familiar with Gandharan art.  From Afghanistan, we stopped in Peshawar only long enough to change money and get the Khyber Mail train onward.  We passed through Taxila at night, mindful only of reaching India after two months on the road.

Head of a Female Figure, 4th c., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.  (Terracotta.)

But now I stop whenever I'm near a museum that displays this gentle art.  And sometimes I make a sketch (such as these) because I find the sculptures highly appealing, highly accessible with a lovely human quality, even a sweetness.  I am no scholar of Gandharan art ... but you could call me a hobbyist.

Head of a Youthful Male, 4th- 5th c., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.   (Terracotta with traces of ocher and red pigment still visible.)

Head of Buddha, 4th to 5th c., Victoria and Albert Museum, London.   (With traces of pigment.)
Standing:  a Bodhisattva, 2nd to 3rd c., Art Institute of Chicago.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Householder into the Woods

Alpenglow on the Himalayas

I have sometimes thought of leaving this country for good (or more or less for good) whether in protest over one thing or another or (more likely) in search of a gentler environment.  I know that one cannot "go back again," but some places do stick in my mind and Darjeeling, India, is one of them.  Kashmir is another, though since being there in 1980, the politics have totally shifted and aren't good for the likes of me.  At any rate, I fantasize sometimes about what it would be like to put aside most of my worldly goods and enter something similar to the fourth stage of a Hindu's life--the householder who says goodbye and goes off to meditate or cogitate.  (The four stages are student, householder, retired, ascetic/meditator.) 

In this return to a simpler life, I have envisioned a trim, wooden house, perhaps no more than one room overlooking some part of the Himalaya.  It is a fantasy, as I say, but, while immersed in this dreamy state some years ago--twelve to be exact--I sat down and made a quick list of things that came to mind, that I would include in a goodbye letter.  For what it's worth, here it is.

Dear Friends,
  1. I shall write letters, but I shall not expect answers in return unless you are so moved.
  2. I shall think of you fondly at times of celebration, birthdays, Christmas, but I shall no longer necessarily send cards or gifts.
  3. I shall welcome all visitors and will locate accommodations for you when you visit.
  4. I shall devote my hours to reading, painting, writing, walking, dancing, playing musical instruments, drinking cups of tea with friends, arranging flowers in a vase.
  5. I shall get up with the sun, enjoy sunsets across the mountains, and go to bed when it is time to blow out the candle.
  6. I shall strive to live as healthy a life as I can.
  7. I shall hope to live where I can walk in one direction into fields and forests and in the other into town where I can buy stamps and bars of chocolate.
  8. I shall hire people to help cook my food, clean my house, tend my garden, and drive me where I need to go, though I shall pursue those activities as well.
  9. I shall return from time to time but not all that frequently.
  10. I shall write down my thoughts as insights come to me.
  11. I shall burn incense to the gods.
  12. I shall wear long skirts and comfortable clothes and not concern myself with hair style and makeup not because I don't approve of them but because I've never been able to figure them out for myself.
  13. I shall strive to equally enjoy things of the mind, body, and spirit.
  14. I shall always think of you with great affection.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Frisky Answers

Not having a clue how to illustrate this posting, I decided to simply have fun with it and show these paper butterflies.

You know, you've hauled all this stuff from the back of the store (near the pharmacy section) through the aisles to the check-out counter--the packets of toilet paper, the boxes of tissue, the tooth paste, etc.--but then there's no clerk in sight.  She's probably off price-adjusting the lipsticks.  But then she makes her way to the register and asks, "Are you all set?"  In fact, I want to say, "I'm all set; I'm just waiting for you."  But I'm polite, smile, and she rings me up.

Then sometimes, if I'm writing a check for something, a clerk will ask, "Is everything current?"  Have I changed phone numbers, noted a new address?  I'm afraid I could not help myself one day when checking out two separate batches of groceries, one for a friend.  I wrote a check for the first batch and handed it to the clerk.

"Is everything current?"
"Yes," I said.

Then she checked out the second batch for which I wrote another check.  I could barely believe my ears when she asked again, "Is everything current?"

With a broad smile and hoping we could both have a bit of fun with this, I said, "No, I just got married while you were checking me out and I changed my name."  She blinked but didn't say anything.  (It's times like that when I say to myself, "Where's Will Rogers now that we need him!"  I never knew Will Rogers; he died before I was born.  But, as I've heard tell, he had an engaging sense of humor and could make people laugh.  Or at least smile.)

Many years ago, a family member answered the door bell and found a salesman selling encyclopedias.  (Yes, back in those days.)  Already owning at least one set ... and, feeling his oats, the family member said, "I'm sorry, I can't buy anything; I'm illegible."  The salesman looked startled, confused, then skedaddled away.

Another time, when a clerk told a family friend, "Have a nice day," the friend replied, "Thank you, but I have other plans."

Finally, in an airport cafe recently, when I got carded for ordering a glass of wine between flights, I asked the waitress if she'd like to see my Medicare card.  But, even as I said it, good girl that I am, I pulled out my driver's license.

"You just made it," she teased.  We both chuckled. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Gallery of Tulips: Paintings

I am particularly fond of painting flowers--especially tulips, daffodils, cosmos, and lisianthus.  Here are three paintings of tulips from past years, all from life.  The first two are in watercolor.

"Fantasy on May 7th"

"Fantasy on May 13th"

And this one is in oils--two blooms which I placed on tin foil so that I could then paint their swirly reflection.

"Two Tulips on Tin Foil"