Tag Archives: public space

The Buddhist Boys

6 luohans on the first floor of the ROM, the Asian culture galleries.

I only went to Toronto for the day, and and only had a few hours to spend with the boys.  To make the most of the trip, I decided to get into a Buddhist frame of mind so that I might draw these fellows with more understanding.

My friends, Dan and Pam, recommended reading J. Macey’s Active Hope and I started it a few weeks ago.  Honestly,  it’s a tough read.  Over the weekend I listened to Pema Chodron’s Bodhisattva Mind.   From this small immersion, I got the message to stay in the present and be open.  Easy.

The boys are  a group of six monks carved in sandstone from the Song Dynasty (1000-1200 AD).  The religious term for them is luohan.  The ROM blurb didn’t explain much about them but from my bit of research, they were a kind of spiritual warrior for the Buddhist faith at a time when it was experiencing persecution in China.  These luohan continue a communion that started a millennium ago.  So cool.

The luohan aren’t boys, I discovered, but strong men in many senses.  Calmness is under appreciated in our culture.  As I drew them, I felt the power of it.  They were centred, unique, compassionate, yet there was muscle under the cloth.  These boys could walk, and sitting still, I imagine, wasn’t a passive activity for them either.

Luohan with a dragon at his foot, ROM.

What surprised me as I drew, was that I began to see monks through  the sculptor’s eyes.  Each man was a model to be cajoled into a pose and flattered into an attitude which would serve both personal vanity and the cause of  religious teachings.  The sculptor may have been a monk himself (sorry, have to assume “he”); he would have had to answer to an abbot of sorts, to the traditions of his craft and religion, if he could separate these.

From the dates, it’s likely that more than one sculptor would been involved in portraying this group, yet the style and details are incredibly consistent.  The stone blocks had their own grain and inclusions.  Not perfect or painted over.  So the execution was very important.  Imagine sanding the heads and faces, the lips and brows, so smoothly–polishing into the stone to bring out the flesh.  The tension between body and spirit.

I would date the Buddhist Boys at the ROM again, but will confess my crush may have shifted to the artists who created them.



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Space: room for the imagination

In the pews at Knox Presbyterian Church, Stratford ON (from

Like many, I grew up going to church.  The church we attended was built in a stripped-down cathedral-style.  These Presbyterians had a vision and the means to build.  Lots of  carved wood, of course, but also a soaring ceiling with massive white columns.  The sanctuary wasn’t overcrowded with images, as sometimes happens.  The light from the windows was beautiful, but again, not dark. The overall effect left room for the imagination.

My parents put me into art classes from a young age.  The first ones were held upstairs in the local hockey arena.  I can’t believe we all sat on the rough floor where the dances were held and beer spilled, and drew for two hours.  There was lots of space and light, but it was grotty space.

Then the local art gallery took over and the art classes moved into their space.  Forgive me for saying, but I found a new spiritual home.  Sure, I churned out the crazy activities the instructors had planned, but then I escaped.  I wandered the galleries.

The galleries held public space in an intimate way, the lighting often low.  A bench might be the sole occupant of the centre of the room.  A child could move and turn and be active.  Stand back, approach, retreat, wonder.  I had no idea what the images meant, but they evoked a broad range of feelings and showed a world that went beyond the homogenous biblical narrative in the church sanctuary.  I became an equal partner, though a very young one, in the discourse between viewer and image in the gallery space.

I’m not afraid of space, of being alone in it.  I like the excitement, the possibilities.  I still find wonder in galleries, still experience culture and images with my whole body.  Can you imagine it?

With Love


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