Tuesday, October 18, 2005

like a mountain

While at Kirim-sa, a temple in the Kyungju alentours this weekend, I passed by a shop and was immediately entranced by a whole set of Dalma-do done by a single artist. All of the pictures portrayed Dalma-daesa (a.k.a. Bodhidharma) wearing that squeezing-out-a-turd expression, which immediately got my vote. After flipping through a pile of pictures, I decided on the one you see below, which seemed to have both the best calligraphy and the best imagery:

squeeeeeeze it, baby

I scanned the above image in three pieces, then put the pieces together like a puzzle. The scan mode was grayscale, originally 300dpi; the pieces were saved as compressed TIFF files. The final product before you is a Photoshop-enhanced JPEG image: because the image was scanned in grayscale, every single flaw and wrinkle in the original hwaseon-ji (brush art paper) was in evidence. I wanted the image in color, but it would have been impossible to mask all the wrinkles, and those were damn distracting. Hence grayscale, and judicious use of the "adjust brightness" function. Unfortunately, you lose something by not being able to see the redness of the dojang (stamps or chops) used by the artist, one of which is actually a miniature Dalma-daesa image.

Dalma-daesa, along with being comically stern, exhibits some interesting features in this piece. Note that his outline is that of a mountain. The artist accomplished this by giving Dalma a pointy head. Note, too, that this image features one eye that's bigger than the other-- a view I don't see too often in the many Dalma-do I've peered at. I'm also fascinated by the artist's handling of the bul (Buddha) and shim (mind/heart) characters. Is he implying something by making the Buddha character so huge?

Many artists portray Dalma as wrapping himself in his robe, a few strokes of the brush implying a hand or fist beneath the bunched-up cloth, holding the robe closed against the elements. This artist takes that feature and makes it quite prominent by using a very thick brush and a clever, serpentine stroke. It looks almost as if Dalma is doing his impression of Rodin's Le Penseur.

"Hmmm... shall I fart now, or wait until Kevin moves closer?"

Bodhidharma, an Indian monk, is the putative father of kung fu. He set up shop at the Shaolin (Kor. Sorim) Temple and trained his adepts in the aggressive calisthenics that evolved into a whole panoply of martial systems (if we believe the stories, anyway). He's also, perhaps more importantly, considered the First Patriarch of Zen Buddhism. This artist portrays the main features associated with Dalma-daesa: the large, bushy eyebrows, the huge, staring eyes, the ring in the ear that might look better hanging off an ox's nose.

The artist was also quite clever in his use of grey ink, and I've been trying to figure out whether he laid down the grey layer first, or the black layer. It's possible he alternated, but I'm not sure. The picture, itself something of a kong-an, invites contemplation, so I'll be staring at it for some time.


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