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Guardian king of the west (Gwangmok cheonwang)

Guardian king of the west (Gwangmok cheonwang)

Guardian king of the west (Gwangmok cheonwang), 2002-2003, by Jae-u (Korean, born 1966). Ink and mineral colors on cotton. Gift of Jae-u, 2004.10.

The Buddhist nun Jae-u began this painting in Korea in 2002, hoping to present it to the Asian Art Museum after its move to the new Civic Center location in 2003. She finished the work during her residency at the Museum in autumn of 2003, painting the deity's eyes last, as is customary. A symbolic "eye-opening" ceremony was held on December 20, 2003.

In Korean Buddhist temples, representations of the Guardian King of the West (Gwangmok cheonwang) and of the Guardian Kings of the other three directions are often placed at the Gate of the Heavenly Kings (Cheonwang-mun) as it is believed they will protect the temple, the priests, the lay worshipers, and the religion itself. Jae-u followed the iconographic rules for such paintings, representing this deity as a warrior wearing armor and holding his traditional attributes, a dragon and a jewel. She made her own choice of both the colors of the armor and the details of the patterns and motifs throughout the painting.

The preparation of the painting surface alone took some three months. Jae-u first glued together six layers of Korean mulberry paper; the top layer contained her drawing of the image. She added each layer of paper only after making sure the glue on those beneath was completely dry. Finally, she glued a layer of cloth over the paper and traced on it an outline of the drawing, which showed through faintly from the top layer of paper.

In all her works, Jae-u uses mineral pigments, Korean mulberry papers, and glue that she makes herself. She strongly believes that all Buddhist paintings ought to be done by monk- or nun-artists.