Breaking the Komainu

Throughout my travels in Japan I visited many Shinto shrines. Each Shinto shrine in Japan has a pair of komainu (lion-dog in english) placed either at the entrance of the shrine, or somewhere inside. Symbolically, komainu ward of evil spirits. The two figures are almost identical, except in the case of the mouth: one statue’s mouth is shut while the other’s mouth is open. After doing some research, I found that the mouths are actually pronouncing the first and last letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. The open mouth pronounces an “a” sound, while the closed mouth makes an “um” sound. Together, the komainu chant “aum," a sacred symbol representing the beginning and end of all things.


The Komainu depicted in my image is broken from the head down and diaphanous. Many of the older shrines in Japan use cages to preserve the komainu statues, as they have weathered and broken over time. Cages can be interpreted in many different ways: protection, preservation, jails or barriers to name a few. I’m going for preservation in this work, and read the overall meaning of this piece as an attempt to maintain mindfulness of the present moment. I often find myself overly concerned with what is going to  happen in the future, or re-thinking situations in the past that might have gone a different way. This work is a reminder that the present moment can quickly fade.


Creating an image with both translucent and opaque areas that overlap would prove to be a technical challenge. To achieve the numerous effects, I printed with watercolors for the translucent komainu, and with gouache for the opaque rope and cage. To give the cage an aged feel, I added some German antiquated calligraphic ink I picked up when I was in Vienna.


Here are some photographs of the finished piece. 


Progress shots of new woodcuts.

This series depicts cathedrals in various states of restoration. While I was in Europe I saw gorgeous cathedral after cathedral; mans greatest achievements in architectural design and artistry are scattered all through Central Europe. All of them shared something in common: scaffolding. I became drawn to the contrast of the flawless design of the spires and the clinging scaffolds clinging on to the temporal parts of the buildings, the parts that need repair.

I began to read this imagery as the condition I personally feel towards western spirituality. My body is temporal, imperfect, and boy do I have a beer belly! The ideal version of My body could be tall, timeless, athletic, eloquent and strong.  The scaffolding is a reminder that the ideal body presented by the church is also temporal, imperfect.

Water Based Inks & the Reactive Process of Screen Print.

The versatility of the screen print is that the medium can be so much more than a typical "key block" + color plate 01 + color plate 02 + color plate 03 = a perfect edition. When printing any portion of a print, wether it be a "key" drawing, a color flat, or anything, a dialogue occurs between the artist and the image, with the screen as moderator.  What this means is that screen printing is a re-active process and no two images in an edition need to be identical. This reactivity is due to using water based inks. 

Today screen printing in the US is done with water based inks ( when I was printing in Slovakia, the shop still used oil based inks for screen print ). There are two advantages of using water based inks when printing an image through a screen: they wash out of the screen fast, allowing you to switch out colors in the same screen; and they can dry as quick as 15 seconds. 

These two advantages are used in conjunction with one another to create a re-active process during printing. Because the ink can be washed out of the screen quickly and the inks dry quicker than the time it takes to print an edition of 12, a new color can be switched into the same screen and the whole edition ( or half ) can be printed a second time. Or a third time.. or fourth…

The dialogue between the artist and the image I am referring to is built on the  process of reacting to what happens when a color is printed onto the image through the screen. Because of the quick, reactive nature of using water based inks, a print can completely change looks in the time it takes the edition to dry; and the minute or so it takes a new color to be switched into the screen. That is the advantage to using water based inks.