Shitenno The Four Guardian Kings of Buddhism
As my familial roots go deep into the soil of Northern Europe, I have no doubt that many of my ancestors created and used mangle boards. So, it was with gusto that I approached the project of creating my version of one.
What spoke to me most distinctly upon first viewing the original mangle boards was their makers’ desire to aesthetically enhance these otherwise utilitarian objects. This practice of imbuing even the most mundane objects with a sense of beauty is not limited to Europe. Indeed, it may well have found its apogee in Japan, that magical country where I spent my childhood and whose influence still informs all of my work. So, it seemed natural that in making my version of a mangle board, it would show Japanese influence.
The original boards with religious iconography inspired me the most, so I chose to depict the Shitenno, the four Guardian Kings of Buddhism. Instead of carving the figures into the board, I revisited my roots as a life-long model builder and created them in three dimensions. Because of my childhood-instilled fascination with Samurai and Japanese culture, I chose to paint them in the style of Japanese block prints, and whereas a handle, in the form of a horse, is often found on European mangle boards, I continued the Buddhist theme by displaying an elephant, indeed a whole family of elephants, as a symbolic handle.
The Four Guardian Kings vary greatly across the many Asian countries and sects of Buddhism. I chose to have mine adhere to the lines of Japanese Zen Buddhism as much possible, while also imbuing them with a modicum of my own European heritage. And, as a reference to my life in the performing arts, I have painted them as Kabuki figures.
Tamonten – Guardian of the North, associated with winter, and his color is black. Because of my combination of European heritage and Japanese inspiration, I have chosen to clad Tamonten in a combination of European knight’s armor and Samurai armor.
Jikokuten – Guardian of the east, God of music and associated with spring. As his symbolic weapon is a musical instrument, I have chosen a Biwa, a Japanese type lute.
Komokuten – Guardian of the West who sees through evil, associated with autumn and the color white. He is often depicted holding a sutra and writing brush. Therefore, I have chosen to depict him as a Sohei, or Buddhist warrior monk.
Zochoten – Guardian of the South and associated with summer and the color red. In honor of my father’s maternal German heritage, he is depicted as a Landsknecht, the formidable German soldiers of the 15th century.