In 1993 I visited the temple complex of Borobudur in Central Java, one of the seven man made wonders of the world which was built in the 8th century AD. This truly magnificent stepped pyramid, based on the form of a lotus flower, was my first experience of votive imagery on a gigantic scale.
As I walked the terraces of the temple I was impressed by the calm of the Buddha forms, the variety of the guardian animals and the layering of the stupas surrounding them. To gaze at these objects was to partake in something of the meditative sensibility with which they were made. The consciousness of the artisans, their lives dedicated to making, flows through them. The forms at Borobudur are made of stone, but the votive object making tradition they belong to is one in which ceramics has played a major role.
Since this time I have studied and collected examples of Buddha forms, mainly Chinese in origin, that are expressions of a centuries-old philosophy that sees death as a companion to life. While forms have altered and evolved as generations of craft workers have added their interpretations, a presence remains constant throughout them. My desire was to take my turn in this ongoing story and in particular to reflect on the qualities of attentiveness and introspection associated with it. My works are not literal interpretations of devotional object making, but objects of a personal journey into imagery, symbolism and aesthetics.
Extruded, perforated and sprigged, the scale and decoration of these forms challenged my hand building methods and desire for delicacy. The vocabulary includes ancestor figures, begging bowls, prayer beads, stupas, treasure jars, skull cups, conch shells and scarab-like bees. Traditionally stupas represented the five elements and were used as reliquaries. The shell was an emblem of power and authority and specimens that spiralled to the right were considered especially sacred. The treasure jar was symbolic of longevity and prosperity. The skull cup, originally made from a human skull, was a reminder of death and impermanence. The bee is said to represent the soul and is a symbol of death and rebirth. The hands are a personal ex voto that add another layer of homage to a long established tradition, where the merit was in the making.
These pieces are Imaginary Friends, 'made by heart', invented. With connections to ancestors and guardians, friends and times that have past, these objects are meditations on mortality, recognitions that there is more to life than that which can be immediately perceived.