Koran 5" x 3" illuminated with paint and gold leaf.
The 5th and final poster that I painted for the Tropen Museum was for a Koran from Iran dated 1799. Some Korans were designed for making predictions or Istikhara. This Koran was especially designed for this purpose and its pages are marked with specific letters—KH (khair), meaning good; SH (shar), meaning bad. After asking a question, the book is opened to a random page by a professional reader. The corresponding text on that page gives spiritual support and more knowledge about the situation at that time and a view into future. People use istikhara most frequently in regards to matters of health, marriage, business, employment and journeys.
The Tropen Museum told me that the utmost care and sensitivity would be given to this project. The concept and sketch process was intense. I think we went through about 50 sketches. The Tropen Museum had an Islamic Art expert to assist with the approval process.
The 4th poster that I painted for the Tropen Museum was for a Jainism alter piece. Jainism is an ancient religion of India. The goal for a Jain member is to leave earth and to reach Dharma/Nirvana. To achieve this they need to stop their soul from rebirthing. The Jain strongly believe that they are punished with a rebirth when their soul is open to negative emotions such as jealousy and greed. To block every possible negative emotion they live an extremely peaceful life where meditation plays an important role. This modern golden statue of emptiness (made in 2004) is used by Jain people in their meditation to purify their soul. It helps them to become nothing, disconnect from the existing world and free their soul from the material world.
color studies (about 1"x2")
I usually paint a few quick color studies to hash out some of the details. The client wanted a specific blue in the background so I sent these.
The 3rd poster that I painted for the Tropen Museum was for a golden statue from Eastern Java, 14th Century. It depicts an ancient poem about a demon king and a Buddha-prince through a journey to enlightenment. The handsome prince Sutasoma is shown being carried on the back of the demon King Kalmasapada towards his death. The demon kings' mother was a lion and because of this he had an unstoppable hunger for human meat. (I just realized this is another cannibal story) He also imprisoned one thousand princes who had been his sons. During their journey, the Prince convinced or reformed the demon king through his wisdom to become peaceful. The tale is full of ancestral kingdoms, palaces and princesses.
When I visited the museum I had my own private tour with a very knowledgeable guide who had the keys to all the cases and doors. I asked where this statue was located during my tour. My guide opened a small glass case and took out the small (about 3 inch tall) golden statue. Unbelievable! I had no idea that it was so small.
I usually avoid putting all aspects of the story into one illustration. However, I really thought a tapestry like image might work.
This job just kept getting better and better. The second item that I had to illustrate for the Tropen Museum was the bis poles (circa 1950) of the Asmat Tribe from Papua New Guinea. The Asmat people were originally cannibals. Yes, headhunters! They celebrated the dead by carving a bis pole out of a Mangrove tree. These giant wooden sculptures of their ancestors had great meaning and were thought to have supernatural powers. After a final feast, the Asmat abandoned the bis poles in the sago palm groves from which they obtained their primary food. As the poles decayed, their fertile supernatural power returned to the earth and fertilized the sago trees.
I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Tropen Museum in Amsterdam while they had a special exhibit of a worldwide collection of the bis poles. It was breathtaking. Some of the poles seemed to reach nearly 30 feet. Each bis pole is carved from a single piece of wood. During carving, all but one root is removed and the tree inverted, so that the remaining root forms the spirit-like projection at the top.
I was even given access to the vaults in the basement of the museum. I felt like Indiana Jones. The cavernous vaults were filled with ancient artifacts from lost tropical worlds. They had an amazing collection of the skulls from the Asmat tribe. Their trophy skulls were decorated with jewels and encased in a sort of wooden carved head. The museum no longer has these on exhibit because they said it was not respectful to the dead.
OK, enough history. Here are the sketches and finals.
sketches 1,2,3 and 4
final oil painting 18"x24"
Tropen Museum at night with my banner on the front
The first artifact was this fish coffin from Ghana, year 2000
What is your dream job? We all get asked that question at one point in our lives, usually during college. Well, I could not have thought this one up in my wildest dreams. I was contacted by Saatchi & Saatchi (Amsterdam) to work on a series of posters for the Tropen Museum in Amsterdam. They had 5 new artifacts and wanted to illustrate the story behind each of them. I really enjoy researching for my projects, especially about natural history and this job seemed too good to be true.
The people from Southern Ghana believe that when their loved ones die, they move on into another life—and they make sure they do so in style. They honor their dead with brightly colored wooden coffins that celebrate the way they lived. The coffins are designed to represent an aspect of the dead person's life—such as a car if they were a driver, a fish if their livelihood was the sea—or a hammer for a carpenter. I wish we had the same tradition.
final oil painting 18" x 24"
The final poster. As discussed the colors were muted so the photo of the artifact placed on top would stand out.