"Temple Stone Steps" is a commission painting of a Buddhist temple, which serves as the entry to the Seokguram Grotto, one of the National Treasures of South Korea. It is part of the Bulguksa temple complex, located in Gyeongju in the Gyeongsangbuk province in the southeast of the country. (Both Seokguram and the Bulguksa Temple are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.) The huge Buddha statue and the grotto were completed in the 8th century, and is considered one of the best Buddhist sculptures in the world and one of the most popular cultural destinations in South Korea.
Eleven years ago, my husband, my daughter, and I visited my ailing mother. She hasn't met my toddler daughter before, so you can imagine her joy when she saw her granddaughter. Since it was my husband's first visit to South Korea, we did some sightseeing in addition to several dinners with my extended family. Despite our hectic schedule, we made a few tourist stops in Seoul, then headed south for the famed temple complex.
Are you surprised to learn how old the grotto is? Korea is an old country, with many well-preserved historic monuments and buildings, most of which are Buddhist. I would have never painted "Temple Stone Steps." Fortunately, an old Canadian friend of mine asked me if I could do a Korean landscape painting for her teenage grandson who was in love with all things Korean Buddhist. How about that! I was honored and thrilled to oblige.
I found a couple of pictures, which, pasted together, served as the reference for the painting. It was a winter morning with soft light when I took the pictures. It has been a while, so I don't even remember climbing up the worn stone steps. But I was mesmerized by them while painting. You look up the steps. There is the colorful, old temple with a sagging roof, which is framed by bare winter trees.
Bitter sweet memories--of my bed-ridden mother, my daughter getting sick during the trip, short visits with my dear relatives, revisiting my favorite Buddhist temples, etc.--flooded back. How I wish I could go back in time to see my mother once more.