Eyes of the Tiger

2013-06-19painting

I’ve been visiting this painting for years and after over a decade of viewing, I am still puzzled.

The work is mammoth in proportions. That corner of a frame shown in the upper right is probably the width of my body. I believe the piece is Chinese in origin, the artist, unknown to me. It hangs as a tremendous presence in the courtyard of a sprawling seaside resort.

I first saw it 16 years ago while waiting for the Volkswagen bus I was living in to be repaired. The auto shop was a relatively short walk away from the hotel and I needed respite from beach park living. I was weary of the county park’s rudimentary public bathrooms that only ran cold water. Tired of the surly characters that gathered for cheap beers at the picnic tables by 10am. I know I wasn’t technically a guest of the hotel, but it seemed pretty harmless to sit among their artwork, wash my hands with warm water and fancy soap.

So while I hoped the mechanics could finally fix that starter issue on the bus, (an ongoing glitch, so this hotel courtyard scenario played out more than once) I spent the afternoon(s) in the shade of carved, marble pillars, playing tourist. I’d sit on the cushioned chair beneath this monumental work of art, wondering.

The Volkswagen is long-gone now. I live in a traditional house with a private bathroom and hot water on demand. I am the mother to a nine and a half-year old son. Over the years, I’ve continued to pass through that hotel courtyard. These days, the marble pillars seem more worn, the lobby, more flush with tourists. There’s an espresso bar now and the bathrooms just don’t seem as fancy as they used to. And though I don’t know who uses them anymore, they still have that privacy nook with three pay phones.

Yesterday, Jeb and I had a break between appointments and it seemed the perfect time to take a courtyard wander. Eventually, we found ourselves standing beneath the immense work of art.

“So, Jeb, I’ve been wondering about this painting for years. I’m curious what you make of it. Look at the tiger. How does it look to you?”

“Scared.”

“Yeah, I see that too. It almost looks like he’s afraid of the man that’s kneeling down. What do you think that man has in his hands?”

“Looks like a bowl of rice.”

“That’s what I thought. Okay, so the tiger seems to be looking at the man with the rice, but he looks afraid. That seems unusual to me.”

“Yeah. That does seem weird.”

“So, then I see the face of the man on top of the tiger. What does he look like to you?”

“Strong.”

“Exactly. I see that in his eyes, too. So, the man seems really steady and strong and the tiger looks afraid – afraid of food, even. I’ve been wondering about this picture for years and have never really figured it out. I just don’t fully understand what’s going on in this picture.”

Jeb and I come to no conclusions.

I attempt to take a proper photograph of the gigantic work, but sunlight makes reflections and its size won’t even come close to fitting in my frame.

There remains a story here, of which I do not know the details.

There are elements of power, humility, humankind and nature. The tale this painting tells must be of great import. I imagine the artist scaling ladders to bring his vision to life. The great lengths it took to sail this colossal piece to our small island. The significance it held for the designers of the hotel, who decided to boldly feature this epic depiction in the oasis of their courtyard.

This painting is a great gift, granting me shady respite and 16 years of curious wondering.

What does it say to you?

 

12 Comments

  1. It makes me think of a woman bringing an offrande ( present in respect) to the man. The man seems powerful, mighty and frighten even this big tiger/cat; enough for the tiger/cat to be held in respect, and for the man to uses him as a pillow, and a proof of his powers and strength on others! This man looks not nice, without Pity for others! That is maybe why the woman presents him rice and the cat looks afraid?

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    1. Thanks for your insight. I’m fascinated to read what others see in this painting. I realize that because someone was bringing an offering and because the man on the tiger appeared ‘strong’, I made assumptions that the man atop the tiger was authentically powerful (and therefore, to be revered). But these assumptions were almost unconscious. The comments to this post are bringing them to my awareness.

      I think I also assumed that a tiger is so powerful there is no way it could be afraid. Yet, perhaps the domination of this man is so overwhelming, it has brought fear. And misguided respect from the man offering rice.

      More questions and perspectives to ponder!

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  2. Perhaps the tiger senses the extinction of its species at the hands of these relatively small “rice eaters”. I think I walked in this courtyard for the first time just two days ago.

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    1. Good point. I tend to think that present day extinction stems from a basic human mode of operation that dominates and does hold a holistic, respectful view of all living things. Is that what is being depicted in this painting?
      Further, is this what happened when this vacation resort sprawled itself upon Hawaiian shores? Oh, the irony.

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    2. Irony indeed! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked into the courtyard. All those huge Greek columns! Better to just gaze on Kalipaki Bay, eh.

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    1. Agreed. When you bring it up in that way, I can see his smug grin. One I thought of at first as “wise.” Many interpretations. Including the fact that it seems you see the one offering the rice as a woman and I thought it was a man! 🙂

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  3. I’ve often wondered how mankind domesticated certain species of the wild, and not others. Sometimes food without trust is not enough, but to let yourself be domesticated you have to learn to think like a man.

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    1. Another interesting perspective (maybe discerning, not cynical):). I am fascinated at how the painting lends for so much interpretation. And I’m also fairly relieved that there is not one ‘answer’. Maybe I’ve always wondered if I just didn’t “get it” and everyone else knew exactly what was going on in the picture.

      I love how art can help reveal our own life perspectives – it’s all in how we choose to see something and through what filters. In this instance, I just keep seeing new things and wondering. Thanks for your comment!

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