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Devatas I, Angkor Wat Temple, Cambodia, 2018 began with one of those “across a crowded room” moments. I had arrived at Angkor Wat Temple, it seemed, at precisely the wrong moment. Having spent my morning exploring nearby Preah Khan Temple, I stopped at Angkor Wat Temple on a whim, what better place to find a quiet spot to sit and eat my sandwich? Unfortunately, hoards of coach trippers descended on the temple just as I arrived.
Undeterred, I weaved my way through the throng to the Cruciform Galleries at the western entrance of this vast temple complex, where I knew from my many previous visits that one can find a good spot for peaceful contemplation.
There I sat, munching on my cheese butty as I soaked in the refinement and serenity of this magnificent place, as the haunting chants of Buddhist monks echoed through the corridors of ancient Angkor Wat Temple, when it seemed as if I felt myself being watched. I turned and there, across the courtyard, was this delightful, gracious, rather sensuous couple of devatas. I felt a deep, uplifting, spiritual response that I knew I had to share.
There are thousands of devatas (commonly called apsaras) carved into the stone walls and collumns of Angkor Wat Temple, but this couple caught my imagination more than most. I spent the rest of my day sketching them, examining the exquisite 12th century craftsmanship up close and from afar, watching the shadows play across them as the day turned into evening.
I envisioned almost immediately what I wanted to communicate with my work; the timeworn beauty, the alluring caress, the mystery and spirituality of the place where they reside, the dedication and finesse of the artisans who created such wondrous things so many centuries past. My mind formed the image that I hoped would tell this story.
It took me some 300 hours of often painstaking work, spread over a period of nine months, until I judged this image complete. I completed the initial image within about six weeks, but then lived with it for a while, revisiting Angkor Wat Temple regularly to soak in its mysteries, and returning to work on the image from time to time to refine aspects that I felt would clarify this expression of what I felt on our first enchanted meeting.
A curious observation, one that I failed to notice at first, is that the smile of the devata to our left is showing her teeth, something quite rare in the many thousands of devatas carved throughout the Angkor Archaeological Park (there are about half a dozen that I have seen in my years of exploration).
As a point of interest, the largest print size, at 152.6 cm (60.1") high, is a life-size portrayal of the carving.
It is with great honour and pride that I present to you Devatas I, Angkor Wat Temple, Cambodia, 2018.
* All butties consumed during the making of this image were provided by my beautiful wife Annie.
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