Friday, May 28, 2010

Mounting the Dohyo

Continuing the dainty daily sumo paintings... a little more history about the match preparation paraphrased from wikipedia, "On mounting the dohyō, which takes its name from the straw rice bag which mark out different parts the ring, the wrestler performs a number of rituals derived from Shinto practice. Facing the audience, he claps his hands and then performs the leg-stomping shiko exercise to drive evil spirits from the dohyō as the "Gyōji, or referee, who will coordinate the bout announces the wrestlers' names. Stepping out of the ring into their corners, each wrestler is given a ladle full of water, the chikara-mizu ("power water"), with which he rinses out his mouth; and a paper tissue, the chikara-gami ("power paper"), to dry his lips. Then both step back into the ring, squat facing each other, clap their hands, then spread them wide (traditionally to show they have no weapons). Returning to their corners, they each pick up a handful of salt which they toss onto the ring to purify it."
The literal translations of power water and power paper remind me of my early child hood. Running around the woods making forts and popping sweet-tarts claiming they were power-pellets when we needed the extra strength to move a tree or quickness to catch a crawdad. It was ritual to flick them into one's mouth, flex the guns, and if something needed stomping to stomp it. I'm sure it was all due to some strange Pac-man/G.I. Joe/M.A.S.K./He-Man influenced sugar high. Early sumo was a rough-and-tumble affair combining elements of boxing and wrestling with few or no holds barred. I'm sure they would have liked some power-pellets to go along with the water and paper. Especially since there are no weight classes. A wrestler can easily find himself up against an opponent twice his size.
Looking back at some of my favorite paintings made by George Bellows of the Ashcan school, (early enough in the 20th century that New York artists would come to Philadelphia for inspiration) I can see how the physicality and meat-like quality of the pugilists spill into their opponents.
While I enjoy these grisly paintings and have tried to retain some of the "weight" of the opponents, the atmosphere in which I was brought to Sumo wrestling was not as bloody or seedy. Well maybe seedy in a different way. Insinuating how we think of origami and painting these larger than life men on floral origami paper I wanted to emphasize the ritual of the event and juxtapose their girth against an ostensibly fragile plant. Sumo, after all, did have its origins as a Shinto agricultural planting ritual in hopes of a bountiful season. The Sumo ring is topped by a "tsuriyane", or suspended roof, that resembles a Shinto shrine. This diptych is before the match as the dohyo is physically and spiritually cleaned. I have left the standing wrestler "floating" a little to further emphasize this part of the ritual as the wrestlers will become more grounded as they engage.

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Next time the Evil Spirits will be driven away!?

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