Buddhas, foo dogs and other Asian artifacts are making a design comeback. How to work them in your home without releasing a skandha of negative consciousness
BY JIMMY MAGAHERN
Published by: Arizona Republic, October 26, 2007
When shoppers come into her north Scottsdale store looking for one of her authentic antique Buddhas, Khanittha Kocsis first asks them where they intend to put the statue.
“If they say, ‘Oh, we’re going to put him in the bedroom,’ or ‘We need a statue for the bathroom,’ I will not sell to them,” said Kocsis, who, as a young woman growing up in Thailand, was taught to honor the image of Gautama Buddha in much the same way Christians learn to revere the iconography of Jesus.
“The Buddha is for blessing you, bringing some good luck to you,” said Kocsis, who co-owns Echoes Of Asia Antiques in the Scottsdale Airpark with her husband, Balint. “Why do you want to put the Buddha in the bedroom, when you’re in there with no clothes and doing . . . all sorts of stuff,” she said, demurring shyly. “The Buddha does not want to look at something like that!”
With the resurgence of the Buddha and other Asian pieces as trendy design elements, though, Kocsis says she’s had to turn away more and more potential buyers who come to her shop searching for exotic ornaments to compliment their Tuscan bone china, rather than paths to enlightenment.
“A lot of my customers use the Buddha now for decorating,” Kocsis said, acknowledging the current trend toward eclectic, ethnic and experiential elements in design. “They see in the magazines how it can be used around the house, for fashion. But they don’t really know about the culture.”
Often the wealthy Scottsdale residents who come to Echoes Of Asia because of its reputation for carrying only authentic – and often very expensive – artifacts from Tibet, China, Thailand and Laos leave affronted after Kocsis refuses their sale. When it comes to selecting her customers, the pretty, diminutive Tai woman has garnered a ruthless rep rivaling that of the Seinfeld “Soup Nazi.”
“They will come in wanting to spend fifteen, twenty thousand dollars on a Buddha, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s perfect for my bedroom!’ And I have to tell them, ‘I won’t sell to you,’” she said. “Sometimes they will send someone else in a half hour later to try again.”
To avoid turning too much valuable business away, Kocsis will often send the unenlightened customer packing with a book on Buddha for them to read before returning. At the very least, she says, Buddha noobs should school themselves in what style of icon is best suited to each particular room.
The popular sitting Buddha, for example, is usually best placed in a room reserved for quiet meditation and reflection (“Not right by the TV!” Kocsis warns), and should never be placed directly on the floor without some sort of base. The standing Buddha, on the other hand, can be placed near the inside of an entryway to symbolize welcoming, but preferably not outside. In addition, the statues carry different meanings according to the posture and hand gestures, or mudraÝ, of the depicted deity. A right hand pointing downwards, for instance, signifies renunciation of worldly desires – not the most appropriate iconography to place over the jewelry box.
If all the required reading proves too taxing, there are less sacred Asian artifacts Kocsis says it’s okay to play around with. Pairs of big stone foo dogs, or Imperial guardian lions, go just fine outside the front door as protective symbols, and some artists have applied a good Dalai Lama sense of humor to contemporary renderings of the beast. Mesa’s Erika Jaynes, an ASU fine arts grad, sells whimsical ceramics of the popular icon, including a mongrel three-footed variation titled “Three Dog Foo.”
For those wanting to sidestep the complex spirituality altogether, there’s also Chinoiserie, a French and English style of pseudo-Chinese art that incorporates decorative Chinese motifs and flourishes to lacquered cabinets, hand-painted wallpaper and tin-glazed porcelain.
Michael Hansen, owner of the French Bee in Central Phoenix, says you don’t need a degree in Buddhist studies to rock this style of art in the home. Only a sense of color coordination.
“It doesn’t always have to be black and gold,” Hansen said, pointing out a pair of foo dog bookends his shop carries in blue Jade. “Sometimes you’ll see red pieces, or green pieces. The art usually depicts a scenery, or birds or animals. But it’s always been a defined look.”
Lately, Hansen says, it’s also been a hot look.
“I get Chinoiserie furniture in all the time, and it usually goes right out again,” he said. “Everybody wants the Asian look.”