Stairway to Heaven and Angkor Wat

Stairway to Heaven and Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I can’t believe it is nearly a year since our exciting trip to Cambodia and Vietnam.  We flew into Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor –  the land of  the awesome Angkor Wat temples.

When I think of Angkor Wat, I think of the centuries-old conflict between the Siamese and Khmer people, the loss of so many lives, the suffering and the lost culture.  I think of  the enormity of the many temples, their sacred stature, the reverential monks and the common people who continue to pray in them, their grand  architecture – their destruction and their saviour.

In 1901 the École Française d’Extrême Orient (EFEO) provided funding and took responsibility for clearing and restoring the Angkor and the ruins were rediscovered.  Angkor has since been declared a UNESCO world heritage site.

Stairway to heaven - Angkor Watt - the temple steps lead the way to a higher existence, to the Gods, to Buddha, a place of prayer in a sacred temple
Stairway to heaven – Angkor Watt – 40 x 50 cms Oil on block canvas

I tried to encapsulate these thoughts in a painting.  The predominant feature to the temples were steps – steps to a higher existence.  This painting evolved – the atmosphere was enough to portray my inner thoughts.

Angkor Wat (Wat temple) is the central feature of the Angkor UNESCO World Heritage Site containing the magnificent remains of the Khmer civilization. Angkor Wat's rising series of five towers culminates in an impressive central tower that symbolizes mythical Mount Meru. Thousands of feet of wall space are covered with intricate carving depicting scenes from Hindu mythology.
View of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor means city or capital – it was once the ancient capital of Cambodia and the centre of the Khmer empire.   The empire built many temples all over Cambodia. These temples were in honour of the Hindu gods – Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma.

The gateway to Angkor Watt
The gateway to Angkor Watt

So many magnificent temples we visited and each had their own story to tell.   There were many levels in the temples separated by a series of steep steps and a matching social hierarchical structure.

Buddha in temple at Angkor Watt
Buddha in temple at Angkor Watt

 If you reached the top of the temple, the Buddha statue,  adorned with lotus flowers,  and incense would be there to greet you.  There you would rest from the intense heat and pray   (I prayed that I could get back down without killing myself!)

Steps at Angkor Watt - Siem Reap has colonial and Chinese-style architecture in the Old French Quarter, and around the Old Market. In the city, there are traditional Apsara dance performances, craft shops, silk farms, rice-paddy countryside, fishing villages and a bird sanctuary near the Tonle Sap Lake.
The dizzy heights of Angkor Wat and a seldom seen modern stairwell assists your descent.

The temples were crowded with tourists and one of the token attractions was that Angkor Wat was used as a background shot for Angelina Jolie as she paddled her boat across the moat that surrounds the temple in the film Tomb Raider.

The scene for Tomb Raider with a constant flow of tourists in Angkor Wat, angelina jolie
The scene for Tomb Raider with a constant flow of tourists in Angkor Wat

Note the roots on the trees that seem to strangle the temple.  This was a common sight but the reality is that the roots of the trees had ‘knit’  the temple together over time and there is now a reluctance to interfere with this natural evolution.

The view from one of the levels of Angkor Wat
The view from one of the levels of Angkor Wat
Travelling by the sacred cow in Cambodian village
Travelling by the sacred cow in Cambodian village


Buddhist monks stroll through the temple
Buddhist monks stroll through the temple





Related Post: The Fruit Seller and Cambodian Culinary Delights

The Artistic Journey of the Violin – Day Two

Instrument Art on a Violin


The Musical Youth Foundation, a children’s charity,  sent me an invitation to paint a musical instrument.  They wished to create a greater awareness of the value of music education through their campaign:

 “Music Changed My Life”


The Artistic Journey of the Violin – Day Two

I  have always loved Michelangelo’s fresco, The Creation of Adam.  It reminds me of my teenage years backpacking around Europe and more recently by a visit with my family  to Rome and the wonders of the Vatican city. Wandering  the long corridors to the Sistine Chapel, revelling in the sculptors and magnificent wall hangings,   gazing in awe at the nine scenes from the Book of Genesis and singling out The Creation of Adam.   I could not get this image out of my mind.

Creation of Adam, Michaelangelo, Cistine Chapel, Rome, Fresco
The Creation of Adam

With the idea of painting the violin, the thoughts that arose were:

  • Parent and child – outstretched arms to impart love and care

  • Teacher and pupil – reaching out the hand of instruction and help

  • Giving and Receiving

It seemed a “must” to use this imagery as my theme.


My Design Strategy

I decided that I would use oils because  they would be  best suited to the  wood finish on the face of the violin.   They are also wonderful to work with and  are very forgiving,   should I need to make any adjustments.

My Working Process

Instrument art on a violin, the creation of adam, pencil sketch
Violin Art 1

I drew the first sketch in graphite pencil. 

Violin Art , oil painting on a violin, the creation of adam
Violin Art 2

I then mixed varying shades in a palette combining of  Pithalo Blue,  Cerulean Blue, Sap Green, Burnt Umber, Yellow Ochre and Titanium White.

Violin Art, oil painting on a violin, the creation of adam
Violin Art 3

I blocked in colour roughly and tried to be mindful of  tonal values and muscle tone.

I introduced more light into the main body of the violin and placed some highlights on the hands to create a better contrast between light and dark.

Violin art, oil painting on a violin, the creation of adam
Violin Art 4

In keeping with the Musical Youth Foundation, I  wrote in the top left  corner

Music Changed my Life

To create   balance in the painting, and to compliment the mood, I used a quote from Shakespeare,  for the base of the violin:

“If music be the food of love,  play on …..”

In the final orchestration of the painting, I added a few ivy leaves to create added interest and made some subtle  tonal changes.

Instrument art, oil painting on a violin, oil painting of the creation of adam
Violin 5

Would love to hear from you if you have an idea what to name this instrument.

Stay tuned or  sign up,  to find out  the next part of the  journey of this ornate violin.

Related Article: 

Instrument Art on a Violin – Day One 

Making plans !

January Blue or not so Blue

A Bright New Start

A veil of silence permeates through the house   –   no sounds of I-phones, I-pads, headphones or telephones, radio nor TV ;   just me and the occasional creak and gurgle echoes throughout  the house as the shrill winds outside knock on every window and bang on every door,  looking for entry.

Christmas has passed along with the ringing in of 2012.  Parties attended, old friends reunited, waistlines expanded, all now absorbed in one big fading but happy memory.

And so it is Monday morning!  My family are housed where they are destined to be – work, college or school.  And then, there’s me here in my studio, filled with these passing thoughts; one hundred paintings in my head and several hundred reference photos begging to be explored.

How exciting and daunting all at the same time!   Here goes!

Happy New Year everyone!

Cambodian Fruit Seller and Culinary Delights


Having just returned from a truly amazing trip to Cambodia and Vietnam, I would like to invite you to share with me some of the magic that we encountered along the way.

We arrived In Siem Reap, Cambodia which is the base for exploring the fabled temples of Angkor, the ancient capital of the Khmer empire.  We then travelled a five-hour journey by road  to Cambodia’s capital,  Phnom Penh.    Along the way, we saw countless paddy fields, water buffalo, cows and houses built on stilts to protect the homes in the rainy season.

Phnom Penh is said to be undergoing a modern renaissance and it was a  stark contrast to the quiet country life we encountered along the road.   Steeped in charm, beauty and a rich culture of ancient Khmer history,  its  people smile with a gentleness that appears unbowed  by the  wars,  genocide and  poverty that has besieged their country.

Irish Art -The Cambodian Fruit Seller
The Cambodian Fruit Seller – Oil on board 18 x 24″

This is my first painting reflecting my travels.

It is so commonplace to see the street traders selling their wares, hoping to catch your eye, hoping to engage   –   a sale, a dollar!

Fruit and Vegetable vendors on the streets of Cambodia
Going to Market

In Phnom Penh, we came upon many food markets.  These were a feast for my eyes with a humming energy ever-present. The colours, the textures, the smells of fish, fruit and fowl all mingled together to create a pungent aroma. Chickens squawked, frogs leapt and fish squirmed while underfed cats came to see what  offerings could be had.

Cooked Snakes on Skewers to eat
Crispy Snake for Sale

All kinds of food was on offer with fruits I’d never seen nor heard of before.  My imagination was rather more stretched when I saw such things as spiders being served as a delicacy.  Tourists gathered round and dared each other to taste the culinary delights.  I played my role through “observation” only!

Spiders to eat in a Cambodian Market
Spiders – Roasted n Toasted!
Crickets for sale in a Cambodian food market
Crickets ‘n all !
Suckling Pig
Suckling Pig

Crystallsing the palm sugar

The palm tree is very interesting because of how useful it is.  Every part of the tree  has a purpose,  even the roots of the tree play their part.  In this photograph, the girl is cooking the sap from the palm tree and stirring it until it crystallizes.  It is then wrapped in palm leaves and sold for cooking purposes.  This is a high quality 100% natural food product.

We also tasted some palm sugar wine and needless to say, it was delicious.

Check back soon to see my next posting on Asian charm and my next painting.

Market Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Market Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Let the Performance Begin!

Irish Art - Let the Performance Begin - dancing girls, lady in red, stage performance, the ballet

The audience wait in hushed  anticipation.  The theatre retreats into darkness.  The stage lights herald the arrival of the dancers …

Let the performance begin !


Lately I have immersed myself in the wonderful world of dance and all that  it  entails.

Got to Dance, dance competition and reality show on TV with Ashley BanjoKimberly Wyatt, and Adam Garcia serving as judges.  It is a display of  unbridled talent waiting to burst forth in celebrating life itself!

Black Swan the American psychological thriller film directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie PortmanVincent Cassel, and Mila Kunis.  Its plot revolves around a production of Tchaikovsky‘s Swan Lake ballet.  Natalie Portman brilliantly plays the role  of a ballerina as both the innocent White Swan and the sensual Black Swan.

Finally,  saving the best till last, I  had the absolute pleasure of attending Tchaikovsky’s first ballet,  Swan Lake,   with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra held in the wonderful surroundings of The Grand Canal Theatre, Dublin.    The formation of The Russian State Ballet in 1979 brought stars from the famous Bolshoi, Kirov and Stanislavski ensembles together to bring Soviet ballet to the rest of the world.  Odette/Odile was performed  by Anna Scherbakova whose command of the stage and lightness of foot resembled a butterfly set free in a field of wild flowers, one more sweet  and alluring than the next.

Swan Lake, is considered to be the greatest classical ballet of all time. Its romance and beauty has mesmerised audiences for more than 100 years.  For me, it was a truly captivating experience.

Irish Art - Let the performance begin - Ballet, dancing girls, ladies in red, dancing performance, dancing on stage

With all of this in mind, I thought I would show you the paintings that  I have worked  on which are in keeping with this wonderful world of mystique and charm – the life of a dancer!