The Beginning Of A Story
80 x 80cm / 31.4 x 31.4″
Acrylic on canvas
The sides of the paintings are finished in gold enamel
This painting is based on the beginning scenes of the Korean folktale “The Green Leaf”. It tells the story of a kind and gentle elderly man who during a great flood leaves the safety of his home to go out on his small boat to save as many people as he can and bring them to safety. Just as he was about to go home he sees a small child struggling in the water and he pulls him into his boat. Following this he finds a deer and a hurt snake swimming in the water and he takes them into his boat and releases them to safety when he finds high ground. Sadly the boy had lost his whole family and his home in the flood so he was now an orphan. The old man felt sorry for the young boy and as he was childless decided to adopt him and cared for him as if he was his own.
One day much later suddenly the same deer that the old man had saved during the flood came right up to the old man inside his house , nudged him with its nose as though glad to see him, and made happy sounds in its throat . Then the deer took hold of the old man’s sleeve in its mouth and started pulling and kept pulling as though wanting the old man to follow it . The deer kept going on ahead outside, and the old man followed. They climbed on and on up towards the mountains and the old man didn’ t know where they were going . Neither could he imagine what the deer wanted. The deer led the old man deep into the middle of a cave and there he found a large box filled to overflowing with gold and silver, shining with such dazzling brightness as to blind the eyes . The old man took this treasure home and thanks to the deer, the old man was now very wealthy. He bought a large mansion and many fields and paddies. He came to live a life of plenty and his adopted son quickly learned to live an easy going life. Unfortunately the young man also learned to be selfish and extravagant, spending money like water. He made friends with good-for-nothing youths and he frittered his days away in idleness .
The old man began to worry over the future of his son. He tried to advise the young man , but his words fell on deaf ears. Eventually the young man came to talk back to his foster father. He went from bad to worse and in time, even started spreading a very bad lie about his father all over the village. He said that his father had gotten all his wealth from stealing it from the people who had been washed away in the flood. When this lie came to the ears of the overlord, the old man was hauled off to the overlord’ s castle for questioning. But no matter how earnestly and how often the old man repeated his story to the castle officials, they still doubted that the deer had led him to the treasures .
“Even your son, whom you brought up yourself for so many years, says you stole your wealth” they said, “Isn’t that sufficient proof of your crime?” And they threw him into the castle dungeon .
The old man spent long hours and days in the dungeon, crying and waiting for the day he would be brought out to hear his sentence.
But one day the snake the old man had saved during the flood quietly slithered across the cell to where the old man was sitting and suddenly bit him sharply on the ankle. Then it quickly slipped out again. The old man was very upset. First it was his son and now it was the snake. The old man had saved both from the raging waters, and they had turned against him in ingratitude. The thought filled the old man with such anguish that he felt his heart would burst. He pressed the snake bite with his hands and let the tears stream unashamedly down his cheeks. Suddenly the snake once again came into his cell. This time it was carrying a green leaf in its mouth. The snake applied the green leaf to the spot where it had bitten the old man and then quickly disappeared again. Then a strange thing happened. No sooner had the green leaf been placed on the wound than the pain disappeared, and the swelling also went down .
“What was the snake trying to do ?” pondered the old man .”First it comes and bites me and then it brings a green leaf that heals me. Why?”
But before he could think further, there was a great commotion outside his cell. “It ‘s terrible , terrible! “the jailers were shouting. “What shall we do? The lord’s wife has just been bitten by a snake. There’s no time to call a doctor.”
The old man suddenly realised the meaning of the snake’s behaviour. He shouted,” Let me cure her! I have a wonderful medicine for snake bites!”
The jailers looked doubtfully at the old man but there was no time to stop and argue. They let the old man out of his cell and rushed him off to where the overlord’s wife lay moaning and suffering in pain. All the old man did was to press the green leaf lightly against the snake bite, and the great lady was completely healed.
The overlord was very pleased and had the old man brought before him.” Old man, where did you get that wonderful medicine?” the lord asked.
The old man then told the overlord all that had happened to him from the time he saved his son, the deer and the snake in the great flood, until the time the snake appeared in his cell.
“Even such a lowly creature as the snake knows how to repay a debt of gratitude. But what kind of man would betray the foster father who saved his life?” the lord said in great anger. Then the lord ordered his men to bring the boy to the castle and to throw him into the dungeon.
The kind old man was praised highly and given many gifts. As a last request, he asked that his ungrateful son be released from prison. The overlord was deeply impressed by the compassion of the old man and immediately granted his request. Then the old man and his son made their way home together. The youth had learned his lesson. Not only once, but twice, had his life been saved by his foster father. From then on, he became a changed person and grew into a good man .