David Watson Hood, visual artist
Zhong Kui 鍾馗
A traditional subject for paintings hung to bring luck and protect the house, originaly at the lunar new year and since a plague in 1757 during the Dragon Boat Festival (5th day of the 5th lunar month). Zhong Kui (鍾馗) like many transcendent entities started out as a mere mortal. A man blessed by nature with a powerful brain but an unprepossessing appearance. In the year 712 he walked a great distance to the city of Chang'an to take the Imperial exams with the hope of bettering his circumstances. Despite being the best candidate and excelling in poetic composition he was unfairly denied acknowledgment on account of his appearance. In his frustration he banged his head against a pillar of the palace causing his death. The official title of 'Number One Scholar' was awarded to him posthumously. As a technical suicide he was damned, but his potential was acknowledged by the judge of hell who ordained him a ruler over all malevolent ghosts and demons, forever to hunt, capture, maintain and order ghosts and evil spirits. Or as Google translate wonderfully puts it he became "a Buffy". His attributes are a brush, a fan, and his demon-hunting sword. The leaf-shaped appendages decorating his hat are antennae with demon-detecting powers, guiding Zhong Kui towards his quarry. Five red bats fly around the Demon Queller, forming a visual pun, representing the Five Blessings (wufu 五福): good luck, prosperity, longevity, happiness and wealth, which Zhong Kui will produce and protect by ridding demons from his presence. When I started the painting I had a certain old crofter I used to see at roups (farm auctions) 30 years ago in mind, by far and away one of the most intimidatingly ugly individuals I have known (and also always wearing a spectacularly filthy military beret), but as the picture progressed he got to look much more like me.