By Konchog Norbu
“I’m looking California / And feeling Minnesota / So now you know, who gets mystified…” – Soundgarden, “Outshined”
Heavily inked, yet sporting the orange robe of a Buddhist monk in the Cambodian tradition, Boo Roth is not hard to spot on the streets of Rochester, MN (pop. 110,000). And now, neither is his artwork.
A transplant from Stockton, CA, this “Full Metal Monk” (a moniker bestowed by a friend for his habit of cranking Pantera and such while he creates) is making his mark on Rochester through officially approved public art projects. Painting wall murals, as well as electrical transformers and town benches, Roth enlists area children, and even random passers-by, to join in the process. The subject matter is diverse—comic book heroes, Americana, the Japanese woodblock painting of ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa,’ the word ‘Love’—but the point, according to a recent story on Roth’s work in the Austin (MN) City Herald, is that “…the project is a way to give back to the community, and to help community members to creatively express themselves.”
Ordained as a bhikkhu six years ago, in part to cope with a lifelong struggle with Tourette’s Syndrome, Roth has a unique outlook, expressed in an Olmstead County Journal feature on him last year:
“In the tradition of the forest monk, Boo considers himself to be an ‘urban jungle monk.’ While he associates with the Buddhist Support Society and resident monks and practitioners, Boo is a tudong, or a monk without a temple.
“‘I take it out into the streets, where monks don’t usually go,’ said the venerable Rochester man. ‘I’ve been received well by everyone and think this approach is helpful, even if it might be unorthodox.’”
In a conversation with the Shambhala Sun, Roth added, “Painting outside gives me great opportunity to pass along some dharma to kids which I could otherwise not reach. Adults too. They come to me wanting to talk, people that would otherwise never enter a temple.”
Roth is also prolific in his creation of original paintings, sold at deliberately affordable rates (sometimes also on the Rochester streets) to support his modest life. These are often Buddhist-themed, but some depict a hilarious collision of dharma with the influences of his pre-monastic life: