This week Siddhartha Art Gallery brings to us the rare opportunity to view the works of two celebrated Tibetan thangka artists, Tenzing Dhargay and Lobsang Tseten (pictured). Viewers will be able to observe the beauty and intricacy of the painters’ works of devotional art, as well as the unique specialties of the paintings of their school when compared with the thangkas with which we are more familiar.
The thangka tradition dates to antiquity and paintings were originally commissioned for temples and religious shrines. Artists used colours found in nature, grinding stones by hand. Four schools of thangka art developed in Tibet over time, and some of them share many similarities with Kathmandu Valley paubha art.
There are, however, many ways to distinguish artistic works of various Himalayan traditions. Chief guest Rinpoche Tsepri Lopan Tulku pointed out during the exhibition’s inauguration that while Indian-influenced paintings of Buddha have his shawl going over his left shoulder and leave his right shoulder bare, Tibetan paintings have the shawl coming over the right shoulder. In his talk, Rinpoche also praised the two artists for using original stone colours and real gold in the paintings’ backgrounds. “I am not saying this just to flatter them, but because they are really good and represent the ancient art well,” he said.
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Tenzing Dhargay is a tenth-generation artist of the Khari Khangsar family who, like most thangka painters, learnt the art by assisting his father. Belonging to the Menri school, he has painted both peaceful and wrathful deities. “Many people have asked why we paint such scary figures. In Tibet we believe that the soul wanders in limbo for 49 days after death, where there are many demons. If children grow up looking at these figures, then they will not be scared when they see them after death,” he said. Dhargay also spoke of how thangka is changing. The Menri school that he comes from is known for artists’ profuse use of green colour, and detailed backgrounds including waterfalls, trees and other natural features. Dhargay has kept the dominance of green, but experimented with the background, leaving that of many of his paintings bare.
Lobsang Tseten’s works are large, intricate pieces depicting Buddha at the center surrounded by many other deities. Depending on the level of detail, the paintings may take him 5-6 months to create. The fourth-generation artist is also of the Menri school and started learning with his father at the age of 12, but then went on to study contemporary art in Canada. “I have come back to this form because of a concern for it. It is disappearing in its true form, and my work is an attempt to preserve that,” he said.
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Tibetan Thangka paintings by celebrated Tibetan artists
Siddhartha Art Gallery, Babarmahal
28 Jan-11 Feb