The art of painting has always occupied a large and an important space in the Nepali cultural landscape: and has remained an indispensable part of the composite fabric of art heritage. In the past if the art emerged and prospered as an expression of collective faiths – notably Buddhism, in the recent times the art has progressed from Western realism to modern thoughts to, and in the recent times, to occasional embrace of post modernist experiments.
Present day ‘Nepali Art’ thus resembles no less than a colorful mosaic with diverse art forms and shapes or a garden filled with multi-shaped and colored flowers. In fact it presents a panorama of art forms – with a spectrum of tradition based earlier art to absolute modern works – but rooted and inspired direct from the ancient spiritual thoughts.
And interestingly, it is in the latter category of art international connoisseurs have begun to take serious interests and a wider note today. Naturally so, artists who have focused and explored deeper in the earlier but in modern expressions have begun to earn more global esteem and appreciations by every passing day. Mukesh Shrestha – the artist of the present series and who has well succeeded to create a name in this regard provide us a glaring example. Today he remains one of the few eminent names in this privileged category.
Mukesh’s Vision of Art: Thoughts & Forms
Mukesh – a post graduate in Fine Arts (MFA) from Varanasi, India is relatively a fresh and a youthful face in Nepali Art scene. It’s been a hardly decade since Mukesh has completed his academic drills and made a formal debut. But within this short span of time, Mukesh has been able to make long strides in the national art scene. Thanks to his wider exposure and liberal thinking mixed with all the needed academic tools, Mukesh with pride today stand taller not only amongst his peers but also in the wider context of national art scenario.
This unusual achievement of Mukesh within this short period should primarily be attributed to his liberal attitude – and his ability to display it all in his art. His art-journey narrates and reveals many of his characteristic and versatile thinking on art. If one is to cast a general glimpse on the array of works he created since his debut one would notice many multifaceted and a liberal vision on the art forms he chosen.
The series of solo shows since 2006 presents the panorama of diversity in thoughts and execution of works. If he displayed his poetic love and closeness to the nature he is lived in, not too later he is found growing more emotional and philosophically sentimental in expressing his responses or making strong statements on the soft and mortal nature of human life in his later works. But what has remained more interesting and surprising is within a very short period later, he is found, to the amazement of many observers, his ability to shift his thoughts on the spiritual thoughts of Buddhism and go deeper in its diverse aspects: and express it in an exotic mix of traditional and contemporary idiom. And again not long after, he is seen back to his earlier love and celebration of beauty of nature. He accomplished a full circle of thoughts and style within a very short time.
This amazing versatility of Mukesh – usually not found in a young contemporary modern artist, defies the established notion. A common wisdom always has it that a modern artist and his works are best celebrated on an artist’s ability to sustain and endure individual identity. Only a signature style one has evolved hitherto is regarded as the only indicator of a successful artist. But Mukesh has defied it and remained different. Instead he asserted courage to manifest his creativity in multiple forms and style: and this power of diversity in thoughts and styles has literally proven his forte – as a creative artist.
The diverse panorama found in his solo shows illustrates this point – his openness to all creative forms and the versatility in execution. Thus his ability to embrace multiple thoughts and forms – almost all at the same time must be regarded as a unique and an exceptional example in the narratives of a modern artist. As for example, Mukesh made a debut entitled “Mood of Time” in 2006, with a series of imageries focused on female forms- reflecting his fascinations and the natural found in the women.
And hardly a year after, Mukesh demonstrated how quickly he got inspired from and his affiliations with the holy city of ‘Kashi’, – the place hardly he had spent a year there, with a solo show. Drawing spiritual inspirations from there he composed his human forms – molten and twisted suggesting the ephemeral nature of all humans. No wonder
he got wide accolades for his ability to absorb and appreciate a totally a new environ.
He continued with the same theme once again in 2008with a more consummated forms and style. By then Mukesh has had well succeeded to evolve his own creative language – so badly needed to create an identity. This had led many to believe this is the language Mukesh would be using for his further journey.
But to the great surprise for many, Mukesh proved many observers wrong by coming back to the cultural roots of his home – Kathmandu, a city known for rich cultural heritage and spiritual roots of Buddhism. Highly inspired from Buddhist thoughts and the narratives from his life, he presented an unusual solo show titled ‘Buddha- the Perennial’ in 2010 in Kathmandu. The show proved yet one more formidable stride in his art journey. It was an amazing series – with a body of imageries – executed in modern mix of textures and chiaroscuro but based on the traditional medieval Newar School of painting known as ‘Paubha’.
In 2012 again, Mukesh’s keen desire to remain with the grandeur of nature, imploded within himself when he made a landscape expeditions to the picturesque Mustang Valley located in the far western Nepal. The idyllic natural setting inspired him so high it resulted in a gala show of visual memories titled ‘Echo of Mustang’. It again proved a surprise to many art lovers – used to his tradition based Buddhist imageries! Loaded with a remarkable portfolio of landscapes, the show represented Mukesh’s yet again another creative dimension.
Present Series: A Microcosm of Creative Diversity The present series seeks to showcase Mukesh’s many of his diverse qualities, his thoughts on life and his responses through the selected paintings. To a lay viewer used to a thematic show in a solo the choice of works may look unconventional, but this is exactly the show intended to present – a microcosm of an artist’s diverse strength. As stated in earlier lines, Mukesh should be best described and talked for his unique diversity in thoughts as well in forms, the versatility and diversity has to be well presented visually in a nut shell. And it is no wonder that the body of works represent many of the artist’s unique qualities.
His thoughts on human life and the vulnerabilities one has to face during a man’s life, has always been one of his favorite theme and subject. As has been said earlier, he always has had remained sensitive to the pains and sufferings of man, he always wished to share his feelings through his imageries. And this show provides vivid glimpses of these thoughts. Here one may note many of the contemporary works has the visuals depicting human forms in full or parts – stylized and in molten forms. And it was in this stylized idiom that Mukesh acquired his identity as an accomplished contemporary artist that he is today.
And at the same time, equally powerful and more meaningful display here is the series of works devoted to the thoughts and the narratives from Buddha’s life. The artist has had long remained inspired from the spiritual thoughts of Buddhism. His earlier show ‘Buddha the Perennial’ – has had added yet another creative front. The present series also is seeking to showcase this facet with new representative works.
To an artist or a painter, to get inspired and express it in art forms is not new. Since centuries the art based on Buddhism has had appeared so wide in the Asian civilization – in the far east as well as in South Asia that an genre known as Buddhist Art exist in the annals of world art history. Nepal – a country located in the central Himalayas and where the Lord himself was born remains no exception.
Thus Mukesh Shrestha – the artist of the present series should not be taken as new in this regard. But what is new and special about him is he remains a well known contemporary Nepali artist today and usually in conventional terms, a modern day contemporary artist is not expected to present works on spiritual narratives in a modern idiom. Mukesh has remained different and proven he is equally in love and familiar with these thoughts and skills to do it.
Mukesh’s paintings on Buddhist thoughts present exquisite eight large canvases. And each of them seeks to narrate an individual story focused on a particular part from either life story of the lord or describe phases of evolution of Buddhist thoughts as a religion. For it is a common knowledge that Buddhism – as a religion has had went through many phases leading to a imagining of other deities as part of wider pantheon of Buddhism.
The concept of ‘Mahayan’ or the larger wheel has envisioned five celestial Buddhas – in addition to the historic Buddha. And this phase of cult has had remained immensely popular and the five Buddhas have had appeared profusely in every stupa or a shrine throughout the world. One of works presented here is focused on this holy concept. One may note the five celestial Buddhas depicted in their respective postures, complexions and vehicles as described in the Buddhist iconography. The setting needed to portray the holy deities has remained entirely up to Mukesh’s imaginations and skills.
Similarly, the concept of three jewels ‘Tri-Ratna’ too, have had remained equally popular amongst the followers of Mahayani cult. The three jewels represent Lord Buddha himself, ‘Dhamma – the wheel of law and the Sangha – the community of followers or the monks. Mukesh has created a canvas fully describing this thought with each of the three jewels personified as deities in standing postures – attended or surrounded by an innumerable number of subsidiary elements like sub-gods to devotees in a suitable environ.
The Buddha series also has a number of canvases seeking to depict some of the most important events from the life-story of the Lord. A notable example is the painting ‘Mahaparinirvan’ – physical departure of the Lord to heaven or the demise of Lord Buddha. Mukesh presents the Lord in a reclining posture with half sleepy eyes – indicating the lord is on the verge of eternal sleep. To create a melancholy mood the canvas is replete with many living creatures like birds and animals as if mourning the earthly departure of the Lord.
Another interesting work is the depiction of the entire episodes from the life of Lord Buddha. Mukesh has taken great pains to create the events and an environment with utmost care and in a meticulous manner. No less impressive is the canvas – a composition full of historic Buddhist art monuments – depiction of amazing collection of stone sculptures found exclusively within the precincts of the great Buddhist Stupa ‘Swoyambhu’, west of Kathmandu. The artist has meticulously collected an amazing body of reference materials before putting it all in his canvas.
As has been stated earlier, first and foremost, the Show should reflect the state of Nepali contemporary painting in a vivid manner in a land far from home. It narrates in addition to the artist’s individual qualities in imagination and skills, the continuity of rich Nepali art heritage and should be able to convey a message peace and friendship. It is heartening to note that Mukesh Shrestha – a young and a very promising artist of Nepal is chosen to this noble task. Mukesh’s abilities and accomplishments can visually be judged by the panorama of works presented here. A sense of strong aesthetic judgment matched by equally power skills can be found in the works presented here. It is demonstrated by his choice of soft and rich matured color scheme to achieve the sober and holy mood – so very necessary to create a Buddhist narrative.
Conclusively, it is really gratifying that a really show is being arranged far in a friendly nation – as part of a message of peace and friendship. Congratulations.
Madan Chitrakar artist/art writer
December 17, 2015