Ti­betan Bud­dhist art given a look that’s more cur­rent

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By DENG ZHANGYU dengzhangyu@chi­nadaily.com.cn

For thou­sands of years, thangka paint­ings — a tra­di­tional Ti­betan Bud­dhist art — have been placed at tem­ples.

Now, painter Or­gyan Chopel is giv­ing this sa­cred art a con­tem­po­rary look.

The Ti­betan artist’s solo show, which be­gins at Bei­jing’s Yil­ian Art Cen­ter on Satur­day, fea­tures 45 thangka paint­ings done since 2011.

Un­like tra­di­tional thangka works, which fea­ture Bud­dha fig­ures, Chopel’s paint­ings have sym­bols de­rived from Bud­dhism, such as a cloud, a tem­ple and a lo­tus base.

“I try to do what a tra­di­tional thangka paint­ing does but with sym­bols that are eas­ier to un­der­stand and ac­cept,” says the 42-year-old artist, who is also a Liv­ing Bud­dha at the Gan­den Monastery in Lhasa, cap­i­tal of the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

In his paint­ings, Chopel in­cludes po­ems, which ex­press the Bud­dhist thought be­hind them.

For in­stance, he wrote that flow­ers bloom in the heart be­cause the heart has its seed, while they bloom in one’s eyes be­cause in the eyes is the wa­ter they need.

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing the poem is an ab­stract thangka paint­ing, with sym­bols like the Bud­dha’s eye and heart ly­ing on the clouds.

Jeff Watt, a scholar of Chi­nese Ti­betan art, says that Chopel has turned tra­di­tional thangka paint­ings into con­tem­po­rary art by us­ing sym­bols, which al­lows the artist to com­mu­ni­cate with a broader au­di­ence.

“At first, I was not sure about his art. But the more I look at it, the more I like it,” says Watt, who has re­searched Ti­betan art his­tory for decades.

“His art is fresh and new, much like fig­u­ra­tive sur­re­al­ism. View­ers can have their own un­der­stand­ing of his paint­ings,” he adds.

The Chengdu-based artist was picked as an in­car­nated lama at age 13 in his home­town in Garze county in Sichuan prov­ince.

And since then, he has lived in many tem­ples learn­ing about thangka paint­ings, mu­sic and Bud­dhism.

When he was 16, he could paint a tra­di­tional thangka in­de­pen­dently. But af­ter years of study­ing, he won­dered if peo­ple would un­der­stand this kind of Bud­dhist art.

In 2011, Chopel started to use ab­strac­tion in tra­di­tional thangka art.

“Tra­di­tional thangka is very com­pre­hen­sive. It in­cludes not only Bud­dhism, but also med­i­cal sci­ence, as­tron­omy and math. Peo­ple have to learn a lot be­fore they are able to ap­pre­ci­ate a tra­di­tional piece,” says Chopel.

He says sim­pli­fy­ing tra­di­tional thangka paint­ings into sym­bols is “a de­vel­op­ment of the old art for a con­tem­po­rary art world”.

All the ma­te­ri­als and tech­niques in Chopel’s works are those used in tra­di­tional thangka paint­ings, but his works are con­tem­po­rary.

Wang Chunchen, an art pro­fes­sor at the Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts, says that re­search into thangka art was ne­glected ear­lier, but it has at­tracted many schol­ars, col­lec­tors and mu­se­ums since 2000.

“Chopel is one of those artists who has given a new life to tra­di­tional thangka paint­ings. He trans­lates ob­scure Bud­dhism into sim­pli­fied pat­terns and makes it more ac­ces­si­ble,” says Wang.

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Or­gyan Chopel (right), a Liv­ing Bud­dha, gives the sa­cred art of thangka a modern look by us­ing sym­bols. In his paint­ings, Chopel in­cludes po­ems, which ex­press Bud­dhist thoughts.

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