By Shakti Maira
“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there and I am prepared to expect wonders.”
—Henry David Thoreau
Walking a pilgrim’s path I saw these dusty seeds underfoot: dry, brown, cracked, silent, encapsulating a past unknowable. I gathered them and brought them home. In time I saw them filled with new beginnings and future becoming. I sensed in them songs unsung, hidden ragas and notes unstruck. So it was within me too, possibilities not yet realised.
As hard shells crack, break open, fall apart or are riven asunder by tragedy we grow again, find new directions, new life. We seek and find the right conditions: moisture, air, breath, companionship, guru, faith, hope so as to spring forth, make new shoots, find laughter, song and joy. Within us all there are the seeds of kindness, compassion, peace and joy, wisdom and Buddha nature.
The paintings in the ‘Beej’ series are meditations and a celebration of the life within a seed, of the possibilities within us, of the starburst energy of growth, of new beginnings and new life.
These paintings are in scrolls, which like seeds, enfold and unfold, hide, seek and reveal. Moving away from the usual framed picture is also a response to being back in India and using a form that is closer to our Asian traditions: softer, organic, flowing and sensuous.
It is thirty years since my first solo exhibition. Back in the 1970s, I formed an intention about my art making: it must operate for me and the viewers at the four levels at which I seemed to experience—sensory, emotional, thought and spirit or consciousness. It would be a positive engagement bringing pleasure to the senses, it would generate positive feelings and thoughts, and deepen and uplift the spirit. Only recently I have realised that this is also the heart of the philosophy and purpose of art in the great Indian tradition.
I have been making art since childhood. I am, what the art trade calls a ‘self-taught’ artist. My work has been regarded as being of the spiritual, though it has never been about religious subjects and I have remained wary of all forms of self-conscious spirituality, traditional and New Age, and the art that is associated with them.
Though I have studied and delighted in Buddhist psychology and philosophy, contemplation and meditation, my impulse to make art has flowed freely and has not derived or based itself in any theory, history, group or movement. Perhaps, this quality of being real, honest and free of art and religious dogma is the quality that my art has, which is also what we probably seek and experience in true spirituality. Perhaps it is this that causes people to see my work as ‘spiritual’.
I tend to work in series that gravitate around my current concerns and ideas. These change and evolve. Style, material and format are secondary to the ideas I am stirred by. So far I have had 22 solo shows and have participated in many group shows in India, US and Europe. My work is in public and private collections around the world. I paint in a wide variety of mediums, sculpt and make art prints. The major series have been: Monsoon Skies; Waves of Sea, Waves of Mind; Mountain Ways and Mist of Mind; Mountains Breathing, Whispering Mandalas; Meditation in Landscape; Fallen God; Intimations of Transcendence, Ganga as Grace; Insight/Absorption; Bodhi; Pilgrims’ Path and now Beej.
I take a great interest in fostering art in education and society. I have given workshops and seminars at schools and colleges in the US (where I lived from 1979 to 2001) and India. I have been writing articles and columns on art, aesthetics and culture since my return, which are published in Indian and foreign publications.
The ‘Beej’ series will be exhibited from April 21-29 at Sridharani Art Gallery in New Delhi
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