I live a tantric way of life: artist Sohan Qadri

March 5th, 2008 - 11:27 am ICT by admin  

(Interview)
By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, March 5 (IANS) “Mind talks, heart speaks, soul whispers unto silence,” muses Denmark-based Sohan Qadri, the 76-year-old high priest of contemporary tantrik art, reciting a few stray lines from his poetry. Versatility and mysticism set Qadri, who also doubles as a poet and Vajrayan tantric guru, apart from the rest of his peers.

“I am living a tantric way of life and my profession is painting. One has to live the tantric way of life. Then, and only then, reflections of the tantric ways will appear in paintings,” Qadri told IANS in a long-distance interview from Copenhagen.

Critics sometimes say tantric art is a fad. But not for Qadri, who has been living in Denmark since the early 1970s. He also has several publications, mostly anthologies of poems, to his credit.

“Just copying tantric images does not make one a tantric painter. But this is what is mostly happening; hence the fashionable approach. In my view, an artist should stay attuned to his own creation and not copy.”

Qadri, who also spoke to IANS on e-mail, does not mince words.

“Actually, I would prefer to talk face to face…” trails off the artist who suffers from kidney failure and wages a war every week against the life-sapping confines of a hospital’s dialysis chamber to keep his art and spirit alive.

His story is quixotic. Initiated into the art of tantra, yoga and meditation at the age of 14, the boy from Chachoki, a small village in Punjab, was drawn to a Sufi master in his neighbourhood.

The mischievous boy then fled to Tibet to defy his mother’s whips, but then returned to train under a photographer in Jalandhar and was later associated with the group of progressive artists in Mumbai in the 1950s. He enrolled at the Simla College of Art and went on to earn a master’s degree.

It was followed by a long European sojourn that ended with the artist setting shop in Denmark even though his trips to India continued. In the early 1970s, Qadri settled in the villa of a Danish aristocrat where he painted for the next 18 years. Later, he founded the free city of Christianna outside Copenhagen.

In 1964, he founded the Loose Group of painters in India and set up the La Fourmiere two years later in Zurich.

Qadri has exhibited almost everywhere in the world. But his roots lie embedded in hometown in Punjab.

“The most abiding influence of the imagery in my art are the textures of the mud walls and ploughed fields in the early morning mist,” says Qadri.

The unexpected depths and layers of life of rural Punjab move him. “The resonance of the prabhat pheris (early morning rounds) by fakirs, sadhus and the mendicants, their chants - creep into my work.

“I grew up in a small village in Punjab and was initiated into meditation and yoga by my guru Bhikham Giri. I had a spiritual bent of mind as a child which tempted me to go to guru Bhikham Giri and Sufi Ahmad Ali Khan in the vicinity of my village,” recalls Qadri. The artist followed it up with a long stint of meditation in the Himalayas.

German Nobel Laureate Heinrich Boll, who was close to the artist during his years in Denmark, summed up his work as liberating.

“The liberation”, simplifies Qadri, “here means not to copy but to create symbology anew with full aesthetic and spiritual content. You will find this element in my work all the time.”

The liberation has a lot to do with the diverse religious influences in his work - though Buddhism dominates. “Tantra is a profound way of life, not a way of painting. One has to go through an intense discipline of initiation, practice and deep stages of meditation and kriyas to adopt the tantric way of life,” explains Qadri.

Qadri’s works have a textile-like feel to them, as if hand printed on cloth. Executed mostly on Van Guelder, a heavy paper, Qadri found his spiritual medium in ink and dyes after a beginner’s brush with acrylics and oil.

His palette is essentially Indian - a profusion of reds, brilliant cobalt blues, mauve, purple, orange and the vibrant green of nature. The tantric motifs of “Sunvata” and “Bija” keep recurring in a series of dots and lines representing the flow of energy.

“The ‘bindu’ or the dot is a ‘moola bija’ in every act of life, it is the ‘aakaar (form)’ which is very near to ‘niraakaar’ having no dimension or direction and yet pervading the whole known or unknown universe,” Qadri said.

Painting, according to the artist, is an extension of his spirituality. “The same goes with breathing, pranayam, the breath of life,” says the artist.

“There is one spirit behind all entities. Names and forms look different to the uninitiated eye - but they are all manifestations of ‘moola bija’. My works have a thread of continuity running through them. All my previous works lead me to the next one, there is a constant dynamism,” he says.

His work transcends boundaries as he summarises his life and art in one of his couplets: ‘I am the dot, on the tip of the creator’s pen…”

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhusree.c@ians.in)

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