Louise Landes Levi

A Review of Indestructible Mirror; Modern Tibetan Painting,
at the Ursa Major Gallery, Shelburne Falls, MA
July 1-Aug 5, 2012

& an interview with Lauri Denyer, the gallery director

Two Paintings by Tseren Dolma

I meet Enrico del Angelo, irregularly, in western MA, & Isabel — the occasion is the Jnana Dakini teaching of Namkhai Norbu. Enrico cordially offers me some ice cream when I take an afternoon off to see the exhibition of modern art fr. Lhasa in Ursa Major Gallery. The gallery, directed by Lauri Denyer is set amid potholes (ancient glacier remnants) in the town of Shelburne Falls. It is close to the Buckland school house where the amazing teachings are taking place. It is not far fr. Khandroling, the land where the dance terma of Choegyal Namkhai Norbu was received & where the dance, itself an elevated art form (is intensively practiced, now in the Vajra Hall, a structure he envisioned — set on a hill where once a small tent provided him w. the silence required to receive the terma or text, conferred by the same Jnana Dakini, whose practice method, or sadhana, he is teaching.)

In Shelburne Falls, we are not dealing w.transmission, initiation, the maintenance of ‘sacred’ formula but w. invention, a new tradition, in the work of Tashi Phuntsok (b.Lhasa, 1977) — a new way to integrate mantra & manifestation, in the work of Tseren Dolma (b. Lhasa,1966) - a modern view, in one of her paintings — Untitled — a woman is lodged between the Neolithic world & the digital one, the later at present defining the planet & in the work of Tenzin Norbu (b.Daoton, Nepal, 1971) whose monk w. cell phone is the defining piece of the exhibition, at least the one with which Ms. Denyer has chosen to present the entire exhibit, entitled The Indestructible Mirror & suggesting the line which appears in The Crystal & The Way of Life (ed.John Shane) fr. the Song of the Vajra — sirna sirna — the Indestructible Vajra.

Here we deal w. diaspora, w. the prophecy of exile, w. appropriation & w. defiance, a defiance that permits liberation through expression. The represented artists live, for the most part, in Lhasa, some having been born in Nepal (Tenzin Norbu). Ms. Denyer has done a remarkable work to assemble this collection, assisted by Paula Vanzo ,the aforementioned Enrico Del’Angelo & Efrem Marder whose loan of Heavenly Bliss by Drugu Choegyal Rimpoche (b. Kham, Tibet, 1946) gives to the exhibition its most nakedly modern, but also subtly traditional, at least in its depiction or expression of mind, imagery. One understands the depth of the painter’s view in this large abstract or, in the painter’s words ‘spontaneous’ painting — watercolor & gold on rice paper.

I recall Group Portrait, Gode’s work fr. TIBET NOW, 2011 — A.S.I.A.’s show in Castel del Piano, Grosseto, Italy. The painting is a stunning (& deliberately) disfigured mandala, painted w. mineral colors (not pigment. Its figures, radically depart fr. traditional invitees. Here instead, Water Rocket, Superman, Karl Marx, a Tibetan monk attired à la Mao Tse Tung, a fanged Mickey Mouse, 2 interlaced figurines in the linear style of Keith Haring et. al.

Tibet enters the 21st century — its artists no longer protected by the Himalaya, by the monetary &/or by tradition itself. As the West approaches the refined paradigm — conserved in the ark of the Tibetan civilization, at least fr. the 12th century, when it became a repository for the marauded & exiled Tantric tradition fr. India — Tibet itself moves toward the modern & the post modern, the surreal & the dadaist,the pop & the neo-pop but it does so w. pathos & w. the criteria, concerns & symbols of its own culture, threatened, indeed deracinated as these artists matured, 1950 & onward.

Denyer has worked to make a generic selection. In her small gallery, great spirits seem to settle & to ask for ‘peace’ — a resolution however which cannot be framed for it addresses human aspiration & spirit & not directly, in most of these paintings, the political. But the two are inexorably linked. Sherab Gyaltsen (b. Shigatse, 1958) with his root-like mandala Portrait of Boy, Tashi Phunsok, w. his cities, each house, for him, a mantra or Prayer Bead of spiritual heritage, Tseren, w. her beautiful panels, the one cited above especially touching — she paints the perennial woman, digitalized by the patriarchy, by the shadow of guilt, by the new technology, effacing as much as it affords, w. relation to communication. I see this painting & wonder how a woman living in Lhasa can paint what I feel — can mirror my emotion? This is not the language of transmission & initiation, but a spiritual current flows fr. these paintings. Her other work is more traditional, at least w. regard to imagery: The 3 Poisons w. cock, goat & elephant, the footprints of the Buddha, the stupa, et.al.

Shelburne Falls was once a zone of peace. Non fighting – a code of protection - was imposed - among the Indians, within a day’s journey on foot to & fr. Salmon Falls – the cascade of that name resonant enough to be heard fr. the gallery door. Lauri has done well to place Ursa Major here. Enrico & Isabel serve ice cream. We are steps fr. the potholes- relics of the geothermal activity which generated their formation more than 4 million years ago.

Tibetan art has come fr. the extremity & the purity of tradition – to this small gallery – & transformed itself into images that speak to the exile of the 21st century – both Tibetan & planetary. They speak to the inexorability of spiritual aspiration, the search for the vocabulary of change.

The tigse is not dismissed, it is not defeated. The Iron Bird which, in the vision of Guru Padmasambhava, would fly fr. Tibet would also fly to Tibet. We are privileged to receive this show, in a site, which was the heart (or vortex) I hear fr. the towns people, including Peter Ruhf, whose work previously was shown at Ursa Major, of Pangaea (the ancient single continent) &, equally, the heart of peace for the Mohawk & Penobiscott Nations.

How cruel the genocides of the so called ‘civilized’ nations. How brave the artists who affirm the necessity of aesthetic consideration & expression under these & all conditions. And how amazing — this exhibit so far fr. the homes of most of the artists involved & so close to the hearts of those fr. the recent retreat, whose privilege it was to see them at Ursa Major, the gallery opened afternoons & over the weekend of the teachings & throughout the year.

* * * * *

Louise Landes Levi: What inspired you to open gallery?

Lauri Denyer: The gallery opened in 2010 after I rented it for a studio space and realized it was perfect for showing art, as it is located on a little street in Shelburne Falls that gets a lot of foot traffic. My father left behind a lot of canvases and it seemed like a wonderful thing to be able to let people see these paintings, so I began showing them in 2011 without much fanfare.

LLL: In what ways does such phenomenal & hands-on responsibility affect yr practice?

LD: As far as formal practice is concerned, naturally taking on a job and responsibility means one has less time to attend retreats and do personal practice. But having had all the time in the world to follow Rinpoche, and having done so to my heart's content, it was time to do something else, and see whether the teachings and practice have produced any real effects, and whether I can indeed practice in daily life.

LLL: What shows & / or activities were exhibited or presented at Ursa Major prior to Indestructible Mirror?

LD: There were the two exhibitions of my father's large rainbow-like, meditative abstract paintings and delicate drawings, followed by a fellow-practioner's work, Michael Katz's expressionist paintings. Then there was a show called Random which comprised pieces by Moses Hoskins, Jim Smith, Harold Graves, Joan Wye, and others, including some family members like my mother Barbara Denyer, sister Stephanie, and a son and my daughters, and my own. The idea was that the show was without a theme other than randomness — but in fact it had to be hung very carefully or it would have looked terrible with all those disparate types of work together. Next was a show by local artist Peter Ruhf, whose work is fantastical magic realist imagery, then an installation/performance piece by Bret Bourman, another fellow-practitioner, with a theme of relationship between what is inside and what is outside, and memory, space, nature, thought, mind. That was the one right before this Tibetan art show.

There was a series of poetry workshops run by Jacqueline Gens this spring, which may continue, and a very beautiful reading by yourself from early and later works, and with singing and serangi — that was quite well-attended and is the first of many readings, probably. The artists whose work is on display give gallery talks — and those can be quite inspiring too.

LLL: Finally, what inspired you to present 'Tibetan secular art' & having curated it so beautifully what, for you, differentiates secular fr the more traditional or 'sacred Tibetan art'?

LD: Thank you for your compliment. Those of us who attended Merigar's 30th anniversary celebration were able to see a large exhibition of Tibetan paintings both traditional and modern, curated by A.S.I.A. Paola Vanzo, who organized the show and whose collection formed the basis of the modern art portion of the exhibit woks in NY and was willing to loan me many paintings for this show. The catalog, available from A.S.I.A. in Italy, is very interesting and several of the paintings in it are in the Ursa Major show too.

Tibetan traditional painting has been done for a defined purpose for many centuries, and has a certain form and style related to this purpose, which is to assist spiritual practitioners to work with the imagery in their visualiztions and practices, and to inspire others as a window on an inner, sacred, pure world. As Tibetans have been forced to relate more to the west, the results have been interesting, in that Tibetans have not lost this sacred viewpoint, but are finding ways to unite the sacred vision with a modern reality — at least this is what it looks like to me, since not a single piece is devoid of spiritual imagery, while definitely relating to the art world as we know it. They stand up as well-executed, innovative, interesting pieces and have in fact been attracting the attention of New York galleries in recent years. I find them fascinating and beautiful and very moving. And I wanted others to get the chance to see them too.

Louise Landes Levi — NYC 1944 — poet & translator/musician. Recent work: Painting, Pilgrimage, Prayer, an essay on Francesco Clemente for exhibition catalogue, Emblems and Mountains, Studio d'arte Rafaelli, Trento, Italy. Recent books: Tower 2/TARA of dc - x, Katemur, London, 2009, The Book L, Cool Grove, NYC 2010, Love Cantos, 1-5, Jack In Your Box Press, 2011, Early Poems, Longhouse, VT, 2012 & forthcoming, Crazy Louise or La Conversazione Sacra. Recordings, City of Delerium & Kunst is De Liefde in Elke Daad, w. Simon Vinkennog, Sloow tapes, 2010-2011 Antwerp. Forthcoming, Kinnari, Ecstatic Peace.
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