Last Friday night I went to an art opening at Tibet House in Union Square, featuring calligraphic paintings by the artist Tara Lobsang. This sort of thing is always happening to me. I mean to have a quiet weekend holed up in my apartment and before I know it, I have committed not only to a party but also an after party. (I might be a closeted introvert.) But it was a fun and festive opening night, not least because Tenzin Choegyal gave a typically fantastic musical performance.
Now Tibetan calligraphy is a very exacting art with quite rigid and empirical standards of beauty. When I was a child, my Tibetan language teacher spent our daily lessons making us trace his handwriting, which he considered the acme of calligraphic excellence, over and over again. Luckily I have an older brother who taught me that if you trace your Ka, Kha, Gha… really hard the first few times, you can fool your teacher and use the time instead for more important things, such as playing Tic Tac Toe with your desk mate. Older brothers are always full of foolish wisdom like this.
My point is, Tibetan calligraphy is a highly prescriptive art form. Lobsang’s work is a clear departure from this classical calligraphy, and his best pieces demonstrate a celebration of riotous spontaneity and an abundance of energy that is very much like the artist himself. (He happens to be the kind of person who when he looks for apartments in New York just walks off into the streets to look, like a nomad in search of the right tent to rent—and what’s more, he finds them this way.) The gallery calls his work calligraphic paintings but I also like the term abstract calligraphy, because it suggests a newish subgenre, at least in contemporary Tibetan art.
A Brush With Reality is Lobsang’s first solo exhibition. Two standouts from the solo show are Mandala of Milarepa and Milarepa, both featuring gorgeous calligraphic renderings of the legendary saint Milarepa. The myth of Milarepa, a historical figure who is said to have attained enlightenment in one lifetime, has endured in the Tibetan consciousness for the last thousand years. In the two calligraphic paintings, an apparently simple swish of the paintbrush produces the abstract yet instantly recognizable figure of the saint, his right hand held to his ear to evoke the hundred thousand songs of realization. He sits amid a mandala of colors, or on a blank white canvas, and the pieces are evocative, elegant and just really really cool.
Overall, the flight of calligraphic paintings looked beautiful adorning the walls of Tibet House. A Brush With Reality is a significant achievement for Tara Lobsang and a very exciting contribution to contemporary Tibetan art.
Click here for TIBET HOUSE
A Brush with Reality – Tara Lobsang March 13-May 12, 2015
Tibet House, 22 West 15th Street, NY, NY 10011