Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Rendezvous With Kiran

Here's my piece on noted Nepali artist Kiran Manandhar published in OhmyNews International

Read my other pieces here

In the balmy morning of August 18, I kick started my ancient Hero Honda Splendor motorbike and drove from my residence at Ghattekulo to Chhauni to meet an artist and a painter.

I was in tenterhooks to mingle with the internationally acclaimed artist. After twenty minutes' drive, I entered a rather old looking house at Chhauni. Fifty one–year– old Kiran Manandhar came towards the gate to welcome me to his humble abode.

Kiran's Atelier, as he has aptly named it, truly looks like an artist's home. But, to paraphrase an epigram–an artist's home is his studio–it is crammed with two unfinished canvases, bottles of all kinds of colors, an ashtray in the middle of a tea table.

To know Kiran's life is to realize how much art subsumes his life. We sat and started talking about his art-life. Now, I can hardly recollect shooting him with any question. He just flowed, like a river.

It all began with Indian painter and writer Ramchandra Sukla's visit to Nepal in 1963. This playful and irreverent teenager hung Sukla's abstract paintings upside down in the exhibition held in Nepal–India Cultural Center. "I didn't undestand the paintings. So I hung them upside down," Kiran had answered him. A bold Ramchandra had complimented Kiran for his honest gesture.

"Do you also paint?" Ramchandra had asked.

"Yes. Better than you," Kiran had replied.

This conversation led them to Balaju jungle in the outskirt of Kathmandu. Kiran used to hide his drawings in a tree fearing his father's disapproval.

After showing his works to Ramchandra, Kiran was introduced to a new technique called Minimalism. "When he drew an elephant with just two lines, I instantly gathered that he must be an old hand," said Kiran. Ramchandra really was.

He invited Kiran to enroll in Fine Art Department of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) where Ramchandra was the head of Faculty of Visual Arts. Kiran earned a Masters Degree in Fine Arts from BHU in 1981.

His odyssey in Banaras was marked by destitution, misery and struggle. But never give up was his mantra. "I even slept in railway stations," recalled Kiran. He made portraits of passengers to eke out living.

But the rainy days were duly paid off. Back in Nepal he held his first solo exhibition in Park Art Gallery, Kathmandu in 1982. He also opened Palpasa Gallery the same year.

He taught fine arts to aspiring artists. "But I made sure that I didn't end up being a teacher," he added. Then, the gallery became the must–visit venue for art-lovers.

Many of his contemporary artists were leaving abroad looking for greener pastures–dubbing Nepal as unfriendly country for artists and creative persons. Nevertheless, Kiran remained unfazed by the exodus. "Unless there are people who admire art–no matter how brilliant the artists might be–the promotion of painting remains unrealized," remarked Kiran.

Everything changed with an invitation from a friend to visit France in 1983. He embarked on a three month sojourn in France that turned out to be a catalyst for him. This journey transformed him into an artist of international stature. The sojourn was also remarkable for he fulfilled his long cherished dream of visiting Louvra Museum in Paris. "Van Gogh's exhibition was going on in Louvra," he recalled. For three consecutive weeks, he kept on visiting the Museum.

But the journey towards the recognition was not all rosy. It took a while for his effort to bear fruit. He had to carry all his painting from his residence to the different art galleries in Paris in that he did not have enough money to hire a cab. "Initially, no one seemed interested in my works," he said.

However, towards the wrapping up of his stay in France, a light seemed to appear at the end of the tunnel. French Ministry of Culture had organized art competition. To his pleasant surprise, Kiran was awarded the first prize for his painting. His visa was extended for another six months. "Following the award, those who didn't bother about organizing my exhibitions also came with the offer," a chuckling Kiran told me. In 1983 he held major solo exhibition in France. That was followed by three exhibitions in India in 1986.

A fluent speaker of French, Kiran holds a residence visa to France. French government sponsors his trip, stay and expenditure. This was the result of a Fellowship he won in 1998 offered by Cite International des Arts, Paris. Since 2005, he is dividing his time between Paris and Kathmandu.

These days, Kiran busies himself advocating for a separate Fine Art Academy following the restoration of democratic government in April, 2006. "One Kiran Manandhar is not enough for Nepal," he argued, "there should be many more." Every time he comes from the workshops and exhibitions in Paris, this expressionist painter shares his experiences and ideas with aspiring Nepali painters in Lalit Kala Campus, country's only art college.

Apart from western Post Modernist school of thought, Kiran is also immensely influenced by Eastern philosophy. An artist who revels with the pleasure of colors, his paintings are abstract yet a synthesis of Eastern and Western art tradition. He said he starts working on an empty canvas in a psychological state of 'Om.' "As I paint, I become one with the environment around me. There is no one there, just my canvas and I, conducting a dialogue," he said.

Altogether he has held one hundred and fifty solo exhibitions in Europe, Asia, USA and Australia. He uses all senses to appreciate paintings and urges the art–lovers to do so. Smelling and touching, according to him, are as important as seeing an art. It takes him eight hours to three months to complete a canvas. But wait a minute! He says none of his painting is complete. "Nothing is permanent in this world," he declared, "So is a painting."

Come September, a double celebration is awaiting him. Publication of a pictorial book titled "Kiran: 1972–2006" featuring his two hundred paintings and reviews is underway. Not only this, he is also holding a solo exhibition coinciding with the book release.

When the sunbeam ascended to the courtyard, we strolled towards his office that too was not spared from canvases and colors. He showed me clipping of news profiling his oeuvre. He confessed he is not only an ardent foodie, but also loves cooking. "I select color for the food as if I were coloring my canvas," he said.

Driving back home, I had a hunch that I had changed. I sure had become a better art aficionado now.


Hiren said...

Many poets and painters do not do well commercially but indulging in these arts are a treat in themselves.

The Decorating Hub said...

i really enjoyed reading this :)