Thangka Lessons from an Artist

I wanted to write about my visit to the Norbulingka Palace, but it wasn’t very memorable. It was a nice place to visit, with well maintained and beautiful gardens. However, I don’t have any pictures left of the place, and without that there isn’t much to write about.

So instead I’ll write about what happened after we visited the palace. In Shanghai, we have a Buddhist friend who holds exhibitions of Thangka – pictures of various histories and buddhist figures painted on cloth and silk. She knows some artists in Tibet, so we decided to spend our free time getting in touch with them.

We found the place hidden away in a market street – a small art exhibition with a small tea drinking area above it. We introduced ourselves as knowing a mutual friend and they invited us to join them. Only one of them could speak decent English so I spent most of my time talking to him. He told me he was an artist and that he had an exhibition in London coming up which, sadly, he couldn’t attend himself.

After a short while most of the artists had left, except for one that Yi was talking to. He was a Thangka artist and he explained what Thangka was and why he painted them. Thangka are holy paintings that are meant to be prayed to in similar ways to Buddha statues. He explained that he would never take a commission unless he knew the painting was going to be used.

I asked him about the Swastika and its meaning in Buddhism – I wanted to know what one of the most demonised symbols in the West meant to him. He confirmed something that I had always thought to be a myth – that the direction of the swastika did make a difference, and that the reverse swastika was the one used by the Nazis.

We also asked about several symbols we had seen around Tibet, and he told us that these were the Eight Auspicious Symbols: the Sea Shell, the Infinite Knot, the Twin Fish, the Lotus Flower, the Umbrella, the Vase, the Wheel and the Banner. As he talked about each, he sketched them out with great accuracy.

Eventually he had to leave as well, and we had to get back to our tour group. We finished our tea and left.

Dive Bar Graffiti Artist

There’s a dive bar near my place of work in Shanghai known as C’s (not sure what the C stands for…).  In my first month in Shanghai I went there with my girlfriend where she taught me the infamous DICE GAME that rattles across many pubs in China.  It was your typical dive bar:  low maintenance, cheap alcohol, and plenty of graffiti scrawled across the wall in marker pen (mostly black).

Recently the bar has decided to redecorate, and has adopted a brilliant idea for doing this with minimal effort: once a month they buy a bunch of paint and provide paintbrushes and people turn up and paint the walls.  The bar gets redecorated, people get to express themselves, and there’s plenty of cheap alcohol.  Everybody wins.

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We decided to go ourselves and contribute our creativity to the walls of this dive.  Unfortunately I had a kind of stage fright, but my girlfriend was quick to gather some paint and pick up a brush.  So I wandered around drinking cheap beer and observing what others were painting, whilst my girlfriend created this masterpiece:

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That’s her pet fish on the right.  It has legs.

C’Scape runs the second Tuesday of every month at C’s. See you there.