Tenzing Rigdol: Experiment with forms –  Rossi & Rossi Ltd. Published in 2009

“I discovered that the axiom of the Tibetan Buddhist thought stands on the idea of change but, ironically, Tibetan social conscience has always resisted any sort of change, at least with respect to contemporary art and cultural practices… Hence, my approach in the past eight years has been to reinterpret the traditional forms in all possible ways so as to loosen  the tight aesthetic belt that Tibetans have been wearing since aeons.”











6. The construction of Harmony

Francesca Gavin: Tenzing Rigdol’s paintings brim with contradictions. His work is filled with conflict and resolution, vibrant colour and peaceful lines, playfulness and complex philosophy, harmony and a desire to push convention. Yet together all these elements align under a wider desire for harmony, fusion and oneness – poetry, philosophy and bollywood music – his work is also inspired by literary, philosophical and pop influences

The titles of his large scale paintings such as The Metamorphosis of Life or Change is the Eternal Law reflect his wider interest in language and literature. ‘I think titles are in themselves a form of art – a synesthetic opportunity. Sometimes just a single word or sentence inspires me to produce a series of works. The title almost becomes an act of foreplay. At other times I just feel like a man who after painting the whole elephant couldn’t find a space to place its tail. In brief, I think that it is an artist’s luxury to have a tiny window through which to invade literature.’

Scripture Noodle: Buddhist saying: Don’t be the bowl that carries the soup, be the mouth that gulps it’. This ironic piece works on many levels – it playfully highlights how Asian identity is packages and sold in take-away form, and explores how Buddhism is inbuilt into Tibetan life. Sometimes their undefiled reverence to scripture blinds them from being an individual, a meaning-maker. When I look at a scripture, it fascinates me.  How so-called sacred scripture evolves from an unknown book to something sacred. How it must have recruited the obedience from the people. These days people are just busy, they take them to be very sacred and, when questioned, they are blank.’

One of the artist’s central interest is the value of words. ‘When I came to United States, I slowly realized that meanings always change and language will always have an individual meaning. Nothing remains concrete or the only thing that remains concrete is nothingness. I began to experiment and almost ended in a nihilistic (the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless. • Philosophy extreme skepticism maintaining that nothing in the world has a real existence) shore.’ Instead of nothingness Rigdol turned his focus on the infinite possibility of meanings – something that touches on Tibetan Buddhist thoughts on the idea of change.

7. Buddhist imagery is not just a small section of Tibetan culture, but is very deeply rooted in the everyday lives of people. Hence, personally for me there is no escape from it – at least for now unless we deconstruct it and then reinterpret it.’

His paintings attempt to do just that, reinventing and re-examining the symbolic and visual nature of Tibetan Buddhist imagery. His work highlights how the images are not just about surface but the very portrait of Buddha reflects religious doctrine. ‘ His elongated ears connote his renunciation of wealth, his bow-shaped eyes represent the theory of ma-dhya-mika – or middle way, the three phases of adorning lotus flowers represent the three kinds of Buddha, the offering of silk, cloth, flute, lute, mirror and soup represents the offering of five senses and so forth. Immediately one realises that the images are pointers or signboards of a Buddhist superhighway. Artworks are a means to a religious end.’ Instead of turning everyday imagery to something iconic he is turning the extraordinary and the sacred into the ordinary and secular.

There is something graphic about Tenzing’s approach, and its interesting to note that his mother was a graphic designer of Tibetan carpets. ‘i like the plastic nature of these works- they are like our lives – plastic’ However, although paintings like Mandala of Harmony might look flat, they are an intricate construction of 10 to 15 layers of

9. paint. ‘The experience of the process is very meditative and relaxing. The rugged and dispersed colours slowly decanting, submitting oneself to the repetitive strokes of the mass.’ Poetry of Line series – which combines geometry, Buddhist images and elements that comment on the wider history of modernism. He is uninterested in the line itself but is fascinated in how they are put together. ‘Lines are innocent, direct and uncompromising. There is a sense of contentment within the geometric forms. They exert no pressure on me, but instead pull me towards them to look closer.’ ‘The lines are drawn in absolute proportions and then later they are covered in colours, to a point when one can barely feel the heartbeat of the poor lines. The subordination of line to colour has really fascinated me.’

The choice of the colour was not arbitrary, but dripping in meaning. ‘ For me the colour orange simultaneously represents death and aliveness. It translates to the experience of rust, the oxidative transaction of life and death, but it also represents the unwavering will to survive. It represents the old and unsettled. It also represents my dying culture, my mother, my father and finally me, but with the will to power.’ Mandala pieces – he describes them as a space to reconcile the dispute between form and colour. Here the emphasis is both on colour and structure – the two are intentionally and obviously interdependent. ‘You see both sides of the coin at once. Therefore it also represents completeness and wholeness.’

‘Children’s books are amongst my favorites and I love to watch cartoons. I find them an antidote to the rigid philosophical books that I read. Mickey Mouse’s popularity is compared to Buddha’s, but Rigdol is also interested in how the Disney character exudes happiness. He plays with how ‘Mickey’ in tibetan dialect means ‘people are happy’. His intentions are much more layered. Rigdol describes his work thus- ‘I see Matisse in a Tibetan costume riding on a Mondarin painting drinking Picasso.’

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