Anonymous Tantra Paintings
January 7 - February 12, 2012
Loop, warp, stretch and extend into liberation. Tantra means all of these at once. And the small, anonymous Indian Tantra paintings on paper on view at Feature, Inc. function like its talisman. Upon entering, one senses an overwhelming sacredness mixed with play. The tantra, in its most basic form, was a set of instructions in which the supreme deity rDo-rje chang, the personification of eternal, unchanging wisdom, illustrates the way to liberation to a bodhisattva. These small paintings seem to capture this message visually. The results are incredibly simple yet sometimes complex images. More often than not, they come in pairs.
The blue, oval shape of Shiva Linga (2002) is an iconic, frontal form resembling the void and a head. The oval is somewhat disembodied as it saturates the paper. A lightly stained pink residue surrounds the oval, forming a halo that careens towards the upper edges of the paper. As it trails off, there is a reverberation from the rippling pink paint, like a tremor from the beginning of the universe. This work is elemental and profound. Several other pieces in the show follow this same motif, calling to mind a western counterpart in Jean Fautrier’s 1940s Otages.
Some of the more noticeable characteristics of these works are the use of repetition, the centrality of the image, and intentional marks often positioned on the paper in a way that suggests aerial views, hinting at the underlying structure of the world. But the attention to formalism here is at the service of illustrating spiritual concepts. One of the more formal and exciting pieces is On The Four Directions (2006). On a field of deep, purple-blue, pink lines that appear as drips stretch across the surface as horizontal and vertical striations. There is a quickness embedded in these marks, a sort of hurried movement exemplifying energy.
The most powerful work is A shaligram, or representation of Vishnu, with each region bearing its own spiral of energy (2007). This faint oval form centered on the paper is delicately painted with off-whites; underneath are faded, pale greens, purples, reds, and yellows. This primordial egg has 12 spirals spotted along its shell—each one acting like a portal into another galaxy. Peering into each one, the eye traverses the perimeter, as it does we move closer into its center—bliss spewing out the other end. As the Tantra says, “the practice of training for the void is important.” This maxim made me think of white holes, which constitute the unseen ass of a black hole. The longer I looked at this piece, the further it egged me along towards a metaphysical plane, invisible yet sensed.
Western painting has undergone successive periods of debunking. With notable exceptions, this took the form of editing religion, then metaphysics, then spirituality, and, for some, even mystery. The Indian works on view at Feature, Inc. illustrate that even the most simplistic forms—an oval, a square—can remind us just how little we know about what we can see.
Jason Stopa, b. 1983. is a painter, writer and curator in New York. Recent exhibits include Silhouette at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, NY, About Space at ArtBridge Drawing Room, NY, and The Triumph of Human Painting at Bull & Ram Gallery, Bushwick. Stopa received a BFA from Indiana University and and MFA from Pratt Institute. He is a contributing writer for Art In America, The Brooklyn Rail and Whitehot Magazine. His work has been reviewed in Interview Magazine, ArtInfo and New American Paintings. For more about Stopa please visit: http://jasonstopa.wordpress.com
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