R.N.Joshi: Widening the Horizon of Nepalese Art

Bookworm Issue 60 Jul, 2010
Text by Banshi Shrestha

Nepal is a land of talented art-ists, among whom Rama Nanda Joshi stands out boldly and whose paintings are admired by both Nepalis and expatriate art aficionados. RN Joshi also founded Park Gallery, Nepal’s first modern art gallery, which opened in 1968 near Ratna Park in downtown Kathmandu. Later, he moved his gallery to Pulchowk (Patan). The gallery is run today by Joshi’s daughters who have enlarged and refurbished it. Recently, Park Gallery was the venue for a retrospective show of the artist’s lifetime of painting. Joshi’s nicely illustrated biography was produced to complement the show and is now available in bookstores.

R.N. Joshi’s life (1938-1988) was all too short for someone of such immense talent. His biographer, Banshi Shrestha (himself a poet, writer, critic and artist), presents a brief but intriguing introduction to Joshi’s life as an artist, teacher and social advocate. It begins with a short overview of Nepal’s art history, followed by sections on Joshi: His Life, His Works and three sets of color plates.

The main period of Joshi’s life and art are presented in both his own words and hand. In Early Paintings (1963-1970), the reader is treated to his experimentations with modernistic art forms, reflecting cubist and other Western art fashions that he later put aside in favor of a more naturalistic style.

The section My Land and My People is illustrated by Joshi’s popular landscapes and figurative paintings. The landscapes include scenes from the towns and villages of Kathmandu Valley.

His figurative paintings are of common Nepalese folk going about their daily business. Each is set against a blank white background that makes them especially compelling.  This series has been very popular, especially among expatriates.

 The third section of plates depict a number of his more esoteric Tantra Paintings: ‘The Voice of Silence’ 1980. Here we find “Shree Ganesh: “The Lord of Mind”, “The Life Vehicle”, the “Asta Dala Yantra”and others.

Joshi painted mostly in oils and water colors and only very late with acrylics. Like many artists, some of Joshi’s work reflects childhood influences. Rama Nanda Joshi was born into a family of prominent astrologers, horoscopists and palmists. At his birth, his father interpreted the stars and declared that his son would one day become an artist. The boy was raised learning astrology, including the star signs and their meanings. His biographer speculates that his Tantra, Mantra and Yantra paintings, produced late in life, “might have been reflected in his tranquil mind...” since then. They include “religious, cultural [and] psychological aspects of people”. Joshi once said that “arts reflects social-reality, as it is a light, so helps to understand philosophy and spirituality.” He also spoke of “psychic truth” with the realization that through deep meditation one can come to understand the purpose of life and the secrets of the universe. The biographer discusses the significance and meaning of Joshi’s phase of symbolic paintings in considerable and interesting detail.

In 1987/88 Joshi was invited to Japan. There, he executed some exquisite Mandala paintings and other religious motifs in various locations. His work was featured on Japan national television and in newspaper accounts and seminars.

The biography of R.N. Joshi is short, but it presents a remarkably powerful vision of the artist’s life and talents. Art lovers will enjoy reading it and perusing the colorful illustrations. Hopeful young artists will gain inspiration from the life of one of Nepal’s finest modern artists.

Book Courtesy:  Park Gallery, 105pp. Price: NRs. 950.