Art Vs Time

Features Issue 114 Apr, 2011
Text by Utsav Shakya / Photo: ECS Media

Lok Chitrakar is one of the country’s foremost Paubha painters, a respected name amongst the thinning number of artists working to preserve this ancient art form.

Situated in a quiet, residential lane, a stone’s throw away from Patan Dhoka, the modest two-storey that houses Simrik Atelier, a school for Newar art has an air of seclusion and purity about it. This is Paubha painter Lok Chitrakar’s abode and the simple, functional space reflects the artist’s personality beautifully.

As an icebreaker, Chitrakar shifts some things in his studio and turns around a huge six-foot canvas to display what he is currently working on – an awe-inspiring paubha of Buddhist deity Chintamani Lokesvara. Trying to explain an art form one has been a disciple of for 37 long years – Chitrakar started painting at the age of 12 – would perhaps have irked any other artist. Patience is an essential virtue for a paubha artist though; the art form seems to have little regard for time as we measure it. Artists work long hours and completing an elaborate paubha could rob years of an artist’s life.

In his calm voice, as he has likely explained the same to many of his apprentices and students, he tries and defines the paubha yet again. “The word paubha is derived from two Sanskrit words – Pattra or flat and Bhattaraka or deity. So literally speaking, it is a depiction of the divine in a flat form.” Artistically though, it may be understood as an expression of ancient texts in the form of a painting.

“It is imperative that a paubha painter know the canons that guide the art form. A painting that depicts a similar scene without following these canons is not considered a paubha,” adds Chitrakar. Obtaining this knowledge takes plenty of time and the rewards are not necessarily in the form of financial gain; reason perhaps for a decline in more people taking it up.

Chitrakar however, is one of those who have dedicated his life to it. Growing up, he was surrounded by art; the Chitrakars are a caste of Nepali people who have customarily painted for a living. However, he admits being oblivious to the meaning of these paintings until later on in life when after the demise of his father, he took it up more seriously. From then until now, it has been a fulfilling journey for Chitrakar who counts his solo exhibition of paubha paintings in Japan as a benchmark in a long, illustrious career.

His success he says is relative. In his words, the state of art in a country is an indicator of the country’s progress. Even though a change in people’s perspective about traditional art seems to be undergoing a revolution, Chitrakar does not recommend people looking for financial stability to take up paubha painting. “It is useless to tally the time and effort spent on a painting with the price we get. Time just does not figure in the equation.”