October Gallery has Visions of the Divine

By Jennie Gillions | 24 April 2012
An image of a richly coloured painting from Tibet of blue waves circling a gold sphere
Bardo Mandala of the Hundred Peaceful and Wrathful Deities' Painting by Dorje Tamang (2006). Gouache on cotton© Collection Robert Beer, courtesy October Gallery, London
Exhibition: Visions of the Divine, October Gallery, London, until May 26 2012

The October Gallery’s exhibition space is small, calm and light – ideal for an exhibition that celebrates spirituality in an explosion of colour and verve.

Welsh-born artist Robert Beer’s 40-year fascination with Eastern Tibetan art has resulted in this stunning display of contemporary works by artists whom he has helped nurture.

There is an exhibition catalogue available to download from the gallery’s website, but don’t make the mistake of looking at that and then thinking you’ve seen the exhibition. The gallery supplies magnifying glasses for very good reason; the colouring and the jaw-dropping detail deserve a close look.

With some of the paintings, visitors will need a close look to believe the work is done by hand. You could examine Sunial Ratua Tamang’s extraordinarily dense paintings for hours and still miss details; there are so many figures, natural phenomena and tiny discreet tableaux, all picked out in exquisite fine lines and colour.

Equally impressive is the detail etched into the many copper sculptures; have a look in particular at the sleeve of Pushapa Raj’s Shakyamuni Buddha.

The care and precision taken in creating the works put the importance of the subjects in context – subjects which the artists treat with a reverence not often seen in contemporary Western religious art.

Because these are illustrations of life and death, alongside calm benevolence there are undercurrents of violence and erotica. In Cosmos According to Kalachakra Tantra (2005), for example, it’s easy not to notice the man in the lower right-hand corner with his stomach fountaining blood.

Samundra Man Singh Shrestha’s Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi (2008) is an angry, sexually disturbing painting, and there are skull motifs on depictions of Vajrayogini and Swet Kali.

The Gallery has also shown several paintings by Robert Beer’s friend and mentor John Miles, who died in 1997. Miles’s paintings are noticeably different from the Tibetan artists’; they are more abstract, less obviously religious but clearly spiritual – and the colours are every bit as spectacular.

Beer’s own work is the perfect link between East and West. There are 21 of his drawings – both coloured and black-and-white, renderings of both traditional stories and popular motifs. His artistry and passion are evident.

Three of these pictures are over a desk containing a press release and information on Beer. I recommend taking these.

The exhibition is undeniably beautiful – even jaw-dropping, on occasion – but the October Gallery never gives much away in terms of context. Even a basic understanding of the subject matter would be enormously beneficial for enhancing visitors’ appreciation of this rich, magnificent collection.

One final piece well worth a look is Nabin Dhakwa’s Manjushri dancing with his two consorts (2007), a personal favourite of this reviewer. It’s exclusively in black, grey and white, but still manages to be utterly exquisite in its detailing.

  • Open 12.30pm-5.30pm Tuesday-Saturday. Admission free.
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