Different strokes of a spiritual artist

Russian painter Nicholas Roerich’s philosophical leanings come alive in the visual images

Being equally interested in art and spirituality, I often wondered what would result if a spiritual genius used the brush. I believe I have come close to finding the answer.

It was nearly 10 years ago that I came across the first painting by Nicholas Roerich; this left an indelible mark in my mind. I was over-joyed on receiving the invitation for the opening day of exhibition of his works titled “In Search of the Mystic World” at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, on August 1, 2017.

Mumbai exhibition

Rajesh Purohit (Director, Allahabad Museum) traced Roerich’s journey from Russia, through different parts of the world, to finally settle in the Kullu Valley of the Himalayas. To quote him, “The very title In Search the Mystic World signifies the quest for the inner and the outer world as well as the mysticism that is entwined in the tangible and intangible world”. Incidentally, all the works on display were loaned by the Allahabad Museum.

Who’s the shepherd

I was particularly fascinated by ‘‘The Holy Shepherd’ painting by Roerich, which is aptly described by Purohit “His belief in the universality of religions can be seen in his work “The Holy Shepherd”, where the figure of Krishna is made to blend in the persona of the Slavik folk hero Lel who is holding a flute amidst sheep in place of cows of Krishna. Paintings such as “The Holy Shepherd” bring to mind the image of the flute-playing Krishna of Vrindavan. You can see this painting in a different light — Jesus as the flute player amid the shepherd. In a way, Roerich is experiencing the mysticism of life in the nature, be it (through) Jesus or Krishna; the spiritual experience remains the same, he adds”.

Indian connection

We can see philosophical concepts and ideas giving birth to visual images, and the splendour of Northern India providing the physical setting in his paintings — ‘Kanchenjunga’, ‘Sikkim Pass’, ‘His Country’, ‘The Great Spirit of the Himalayas’, and the ‘Banners of the East’ series.

In his Himalayan paintings, one can easily feel the sense of drama, the urgency of a message, a traveller to greet, a mission to perform, a path to travel.

His paintings are a unique expression of the intuitive mind. His belief in the universality can be seen in his works.

Spiritual bent

The towering Himalayas in Roerich’s paintings stand for the spiritual goals that humanity must set for itself.

His Himalayan paintings evoke transcedental feeling as if one is meditating in the Himalayas.

Good art gives you the feeling that you are standing face-to-face with the subject of the painting or sculpture.

But great art goes way beyond that; it actually transports you to the place in a unique fashion, wherein you can feel the charge in the place radiating to you, from thousands of miles apart.

Quick facts

It’s interesting to note that Roerich was a Russian painter, writer, archaeologist, theosophist, philosopher and a public figure.

He with his wife and two sons were forced to shift to Finland and then to England after the Bolshevik Revolution broke out in Russia in 1917.

Roerich’s family then moved from London to the US in 1920 at the invitation of the Art Institute, Chicago.

Roerich’s family finally landed in Mumbai in December, 1923 and began a tour of cultural centres and historic sites, meeting Indian scientists, scholars, artists, and writers along the way.

By end-December, they were in Sikkim on the southern slopes of the Himalayas.

Roerich’s family settled in Kullu Valley, India, where Roerich painted the Himalayas in its magic splendour. Roerich died on December 13, 1947 at Naggar in Kullu Valley and cremated as per Indian tradition.

The exhibition titled “In Search of the Mystic World” will be open at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, until August 22, 2017.

The writer is Director at Aura Art

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