Magic Markings at the 2018 NY Outsider Art Fair - Booth #31
I’m very pleased to present Magic Markings for the third time at the Outsider Art Fair in New York. As with past presentations, the focus is on works on paper collected in North and Western India over the past 23 years. Dating from the late 18th Century to the present day, most of these drawings are associated with Hindu, Jain and Tantric worship while others are vernacular drawings and diagrams related to daily living and design. The works are almost never signed, making attribution impossible and precise dating difficult, though there are a few collections on view that were created by known artists, priests and astrologers
To a large extent my appreciation of the work is inevitably rooted in their visual language and aesthetics. I find them beautiful and compelling. In some cases they bear striking formal relationships to traditions of western modernism, and Tantric art in particular has had a powerful influence on many artists I admire. I’ve also long been fascinated by drawings that are not intended to be ‘art’ as a self contained activity but rather as a functional, utilitarian practice. Architectural plans, astronomical computations, instructional notations for prayer, healing diagrams that correspond to energy currents in and around the body: these reflect various systems of thought, belief and action, providing an insight into ancient and occasionally esoteric philosophical and spiritual worldviews.
Scene from the Ramayana Northern India 19thC
Anonymous Hindu and Jain Drawings
This body of historical work is very broad in scope. It ranges from devotional depictions of saints and deities, to stanzas from manuscripts of Vedic philosophy that focus on morality and modes of conduct. The Jain material comprises of cartoon-like illustrations that allude to the punishment of sinners in the seven levels of Hell, to maps of the universe in the guise of the cosmic man.
Jain manuscript demonstrating punishment of sinners Rajasthan 19th C
This group also includes manuals about divination: the ‘reading’ of marks and twitches on the face as well as guides to palm reading, horoscopes and other interpretations of omens. There are diagrams related to forms of healing for humans and Ayurvedic manuscripts dealing with the treatment of horses.
Face reading and astrological document to establish the suitability of a couple in marriage
Tantra is a Sanskrit term that means “to weave” or “to expand.” Rather than reducing natural phenomena and individual experience into isolated parts, in Tantra our inward, personal worlds are seen as manifestations of larger universal forces. Tantric practice teaches techniques to transform energy and in particular the powerful energy generated by desire, which is seen as an essential element for the spiritual path.
Goddess Yantra dedicated to raising Kundalini energy, Northern India 19thC
Yantras are the most common visual aspect of Tantric practice and these ‘power diagrams’ form an important part of the collection. They act as spiritual maps depicting the underlying structure of the universe using symbolic codes, geometric patterns as well as occasional figurative imagery. They are tools to guide the viewer in Tantric meditation but are also considered charged with their own inherent energy to be used in the process of spiritual transformation and learning.
Krishna Yantra, Rajasthan 19thC
Modern and Contemporary Tantra drawings
These drawings are less instructional than the traditional Yantras used in complex rituals and are used primarily as meditation aids. Based on the most reductive and elemental forms such as the cell, seed, yoni and lingam all of which suggest transformational states
Acharya Vyakul (1930- 2000) came to prominence in 1989 in the exhibition Magiciens de la Terre in Paris and was subsequently exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide. Vyakul was a scholar, Tantra practitioner and author who ran the Museum of Indology in Jaipur. His drawings were often created in a trance like state and express a unique reflection of his spiritual vision
Acharya Vyakul c1990
Badrinath Pandit was a Vishnaite priest and astrologer who was a contemporary (and possibly a teacher of) Vyakul. He dedicated his creative practice to paintings of Shaligrams, the sacred stones and fossils found on the bed of Lake Gandaki in Nepal. With their very particular shapes, colours and marks they are venerated for representing the myriad qualities associated with Vishnu and his avatars.
Shaligrams by Badrinath Pandit c.1970
Kalu Ram (c1950- 2008) was an amazingly versatile Jaipur artist who was dedicated to exploring the widest range of Tantric imagery as well as other forms of Indian devotional art (including some astonishing charts of Shaligrams). Magic Markings will present a selection of the artist’s works from wild female goddesses to the purest iconic forms of the Brahmanda, The Cosmic Egg that references the Lingam but also the singular atom from which all creation evolved.
Kalu Ram, c 1990
Contemporary Works by known and anonymous artists
Another group of works are made by contemporary artists working in Jaipur who make versions of historical material as part of their apprenticeship, learning about mixing colours using natural pigments and experimenting with textures and burnishing techniques.