Interview with the Artist
Q: How did you come to be a painter of Deities?
Narashimha: As a young man, like many others before me, I went to India in search of an intangible “something.” It was a tumultuous period for me and during it I was stunned by the psychic life present in the images of Deities that, at the time, one saw everywhere. It wasn’t even because at that point I had already entered into the formal world of India’s temples and ashrams – it was literally the poster art and advertisements on the streets that spoke to me in a language of, well, vibration. High vibration. There was a world of significance beyond anything I had previously known and the Deities of India were inviting me in. In short it was love. Later on, reading the Gospel of Ramakrishna, the great Goddess Kali began to appear to me in dreams and visions, all of which turned me into a kind of addict to God with form as primarily expressed in the Hindu tradition.
Q: And yet you began with Buddhist art, am I correct?
Narasimha: Not initially. The very first image was of Kali and then Ganesha and Lakshmi. At that point I had no real training but tried to honor the energy I was perceiving. The Lakshmi, which was about five feet high and quite basic, continues to reside at a Sivananda Yoga center in London. Somewhere along the line I received instruction in a dream to “paint Buddhas.” A spiritual guide I trusted suggested I learned thangka painting and it seemed to be the right direction. As a result of following the guidance I had the great good fortune to meet Robert Beer and study with him.
Q: Talk about your apprenticeship with Robert Beer.
Narasimha: Well, firstly I deeply admired Robert’s work and had some prints of his hanging on my walls for a few years. I had poured over his paintings illustrating the book Masters of Enchantment and so had begun a kind of absorption of Robert! It was intimidating – I would compare it to someone who can play a few tunes on a piano going to study with Mozart. It was generous in the extreme of Robert to agree to take me on. I began by working from his line drawings. Every three or four months we would have an appointment and I would persuade Robert to critique what I had done… Mainly he taught me to look and appreciate great work. I studied with Robert for five years.
Q: How did you switch back to “Hindu” forms?
Narasimha: Kali had to resurface! It came in the form of a commission to paint the dread Goddess Chamunda. Afterward I made several long trips to Tamil Nadu (India) where the sophistication of the temple sculpture, particularly of the Vijayanagar period, made an indelible impression on me. My capacity to draw had greatly improved and I wanted to paint on an equivalent level to the great sculptors of that era.
Q: What do you see as being the function of all of this imagery?
Narasimha: It’s a codified language of transformation on one level. On another the Deities are as real as “us.” A good or even great work of art creates a portal for the energy of the Deity to touch the viewer. A soft and receptive gaze transfers “blessing.” The correct term is Darshan. Seeing and being seen. Initially we may see the Deity as being separate from us but they are arising from the One common Source of Being we all share and therefore are in no way separate or different from us – ultimately. The images inspire and bless when viewed correctly.
Q: Can you say something about the more fierce images – which can be disturbing to our conventional notions of Deities and God?
Narasimha: They are about the destruction of anything and everything that obstructs wisdoms’ unfolding. They can also represent elements of life we generally prefer not to face – the inevitable death of the physical – and point to the formless realm and the good sense of engaging that domain. They also represent great joy, abandonment and if you like… crazy wisdom.
Q: What inspires you?
Narasimha: India. Her people, traditions and great artists and mystics. Specifically? The great temples of South India – particularly Tamil Nadu – a wonderland of visionary art. The regal and outrageous visual pomp of the Vallabhacharya tradition of Krishna worship and the playful dramatization of devotion embodied within it. The iconoclasm and freedom of the wandering Bauls of Bengal – their syncretic nature. The demolishment of all religious concept embodied by the likes of Nisargadatta Maharaj and Jiddu Krishnamurthi. The simplicity and devotion of the Guru Bhakti schools which resulted in a deeper introduction to what we might call “Deity mind” with special thanks to Yogi Ramsuratkumar and my mentor Lee Lozowick as being most instrumental in this. And mantra and music of all kinds.
Q: What are the special features of your art?
Narasimha: Examine the jewelry adorning the Deities. I do not repeat earrings and necklaces, etc. I design each piece freshly as I feel this is more pleasing and spend a lot of time on this. Also I try to paint forms that are perhaps unknown to Western or even Indian viewers, more rare and unusual forms found only in a few places. I feel that these forms can help us look at a familiar Deity in a new way. Also I extensively use Ganges water to paint with for its famed purificatory nature. More controversially, I do not use grids and iconometric systems other than my obsessive eye, which has obviously absorbed much iconometric ideology over the decades I have been painting Deities.