Mysticism with logic: How an artist found his voice in Buddhist symbols

Mysticism with logic: How an artist found his voice in Buddhist symbols

By BHUMIKA POPLI | | 2 April, 2016
The Buddhas Within, copper with patina and gold leafing, by Satish Gupta.
Satish Gupta’s landmark exhibition in Delhi reflects his deep connection with mysticism and Zen spirit which he has explored through the figure of the Buddha. Bhumika Popli finds out what drives the creative spirit of this versatile artist.

Delhi-based artist Satish Gupta is a genius in several spheres of creativity — a painter, sculptor, poet, writer, printmaker, skilled draftsman, muralist, designer, calligrapher and ceramicist. 

His show, titled “Zen Space — The complete collection of Sculptures, Paintings and Haikus”, was exhibited at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre in Delhi. On display were his lifetime’s works which included 10 sculptures, eight paintings and 72 haikus.

His journey as an artist began with painting landscapes as most artists who are drawn to nature begin. His paintings on display are as versatile as the artist himself —portraiture, landscape, abstract imagery and everything reflect his deep connection with mysticism and Zen spirit. 

With the exhibition, he manages to take the viewer into another world altogether — the world of Buddha — evoking feelings of tranquility, serenity and calmness. The sculptures, paintings and haikus succeed in cultivating equanimity regardless of one’s circumstances.

About the exhibition, Gupta says, “This exhibition is a landmark exhibition for me. Since, I haven’t had a show in my home city Delhi for over nine years. It is an exciting experience to share this important body of works with my collectors and public that I have created over the last four years. It has some monumental sculptures in Copper, also some kinetic ones; there are paintings and my Zen portfolio on Haikus. These Zen works are about being aware of the moment, The Eternal in the Now and living each moment intensely.”

Gupta uses copper extensively as a medium for many of his works. “My work is all copper with silver and gold plated. I find synthetic too plastic to use. I don’t like synthetic things and hence natural elements readily draw me towards themselves. For the same reason I don’t paint with acrylics and oil painting is my medium. The slow drying of paint gives me enough time to reflect.”

In the center corner of the gallery, there’s a Zen forest with long copper stands accompanied with pebbles, rocks and raindrops. The inspiration behind this structure is a Haiku written by him. The Haiku says, “Alone in the forest? Don’t feel lost-embrace the silence.” It is written over a backdrop of the painting of dense forests done by him.

“The inspiration for the Zen forest sculpture came from my son who was five year old when I took him on a Safari. There, he painted straight lines which gave the feeling of a dense forest. I wrote a Haiku later followed by the sculpture. By Zen forest, I want to convey that the divinity, in this case the Buddha is everywhere — in the raindrops, pebbles and within the forest. God is omnipresent. ”

His haikus with their deep meanings reflect on the journey called life. One of the Haikus says, “Observing the silence of the prayer hall even the butterfly-stop fluttering. While the other says, “You are welcome to your mansions and palaces, the empty sky belongs to me.” Simple yet moving, the Haikus by Gupta are mostly autobiographical as they trace the journey of his own life’s experiences.

His passion for haikus is not a new one. Gupta says, “I started writing haikus almost thirty years back when I was a student in Paris. I was exploring, hitchhiking all over Europe and started writing on the back of napkins, metro tickets, book margins sometimes even on the palm of my hand when no paper was available. They are about moments experienced intensely, an insight, a sudden revelation. They are now collected from all these notes painstakingly. Among these many, some were lost. But some 72 of them are now presented with calligraphic drawings and collages in a portfolio. They are to be enjoyed with an open mind.”

Gupta was born in 1947 and studied art for five years at the College of Art, New Delhi.  After that he moved on to Paris in 1970 on a scholarship to study graphics and lived there for two formative years. Gupta has previously worked on the deity Vishnu and his Surya sculptures are also displayed at the Indira Gandhi International Terminal and it has acquired much recognition both from India and abroad.

One has to view Satish’s life size work — a sleeping Buddha’s head reclined at an angle, which graces the Atrium of the India Habitat Center, to understand the quiet repose of his work. The sculpture is 23*13.5*9 feet is meditative and its towering scale has a surprise element. For on the reverse, Buddha’s head is patterned like a cave, its inner walls inscribed with neat rows of Buddhas carved as though by ancient hands on a rock face like edicts from a preceding age. The mesmerising quality of The Buddhas within is hypnotic, yet it is neither old nor rock, but copper. And across the cave’s length sprawls the figure of a gilded sleeping Buddha.  About his inspiration for the work, Gupta says, “The inspiration for the Buddhas Within came while I was in Sri Lanka at the time of the tsunami. My booing was done in a hotel in Galle which was destroyed by the big waves , many lives were lost, but fortunately because of a mix up by my travel agent my booking was not confirmed and from the airport I went to my next destination and slept outside the hotel in the hills. I was with Buddha in the Dambulla caves at the time of the tragedy. Buddha was so tranquil through it all — life and death somehow intermingled. I was devastated by the loss of so many lives and almost felt guilty for escaping. Buddha was so serene as if time stood still. I gazed into his eyes and calmed myself.” According to the 69-year-old artist, this sculpture is like a cave behind the reclining big head of Buddha, inside which you feel protected. It is large enough for several people to be enveloped within it. There are 1500 small Buddhas sculpted inside with a life size sleeping Buddha at the centre.

Gupta was drawn towards the eastern philosophy after undergoing some harsh time in his life. He says, “Between my engagement and my marriage I had to go through an operation to remove a life threatening tumour from my brain. Luckily it was benign; I could put the experience behind me and learn from the experience. Life is so fragile and it’s a miracle really to be alive! We just take too much for granted and become egoistic. I treasure every moment of being creative and alive. My Pallete changed to warm colours of the desert, the intense people of the desert invaded my canvasses resulting in the series, The Eyes of The Thar. At this point I broke my wrist and could not paint for about six months so I started sculpting with found objects with iron smiths who I found on the roadside while going to the studio. My Zen sculptures were born this way. Soon I got a very large commission to create five sculptures on the Elements. Time was short to sculpt them in the traditional manner. I had to improvise, think out of the box and develop my own unique technique. This has now been refined over years of experience. I can now sculpt in copper without having to think about it.”

Gupta’s work is admired both in India and abroad. His work has been exhibited in several art galleries in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata in India and also at Gallerie Espace Pont-Neuf in Paris, the Wraxall Gallery in London, the Ufundi gallery in Ottawa, the Viridian Gallery in New York, the East & West Art Gallery in Melbourne and Gallery El-Sol in Spain.

The Buddha and The Vishnu sculpture will be on display till 24th April 2016 at Atrium, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.


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