Colours of inner harmony

Spirituality in art

Colours of inner harmony

Bright & beautiful: Qadri’s uplifting colours.

At first glance, it is like falling headlong into deep colour. Deep and textured, his colours are dye-infused and carry an emotional impact. When you surface from this experience, you begin to understand a little more about his paintings. Consciousness is what his art is about. Though drenched in deep colour that impact the senses, the dialect is abstraction, with just a hint of tantric symbols. Spirituality is what the paintings communicate.

Being a yoga guru and a poet besides an artist, this Copenhagen-settled artist’s works are best enjoyed when you are in a mood to be meditative — on the self and the cosmos. One of India’s global success stories in the realm of serious art, 77-year-old Qadri has a clientele across the globe. To Dr Mulk Raj Anand, who took pleasure in encouraging young artists and writers, goes the credit of first recognising the talent in Sohan Qadri. Later, of course, Qadri came into contact with architect Le Corbusier, who acquired a painting for his collection. That was only the beginning. 

Qadri has since then lived a life soaked in art, along the way interacting with surrealist painter Rene Magritte, American psychedelic painter Linda Wood and architect Le Corbusier. It was about Qadri that Heinrich Boll, who won the Nobel for literature in 1972 said, “With his paintings, he liberates the word meditation from its fashionable taste and brings it back to its proper origin, uninfluenced by Western propaganda, misunderstandings and corruptions.” Qadri’s workshops on aesthetics and metaphysics are famous among art circles round the globe.

Colour codes
Though he started with figurative works initially, Qadri slowly moved towards abstraction, eventually culminating with colour as both tone and composition. He explains, “When I start on a canvas, first I empty my mind of all images. They dissolve into a primordial space. Only emptiness, I feel, should communicate with the emptiness of the canvass. I focus purely on colour and form without distraction from figure.”

To Qadri, pure colours fit into three categories: Dark, warm or cool, and light; dark colours represent the earth element or lower level, while warm or cold colours denote energy and form the middle level, while light colours constitute the upper level.
Deep pink-reds, brilliant peacock blues, reflective purples — Qadri’s paintings are seas of colours, though there are breaks in them in the form of punctures and serrations, which Buddhist scholar  Robert Thurman describes as ‘lustrous bubbles of energy.’ “My paintings are characteristic for their emptiness and peace combined in a radiation of power. It is not really necessary to separate oriental art from western art. Energy is universal and one for all life. Deep and true aesthetic perception is never geographically conditioned. The intuitive experience speaks all languages and knows of no formal boundaries,” Qadri had once stated.

Qadri’s couplets help us to understand his art a little better. In ‘I am a dot’ series of couplets, Qadri pens, “I am a dot/born out of the Dot/passing by the dots/dying into the Dot.” There is another poignant verse, where Qadri reflects on the oneness of all things and says, “The seed dies/Into the root/And the first shoot/To be born again.”
Though Qadri started off with oil paints, he eventually settled down with paper after some experimentation. He considers paper to be softer, feminine, and more suited to works that evolve out of a meditative state. “I was perpetually seeking a medium where effort is superfluous. Deep states of being are not brought out by effort,” he says.
Himalayan adventure

Unlike the clichéd boisterous image of Punjabis that we hold in our minds, Qadri had a veering towards quiet reflection, even as a child. In 1946, the teenage Sohan was initiated into yoga, tantra, dance and music thanks to two of the spiritual gurus who frequented his village: Guru Bikham Giri, a Bengali Tantric-Vajrayan yogi, and Ahmed Ali Shah Qadri, a Sufi. They laid the seeds of spirituality in young Sohan Qadri.
As a boy when he still had not understood the concept of art, young Sohan made playful shapes of various toys from mud by the pond he bathed in along with his friends. When his family wanted him to take charge of the family farm, he felt choked and ran away to the Himalayas.

He ventured as far as into Tibet staying in monasteries for several months, living among spiritualists and forest dwellers! His mother’s efforts ensured that he returned to the village. But Qadri had his way and he went on to gather a Masters Degree in Fine Art from Government College of Art, Simla. One can imagine what a wonderful place the then austere Simla would have been for this reflective young man caught on a meditative-artistic odyssey.

Qadri doesn’t see himself confined by nationality or community. This citizen of the world, after teaching in India for a few years, had set off to East Africa, and then to Europe and North America.

In Europe, his Danish artist friends painter Bent Kock, and printmaker Helle Thorborg, arranged his first visit to Copenhagen in 1969.

Qadri found Copenhagen the ideal setting for him to create his serene, meditative art works, and this Punjab da puttar has been living in Copenhagen and Toronto for the past 25 years.

He reveals that the yogi in him supersedes the poet and the artist in him when he says that his work is not philosophical or meant to excite the thinking process. His aim, Qadri says, is to arrest the thought process. Much like yogic mediation.

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