Nick Dudka is a contemporary German born artist, currently living in Russia, who has become a modern proponent of the traditional Tibetan Buddhist art of the thangka, or scroll painting.
After formal training in Western art in Ulan-Ude, Russia and at the Academy of Art in Kiev, Dudka became interested in the spiritual and artistic traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and studied thangka painting over many years, in numerous visits to Mongolia, Nepal and India.
Thangkas are painted on linen or cotton, and occasionally silk, prepared with animal glue and talcum, stitched along the edges and stretched on a frame. This is similar in some respects to the European tradition of painting on cotton or linen canvas stretched on a frame and prepared with animal skin glue and chalk whiting (gesso). The pigments are from sources like malachite and cinnabar, and are mixed with animal glue and ox bile.
The galleries on Dudka’s site include some of his preliminary charcoal drawings.
Thangkas are most often of religious subjects, portraits of Buddhas, and stories from the lives of other religious figures. The images are a striking mixture of figurative and decorative elements. Alive with intricate detail, swirling eddies of texture and color are contrasted with anchored elements of preternatural stillness. Fierce, tranquil or blissful deities gaze out at you from amidst the push and pull of these polar forces of stillness and motion.
The image shown at left, and in detail at bottom, is of Palden Lhamo, a fierce protector diety, and one of the few female figures in the major group. She is the Tibetan version of the goddess known as Shri Devi in India.
The figures are sometimes cast as giants atop small floating islands, in streams swirling with their own eddies and currents, and arrays of lotus blossoms, all indicative of elements in Buddhist teachings. The stylized clouds that often fill the backgrounds also have suggestions of swirling moment, suggesting invisible currents in the air, along with dramatic roiling masses of flame, smoke or other elements, intertwined with the flowing robes and garments of the figures.
In contrast to all of the movement and dynamics are large decorative elements, often surrounding the figures with large golden “halos” that are tempting to compare to the halos surrounding religious figures in European art.
I don’t know enough about thangka painting to make an informed comparison between Dudka’s contemporary versions and traditional paintings. You can see some traditional Thangka paintings on Exotic India, Buddahnet and Circle of Bliss.
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