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Tsherin Sherpa, Contemplation, 2015, gold leaf, acrylic and ink on cotton, 122 x 98.5 cm (48 x 38 in). Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.

LONDON.- Active Blur spotlights works by two Nepalese artists of Tibetan descent that blur the line between the sacred and the mundane. Melding religious and secular images and philosophies to create vibrant pieces, brothers Tsherin Sherpa and Tulku Jamyang produce art from different vantage points: Sherpa identifies as ‘an ordinary artist’, having apprenticed from a young age under his father, Urgyen Dorje, a renowned thangka painter. Jamyang, on the other hand, is a tulku, the recognised reincarnation of a lama, or spiritual leader, whose works are inspired by his monastic background. 

Jamyang’s works incorporate rice paper, incense and colour, and are the result of burning paper, a process that leaves no room for mistakes. His interest lies in the dichotomy of the process itself—the simultaneous constructive (or positive) element of creating a collage and the destructive (negative) action of burning holes in the rice paper—which ultimately results in a stunning work of art. Middle Path (Win-Win Situation) (2015) features small holes burnt into paper in the shape an elegant set of scales, with the head of a dragon on one end and a snow lion on the other. Through the holes, vibrant and seemingly random bursts of colour emerge; yet behind the incense-burnt sheet rests a painting with a mixture of Tibetan letters and Chinese characters, symbolising the potential harmony that would be brought to both China and Tibet through the adoption of the Middle Way Approach, a vision of reconciliation between China and Tibet favoured by the 14th Dalai Lama that proposes a democratic Tibet with sovereignty over domestic and non-political foreign affairs, with China retaining responsibility for Tibet’s foreign policy. 

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Tulku Jamyang, Middle Path (Win-Win Situation), 2015. Gold paint, incense-burned rice paper, acrylic on rice paper underlay, 42.5 x 59.5 cm. Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.

Sherpa also concentrates on the challenges presented by the Tibetan Diaspora. However, having trained as a classical painter, he incorporates vibrant colours and gold leaf, and focuses on the precisely formulated proportions of the figures he depicts, revealing a distinct stylistic connection to traditional thangka painting. Yet while thangka painting relies on formal, gridlike structures to dictate composition, Sherpa’s works examine life without such structures, where Tibetans and their protector spirits are forced to adapt to new surroundings. As Tibetans grow increasingly detached from their homeland, the artist’s Tibetan protector spirits adapt to new challenges. Float Like a Butterfly (2015) shows four such figures that have taken human form; behind them, a swirling vortex of distorted protector spirits struggles to find new form. 

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Tsherin Sherpa, Allomorph, 2015. Pale gold leaf, acrylic and ink on paper, 5 pieces in total, 47 x 47 cm. Dimensions given for each work. Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.

Active Blur coincides with the recent acquisition of Sherpa’s Muted Expression (2015) by the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia, following the artist’s participation in the eighth Asia Pacific Triennial (APT8). Another work by Sherpa, Victory to the Spirit (Kyi Kyi so so Lha Gyal lo) (2015), will also soon be on permanent display in the Victoria & Albert Museum, and was inspired by the V&A’s extensive Himalayan collection. 

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Tsherin Sherpa, Twinkle Twinkle…Who You Are (Blue), 2015. Gold leaf, acrylic and ink on paper, 33 x 41 cm. Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.

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Tsherin Sherpa, Twinkle Twinkle…Who You Are (Flesh), 2015. Pale and yellow gold leaf, acrylic and ink on paper, 33 x 41 cm. Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.

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Tsherin Sherpa, Twinkle Twinkle…Who You Are (Purple), 2015, Gold leaf, acrylic and ink on paper, 23 x 35.5 cm. Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.

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Tsherin Sherpa, Twinkle Twinkle…Who You Are (Yellow), 2015. Pale gold leaf, acrylic and ink on paper, 33 x 41 cmImage courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Rossi & Rossi have produced an outstanding giclée print of Tsherin Sherpa’s monumental work All Things Considered (2014) in partnership with Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts). Iniva is an institution that explores the politics of race and global identities through the contemporary visual arts, working across media with artists, curators, creative producers, writers and the public. Iniva supports artists and their practice, creates platforms for debate at the intersection of society and politics and encourages access to and awareness of, transnational art practices and art histories. Iniva has been producing limited edition prints since 2005 and proceeds from the sale of Sherpa’s print will directly support Iniva’s programme of exhibitions, events and publications. 

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Tsherin Sherpa, All Things Considered, 2015, digital giclée print with gold leaf on Somerset paper, 2 panels, total size 51.3 x 81.7 cm (20 ¼ x 32 ¼ in), edition of 50Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi

Tsherin Sherpa began studying traditional thangka painting under his father, Urgyen Dorje, a renowned thangka artist from Nyalam, Tibet. After six years of training, which included a comprehensive education in Buddhist philosophy and practice, he moved to Taiwan, where he studied Mandarin Chinese and computer science for three years. Afterwards, he returned to Nepal and worked with his father, creating thangka paintings and wall murals for local monasteries. In 1998, Sherpa immigrated to the United States, where he started working as a traditional artist in California. Once in the US, he began to explore his own style, reimagining traditional tantric motifs, symbols, colours and gestures placed in resolutely contemporary compositions. Often, the artist appropriates globalised icons and logos of mass culture and luxury branding, which are derived from the Internet. He has exhibited across the US and Europe, including in the exhibition Tradition Transformed (2010) at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York. Sherpa currently lives in Oakland, California, where he continues to teach classes in traditional thangka painting. 

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Tsherin Sherpa, Victorious Red Spirit, 2015. Gold leaf, acrylic and ink on paper, 38 x 30 cm. Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.

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Tsherin Sherpa, Victorious White Spirit, 2015. Gold leaf, acrylic and ink on paper, 38 x 30 cm. Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.

At the age of two, Tulku Jamyang was recognised as the reincarnation of a spiritual teacher. As a young adult he joined a monastery in southern India, where he studied Buddhist philosophy, and has travelled to and taught in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Canada, Japan and the United States. Jamyang has written numerous songs and poems in Nepali, Hindi and Bhutanese, and authored the 2011 book No Time for Complex Buddhism. Recently, he taught philosophy at Shri Selwa Jangchub Choeling Monastery in Nepal. The son of Urgyen Dorje, a renowned thangka artist from Tibet, and brother of Tsherin Sherpa, a contemporary Tibetan artist, Jamyang began working as a visual artist only in the past few years. He is currently in the process of moving to the US, and establishing residency within a religious community in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

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Tulku Jamyang, Yang-Si (Rebirth), 2015, acrylic and gold paint on incense-burned rice paper, acrylic on rice paper underlay, 90 x 88.5 cm (35 ½ x 33 ½ in). Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi

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Tulku Jamyang, Yin Yang, 2015. Acrylic and gold paint on incense-burned rice paper, black rice paper underlay, 41.5 x 44.5 cm. Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.

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Tulku Jamyang, Disperse, 2015, Acrylic on canvas overlaid with incense-burned rice paper, 80.5 x 77 cm. Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.

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Tulku Jamyang, Opera or Operation? 1, 2015. Acrylic and gold paint on incense-burned rice paper, black rice paper underlay, 58 x 46.5 cm. Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.

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Tulku Jamyang, Opera or Operation? 1, 2015. Acrylic and gold paint on incense-burned rice paper, black rice paper underlay, 58 x 46.5 cm. Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.

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Tulku Jamyang, Transformation, 2015. Acrylic and gold paint on incense-burned rice paper, black rice paper underlay, 33.5 x 65 cm. Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi.

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Tulku Jamyang, Wish for Enlightenment, 2015. Acrylic and gold paint on incense-burned rice paper, black rice paper underlay, 20.5 x 66 cm. Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi. 

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Tulku Jamyang, Duchamp Now in Tibet, 2015, black rice paper overlaid with incense-burned rice paper, 70.5 x 91.5 cm (27 ¾ x 36 in). Image courtesy of Rossi & Rossi