The Sebastopol Planning Commission recently approved a use permit at the Barlow for a Tibetan master painter who presented to the Commission a letter of support from an impressive source: the Dalai Lama.
Tashi Dhargyal, an artist in Tibetan thangka painting, came to the United States in July of 2010 from Dharamsala, India. His studio at the Barlow is slated to open June 1.
In his letter, the Dalai Lama stressed “the importance of preserving the Tibetan tradition of thangka painting” and the importance of maintaining its quality.
“We would therefore appreciate it if Mr. Dhargyal were afforded encouragement and necessary support in his work toward preserving the Tibetan thangka art,” the Dalai Lama wrote.
Dhargyal has been painting thangka for about 16 years. He started his studies under an elderly Tibetan monk named Sangye Yeshe, who was the Dalai Lama’s first personal thangka painter in exile. When Yeshe retired from teaching, Dhargyal studied under two of Yeshe’s earliest and foremost students, who had achieved master level.
Meanwhile, Dhargyal worked closely with Yeshe to continue the school, and formalized it as the Institute of Tibetan Thangka Art (ITTA).
The ITTA is now a formal nonprofit in India, free to the students who study there for six years, five and one half days a week.
Since graduating from the school he helped to create and continues to help fund to this day, Dhargyal has shown his art alongside the works of students from India, at the Tibet House in New Delhi; at His Holiness’ the Dalai Lama’s temple in Dharamsala and at the Tibet House in New York. His work has also been seen at the Wooster Street Social Club (the set of TLC’s NY Ink) and at the Tubac Center for the Arts.
For the next four or five years, Dhargyal will be painting what is called a thanbhochi, which he described as “a very big thangka, many stories high.” He is reportedly the first Tibetan to paint a piece of this scale outside of Tibet. Because they are so large, thanbhochi are normally only found at the monasteries, he said.
“They may be shown at special prayer ceremonies to bring blessings. I will be painting Shakymuni Buddha in the center of the canvas. I’m doing this in the traditional way, working with all hand-ground mineral pigments, hand preparing the canvas, and using real 24 karat gold. I work in the Menris tradition, which I learned from my teacher, Sangye Yeshe. In the four corners there will be the lineage gurus from the Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug schools of Buddhism.
“When it is complete, my aim is that it will tour all over the world — museums, Buddhist centers and monasteries. When that tour is done, I will donate it to a monastery in Tibet.
“I chose the Barlow because it is a very good place for my studio and I will paint the entire thangka there. Many people will be able to visit the studio and learn more about my culture and the Menris tradition of painting. I will also be offering small group classes twice a week so people can learn more deeply if they are interested,” Dhargyal said.
Barlow Project Developer Barney Aldridge said he is happy to have Dhargyal here.
“Having a master Tibetan painter living in Sebastopol making work that is recognized worldwide, next to Kosta Browne, Guayaki, and the many other artisan producers, is exactly what I was hoping to attract when the idea of Barlow originated,” Aldridge said.
Dhargyal’s art “is his culture” and he wants to keep his culture alive, he said. He also feels “peaceful and comfortable” when he is painting.
“Because I am Buddhist, any time I am painting I am practicing Buddhism. In our culture, when you paint a Buddha, you are making an offering to Buddha — people who see Buddha’s images get blessings. So I work very hard to make my paintings beautiful and correctly. Today, many people do not paint thangka correctly, they use acrylic colors; this is not the traditional way,” Dhargyal said.