Published in Roopa Lekha, VoL 55, 1984, p. 69-73
There are a number of artists in our midst who are involved with Tantric art. Sohan Qadri’s involvement is deeply intense. In his life, art and religion are closely interlinked into a significant unison. He teaches, preaches and practices Yoga and meditation with the same fervour as he paints. Ritual for rituals sake and art for arts sake without spiritual intent, he believes are not enough for the fulfilment of the art of living.
Born in a small village Chachoki, Punjab, Sohan Qadri studied in Phagwara college till inter science of Yoga and meditation alongwith the study of classical music and dance. Qadri searching and dedicated mind picked up the mystic message at a tender age, when he left his home and studies, and wandered off to the mountains, for long stretches of times. Living in temples and practicing meditation, he went through his first mystic experience, a direct contact with himself.
Sohan Qadri took up photography as profession for a few years and gave it up when he joined five-years diploma course at College of Art, Simla. After completing art education he returned to his village and started painting while teaching at the Training College in 1961 at Phagwara, where Dr. Mulk Raj Anand saw some of his paintings and invited him to hold a one-man show at Chandigarh. Then followed two one-man shows in Delhi and participation in National Exhibitions and several group shows. And that was the beginning.
His real break came when he migrated to Nairobi in 1966. There his abstractions of music were appreciated both in reviews and in sales. In Nairobi, I met him for the first time. That was seventeen years ago when I wrote review of his works. He was there for ten months when he shifted to Europe.
A study of Indian classical music helped him develop his audio-sensitivity. Western classical music gave him identical pleasure as Khyal or tarana of Indian classical music. Listening to the records of Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Schubert enabled him to correlate audio sensibility with the visual sensibility-colour, form, space. While in Europe he went a step further and the latent faith and devotion and ecstasy lying underneath his intense abstractions of music came to the fore.
The artist in him apparently gave way to the yogi. The Search involved both tantra and yoga and thus was instituted the process which led him gradually away from music to silence-what he today prefers to call the potent silence: Yoga nidra. With tantra and his ‘vehicle’ the incorporation of the erotic motifs too was inevitable.
This is on apparent level. And one may also notice in his paintings ‘renderings U of the Kundalini or Shakti. In this context, a sensitive soul may even feel a mystic merging of the artist and the yogi. Actually, Sohan Qadri does not stop here all satisfied. He feels these shades of tantra and yoga are not ends by themselves but only means through which he is yet striving to realize something still higher, rather deeper. He has passed the stage of the sacramental and today seeks the sense of the Yantra (visual and audio).
He opposes the normally accepted concept of aesthetics with Shakti-invocation of the vigour of the climax of the sex orgasm-living yantra. He is convinced that even modern art too has this invocation. Thus, his paintings (his collection at Gallery Chemould, Bombay during April/May, 1977) he preferred to title INVOCATIONS, are infused with a totality and an universality. Through them he seeks to invoke that primordial energy which is felt by the human being first in the rear end of his spinal column and only later in his brain. It is all a movement away from the emotism (of music for instance) to a sublimation realised through meditation, through yoga and the realisation of the meditative silence.
Sohan Qadri is interested in revelation. His involvement with meditation since he was in his twenties has basically made him a non-ambitious artist not out to assert himself and his art. Essentially, he had made his art a means to express his philosophy of life and his vision.
Moving away from the ‘why’ of his paintings, one is also impressed by his ‘how’. Right from the days of his involvement with music he has evinced a deep understanding of his palette and forms. Thus, in those days he associated Tchakowsky with yellow, orange and conical forms; Beethoven with heavy forms, blues, greens, blacks; Mozart with white, grey, neutral tints and subdued rotund forms.
Coming to his present period, overall one feels his involvement with a higher correlation between form and the formlessness. Both his raised ‘form’ and the apparent background in flat are equally vital. The contrasts of their textures are subtly unified into a significant entity because the flat surface is actually not so flat as it immediately appears to be-there are subtle variations within variations in it-and the ‘form’ in relief too has some flatness of its own. The colour contrasts between these two also are complimentary rather than opposing. The paintings further evince an understanding of the space-how to place the quitessence within an environment without reducing it to insignificance on one hand or an over-crowding of the frame area on the other.
Thus, technique wise-colour, texture, composition-Sohan Qadri reveals considerable mastery over his medium and impress one with his clean execution. His abstractions leave a thought provoking impact on one even if one could manage to totally ignore their ‘content’ of yoga, tantra, potent silence. One could thus ‘enjoy’ his paintings even as pure art-a play of colours, forms, spaces.
All this is the result of years devotion or ‘tapasya’ to the muse which today forms the solid background, the base that enables the artist to communicate his “message” most effectively.
The Sohan Qadri’s life and art are identical one. He is not only a tantric artist but also a serious tantric yogi in actual life. He lives what he preaches through his art. F. N. Souza in his introduction to one of Sohan Qadri’s catalogues writes: “With Sohan Qadri it seems to me a great saint has finally become an artist.” One feels like going a step further and say that in Sohan Qadri the artist and the saint are fused into a single being, an unison which cannot be distinguished or separated any more. And this fusion, to say the least, is his forte, the quitessence of the raison d’etre of his oeuvre.”
A recent publication of Sohan Qadri titled THE DOT AND THE DOTS deserves a mention here. It is an exotic publication of his paintings and poems with black and white and colour plates, comments by a number of wellknown art critics including Lars Foxe, Dr. Mulk Raj Anand, Krishnan, Heinrich Boll, F. N. Souza, Ka Kavana. His poems are his subconscious reflection on his paintings. Though simple on the obvious level, his poems (mostly in couplets) are profoundand meditative:
i am a dot or
born out of THE DOT i am a dot
passing by the dots on the tip
dying into THE DOT of the creator’s pen
This book more than confirms that Sohan Qadri has moved away from his phase of the abstract renderings of music and is today involved with the theme of potent silence. Today his work is involved with symbolism which continues to be expressed in his erstwhile technique of relief leaving an impact of the three dimensional effect.
Published in Roopa Lekha, VoL 55, 1984, p. 69-73