This collection of rare, abstract Tantric painting from the 17th century originates in French poet Franck André Jamme’s journey to India twenty-five years ago when he first searched in vain for the source of these intensely beautiful and concise works.
While they invoke the highly symbolic cosmology of Hindu Tantra, these contemporary, anonymous drawings have evolved into a distinct visual lexicon used to awaken heightened states of consciousness. Like musicians playing ragas of classical Indian music, tantrikas draw in a concentrated state of mental rapture, repeating and subtly reinterpreting melodic structures of line and color. When complete, the drawings—made in tempera, gouache, and watercolor on salvaged paper—are pinned to the wall to use in private meditation.
Possessing an uncanny affinity with a range of 20th century abstract art, the paintings also have a magnetic, vibratory beauty that inspires acute attention even in the uninitiated. Jamme has written brief, luminous texts that further open readers to their subtle magic and enrich the space for boundless contemplation. Drawing on a unique body of knowledge accumulated over two decades, Jamme has assembled a singular and revelatory collection, in which East and West, the spiritual and the aesthetic, the ancient and the modern converge.
I have noticed in the Tantric works how the simplicity of their conventional, geometric forms is complemented by the infinite complexity of their particular execution: water stains, flaws in the handmade paper, fragments of unrelated text combine to make each work not only unique but somehow perfect. . . . It’s not just a desire for the antique or a nostalgic patina that makes the incidental marks so important, it’s precisely that ideal forms—forms plumbed from the depths of the mind, of the soul—need to co-exist with randomness and the emptiness of chance. How is it that a symbol of god alone is so dull, but when juxtaposed with a smudge or a smear it comes alive?
What makes this art so amazing?
Well, I think its main particularity is that it is first of all a practice. First for the “artist” himself when he paints a piece, and then for the people who are later going to work on seeing this image, to meditate on it and its meaning—and what is more, through this meditation, finally to make the divinity herself appear. I don’t know if there are many other arts that have those qualities. And, on the other hand, this has not killed the aesthetics, the grace of these things. Tantrism is too free, too open for one not to see, to accept, to appreciate, even to revere the beauty of these paintings.
FRANCK ANDRÉ JAMME
new book on my wish list