08 Sep 2017
5 min read
Kiran Manandhar is an artist held in high regard by the Nepali art fraternity. Particularly known for his abstract, expressionist collages and performance art, Manandhar harmoniously synthesises Eastern and Western art aesthetics, and is a model for younger artists daunted by the infinite possibilities in contemporary painting.
Manandhar is a recipient of numerous international awards, and has worked hard to be recognised and appreciated in Nepal's fine art scene. He is always looking to create something refreshing, and his works on canvas and paper are all connected by his vibrant colours and responsive hand.
In this interview with VMAG's Alok Thapa, Manandhar shares that to achieve success one must be ready to sacrifice. He adds that today's youth need to accept that life is not devoid of struggle and that it's the sacrifices that brings maturity to one's character and work.
What were you like as a child?
I was a stubborn and naughty kid. In fact, it was my stubbornness that kind of helped me stick to my first love--art. Academics was not my cup of tea, and I used to get into trouble all the time, especially for sketching my teachers' figures on my notebook during classes. I remember how, when I was five years old, I used to happily bunk classes to spend time by the banks of Bishnumati River, making sand figures. I would spend the entire day playing by the river, and then head home in the evening; of course, I wouldn't sleep properly because I would be thinking about my unattended creations.
Do you believe in destiny?
Yes and no. It's one thing to be born with a burning desire to do or be something in life; it's quite another to know what kind of discipline it takes to get there. But there's one thing I can say for certain: you can't let people decide what you deserve. You need to do it for yourself. Maybe the road you take to reach a certain destination, a certain dream, is destiny, rather than the dream itself.
Did your parents share your love for art?
Far from it, I was not allowed to make art at home. If my parents found me fiddling with my brushes, colours and paper, retribution used to come swift and fast. So I grew up spending most of my days by the banks of Bishnumati River, the water garden in Balaju and in Nagarjun Forest--I consider them to be my three art studios that helped me foster my lifelong love for art. I have always believed in being true to your instincts. It's a major guiding force; if we stay true to our nature it will lead to a fulfilling life. Every time I recollect my days of struggle in Benaras, I'm filled with awe at all that I have managed to achieve.
Can you share some of the low points you experienced in Benaras?
My father was a mechanic, and he wanted me to pursue something along the same line. So I was sent to study engineering at the Benaras Hindu University, but I lied to my parents and studied art. The charade lasted for a year, and when word got around to my father, he stopped sending money. I had no option but to live on my own, sometimes even in the railway station. I remember days when I went without food at the station; I was also mobbed by thieves, and beaten by the police for sleeping at the station. There was this one guy who took pity on me and brought me leftovers from the railway canteen, but that too used to be snatched away by hooligans. Today, when I look back, I'm not reproachful towards anyone. I think, sometimes things need to fall apart to make way for better things. In order to become certain about things, one has to doubt everything first.
How big a role does money play in the grand scheme of things?
How much money one has is never the issue. Money is important, but it is not everything. After my initial struggle in Benaras, I was lucky to encounter friends who helped me acquire a room in a hostel. Later, I was able to get by by making designs for Benarasi saris. I also made money by making postcards every night to sell for Rs 5 per piece. After a couple of years, I started selling my paintings at a good price. If you have talent, you will never be empty-handed.
Do you see that trait in the younger generation, that willingness to sacrifice?
It's easy to find an institution, or a mentor, who will guide you towards your goals. But do you listen, watch and learn? We all aspire to be successful. However, the problem is that, in most cases, people are not ready to sacrifice anything. And I do see today's generation being a tad too fickle-minded. The desire to dodge obstacles and take a shortcut does nothing but make you settle for less. The comfortable path will not lead you to success. You need to push the envelope and ensure that you know your own value.
Talking of trying new things, when you did 'Mandalism', how was the response?
Even though you will find hints of Western influences in my paintings, you'll find a Nepali-ness imbuing my work--from the landscape to culture, or the figures of the deities I incorporate in my work. 'Mandalism' came about owing to my desire to work on a mandala theme. I didn't just use the forms and contents of mandalas, but also age-old Nepali mediums like handmade rice paper: that way the primitive Himalayan paper enters into a dialogue with Western media.
Why did you choose abstract art as your creative expression of choice?
It is actually the other way round--I'd say it chose me. I guess my imagination ran so wild that I couldn't fit them into a particular subject. I'm also very much guided by my emotions. I draw inspiration from the everyday things I see around me and the emotions I get from that. As an artist, I associate colours with every emotion I feel, and I try to incorporate what I see in my mind onto my canvas.
What's your relationship with art and nature?
I have always had an inclination towards open spaces, and an affinity for nature. Like I said, my foray into art started by the banks of the Bishnumati River. Later, Balaju became my refuge, where I would paint, and then I would store my work in the canopy of trees in Nagarjun Forest. As an artist, nature was my mentor and confidante. Every little thing in nature inspires me to do better, to do something new. I start my day by lighting incense in my studio; the pattern of the smoke not only cleanses my space, but also titillates my senses with its abstract beauty. I scatter bird feed outside my studio, and listen to the pigeons and sparrows chirp. Just like a gardener who weeds away unnecessary plants, an artist should be able to remove superfluous thoughts and elements from his mind.
What are the things that are lacking in the Nepali art sector?
Reading the flow of colours used and the forms created in art is as challenging as reading between the lines. We lack good art critics and art dealers. Having knowledgeable art critics is paramount because their words play an instrumental role in assigning proper value to art--which adds necessary accreditation for art to be accepted internationally. Also, people should recognise that supporting art is actually a good investment, for in 10 years, the value of your investment will grow tenfold.
Do you think artists today can avail of a good pricing structure for their work?
That's why we need a mechanism for evaluating art, highlighting the artists' work, and getting them the best deals. I feel that every artist is torn between the desire to be commercially successful and also wanting their work to be shared. If I could paint and share my work without having to sell it and make a living, that would be ideal, but in the end, the bills have to be paid. At the end of the day, we shouldn't forget that art is also a profession.
What has your life taught you?
How do you manifest feelings, moods, something like wind, or even the quality of life into art? The answer is that you just start, and you do it as well as you can. And in the process, you shouldn't care that much about the opinions other people have of you, or about your work; there'll always be detractors. Don't let that concern you.