• Culture & Tradition
  • 15 May, 2023

Re-imagining Reality with Kiran Manandhar

Re-imagining Reality with Kiran Manandhar

Kiran Manandhar stands out as a pioneer in Nepal’s Contemporary Art scene.  He continues to create waves with his work, inspiring Nepali artists to take risks with their creative expression and break out of traditional Nepali art, which is typically governed by tight rules of iconography. Manandhar’s paintings are a marriage of the old and the new. He finds balance between traditional representations and contemporary notions of art.  

He is aware of where Nepali art stands in the global context, and he continues to be a trailblazer in the emerging abstract art scene. His paintings are an amalgam of several movements; cubism, abstraction and impressionism. His style is shaped by the culmination of his lived experiences from many locations; in Kathmandu where he grew up, and in Varanasi, where he pursued formal art studies, as well as his years in a Parisian art residency, where he was inspired by revolutionary contemporary artists such as William De Kooning and Kandinsky. 

The first painting I saw of his was “The Bhairava”.  Here, he portrays the Newari ritual dance of the Masked Lakhey, where a human embodying a demon dances in a wild trance. 

the bhairava by kiran manandhar
Re-imagining Reality with Kiran Manandhar
The Bhairava by Kiran Manandhar, Image Source: Kailash K. Shrestha, Jay Artudio

The first thing that truly stood out to me was the way in which movement is captured in the painting.  Bringing out a sense of movement and fluidity through a static medium requires true skill. His portrayal of dynamicity through the complex color palette, the exposure of lines, and the spaces he chose not to paint over showcase his attention to detail and the delicate balance of his subject and the background. The juxtaposition between the strokes and the colors on the canvas vividly impresses upon the viewer the power held by the dance of the Lakhey. The fierce dynamicity of the demon rests on the echoes of a practice that is hundreds, if not thousands of years old. This, along with his movement through the passage of time and space, is expressed by Kiran through each brush stroke.

tens of canvases stacket up in a nepali contemporary artist's studio
Re-imagining Reality with Kiran Manandhar
Kiran Manandhar’s Studio, Image Source: Kartabya Aryal
a lived in artist's studio in kathmandu
Re-imagining Reality with Kiran Manandhar
Kiran Manandhar’s Studio, Image Source: Kartabya Aryal

His paintings don’t just feature the subject but also the entire process behind his work. Manandhar’s brushwork seems effortless but intentional. There is a fine balance between realism and abstraction. As he has proven many times, Manandhar treads this line fearlessly.

“I can’t really explain my paintings, it’s all there. I just feel a need to create. I dont think about it, when I see a blank canvas I have to fill it.”

As we enter his home, This is evident as the walls, both inside and outside his house, are adorned with semi-abstract illustrations of forms and figures.

nepali art studio showcasing painting materials and abstract art
Re-imagining Reality with Kiran Manandhar
Kiran Manandhar’s walls are adorned with abstract figures, Image Source: Kartabya Aryal

He brings my attention to one of his most recent paintings, where he has portrayed the earthquake of Turkey. “ I simply had to paint this as soon as I heard the news. I rushed to my canvas. Earthquakes, especially after the one in Nepal, create an emotion in me. Any strong emotion I feel, I immediately find myself with a brush and a canvas.”

 The painting is large, covering almost the whole wall, with several subjects merging and clashing with each other. The viewer of this painting can’t help but feel the chaos and pain Manandhar wishes to convey.

a painting my a contemporary artist representing the catastrophic earthquake in turkey
Re-imagining Reality with Kiran Manandhar
Turkey Earthquake by Kiran Manandhar

We sit down in his living room, surrounded by hundreds of paintings stacked on top of each other and he tells me about his childhood. 

“I knew of my artistic calling since I was a little boy; I used to skip school to make sculptures on the banks of the Bagmati. I could never sit in a classroom. Nature has always been my greatest muse, even till now. I see every tree, every cloud, every river as an object of inspiration. Nature is always changing; it’s dynamic; I have tried to portray this in my paintings. Rather than realism, I choose to follow my instincts.”

nepali contemporay artist studio
Re-imagining Reality with Kiran Manandhar
The artist’s studio, Image Source: Kartabya Aryal

As we delve into his subjects, we come to talk of his paintings of human subjects. Much like Klimt, he likes to portray love and connection; his paintings of people embracing each other show the harmonising of two selves into one, a subject many traditional artists steer clear of. His forms and shapes capture the essence of the abstract movement but his human figures retain their individuality as they merge into each other. The forms and figures of his paintings bleed into each other to create a tapestry that is unpredictable yet fits into each other with perfect coherence. 

 As for his portrayal of deities, he conveys their eternal power and energy with their ambiguous expression keeping them immortal and divine. “I avoid naming the paintings of deities as they are very personal to me. What may feel like a painting of  Radha Krishna or Ramayana to me may not feel like that to someone else, for that reason, I leave them untitled. That way I keep them open for interpretation; everyone has a personal experience with God so I don’t like to confine these experiences with names”

kiran manandhar
Re-imagining Reality with Kiran Manandhar
The artist Chats with The Bhairava in the background, Image Source: Kartabya Aryal

We also discuss his portraits of women. The way in which he captures women is not just by seeing them as objects of beauty or decoration but as powerful creators of life. He honours their softness, strength, their divineness and all their emotional layers .“ 

“What I would like to see is more Nepali artists being appreciated in the world. For my generation, a career as an artist was almost nonexistent. Now, it is exciting to see younger people following their passion; and it’s wonderful to see contemporary art being so well received by the audience. But the struggle is my fondest part of the journey. Some of my best works have been created during my most difficult times. Now, I look back at it fondly but those were some harsh times that defined me.”

“Putting Nepal on the map through my art has been my greatest contribution. I’d like to spend the rest of my days; painting and supporting young artists out there. I understand their struggle; and I’m excited to see the evolving contemporary art scene. “

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