This work is a reinterpretation of an existing painting. It is one of seven folios from the Nath Charit, attributed to the artist Bulaki and painted in 1823 for the Maharaja of Jodhpur. It is now in the Mehrangarh Museum Trust Collection. I became acquainted with it through a touring exhibition called ‘Garden and Cosmos’ which came to the British Museum in London in 2009.
Although not much is known about the Nath Charit scholars think it may have originally comprised both text and paintings and may have been used to accompany mystical teachings. Although some of the symbolic imagery is identifiable the paintings are essentially enigmatic. It is known that they were commissioned by Maharaja Man Singh, a Nath devotee, for himself and fellow devotees.
The question perhaps needs to be asked as to why, or even should, an English-born artist living for the past 40 years in Ireland reinterpret this painting in the current cultural and political climate. If by doing so I cause offence, please accept my sincere apologies. This is the first time I have made work inspired by an existing work by someone else. I have approached it with huge respect. Also as a practitioner of meditation for 50 years (initially taught through the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1969), I have immense gratitude for the influence the spiritual traditions of India have had on my life.
So why try to bring a taste of this painting into a contemporary secular environment? Firstly and unashamedly my love of it. Secondly although nobody to my knowledge has ascribed a definitive explanation about the painting it communicates something which seems to resonate with people regardless of religious belief and race. Although it has figurative elements the picture is largely abstract, which gives room for experience beyond words. Interestingly, the Naths in C19th Rajasthan were strongly anti sectarian.
My experience of the painting is that it holds a sense of limitless space, a calm timeless state of consciousness – and also the suggestion that we humans experience this. Although much bigger and three dimensional my interpretation of the painting is pretty faithful to the original – there are still the figurative elements and the unexplained narrative. I decided to place it quite literally ‘hanging in the air’.
My reinterpretation includes a 3 metre x 1.5 metre cast paper installation and four large drawings on rice paper. It took me about two years to make the 3D piece. Paper casting was new to me and it took a while to find the right balance of cotton and abaca pulp that was thin, firm and didn’t shrink in the plaster molds. Replicating the lines and swirls of the painting in cast paper took many months. The figures too are made from cotton and abaca paper cast in the same way.
In the four drawings I have taken the abstract element of the painting only, replacing the figures with early medical diagrams of the five senses. They each emerge or float out of this abstract field, suggesting perhaps a fusion between the metaphysical and the scientific.
I should like to thank very much the Maharaja Gaj Singh II, The British Museum, the organisers of the exhibition ‘Garden and Cosmos’ and the accompanying book of the same name published by Thames and Hudson ISBN978-0-500-51443-6. I would also like to thank Ann Davoren for the invitation to show the work at Uillinn, Skibbereen, County Cork, Ireland and I look forward to the possibility of bringing the work and my gratitude to India sometime.