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I had the great honor to interview Pema Rinzin, whose art is located in Rita Gross's article "Buddhist to Buddhist" in the Spring 2012 issue. We talked for two hours at his Tibetan Art Studio in Brooklyn, New York over a range of topics. He has many important things to say, and his enthusiasm for Tibetan culture and for art is inspiring to hear. As soon as he began speaking, I was immediately engaged and couldn't set up my recording gear fast enough. Pema mentioned frequently that in Tibet, talking about art and actually finding books on art was a 'luxury'. We tend to forget how important books are (and how far away art is from day-to-day necessity), especially when so many of us are reading solely on electronic devices.
Historically, Tibetan painters had no credibility as 'individual artists' in the West. What we see that comes out of Tibet we automatically label "Buddhism," but there is certainly more to Tibetan culture and its art than this. Pema says in the interview, "If you don't promote the artist as an individual, the whole culture will die, and then there will be just religion." This is an interesting thing to say, especially because a primary concern in Tibetan Buddhism is to "lose the ego." There's obviously a lot about the relationship between art and religion in Tibet that is not well understand in the West, but Pema has set his heart on correcting this. He goes on to say that if we actually spend time with the art, the rest of the culture becomes more vibrant, the religion becomes richer. This is when we can really start to have a conversation. Studying the art of Tibet is crucial in preserving its culture, which is why Pema gives such high accolades to the Donald and Shelley Rubin, who turned their private Himalayan art collection into a hub for learning.
Pema has started the Tibetan Art Studio to further educate people about the compositional elements behind thangka painting, and implementing traditional technique into contemporary art.
Enjoy the interview and feel free to leave your comments. Maybe we can get Pema in here to say a thing or two!