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Brief History

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Traditionally Thangka Paintings or in Tibetan ‘Ten-pa/ Scroll Paintings’, were created in a highly stylized fashion, because in ancient Tibet lamas (teachers) used to go from village to village by horse back to teach. This is where the scroll painting originated from, as it was much easier to travel from town to town with, especially via horse back. As many people couldn’t read in the villages the teachers used these paintings as a visual aide to help teach people. In Tibetan Buddhism Thangkas are more commonly used in various forms of meditation, whereby the practitioner would focus on the painting to generate a clear image from the painting.

The sacred art of Thangka dates back to the 7th century even earlier with the depictions of Buddha Shakyamuni, with its origins mainly fixed in Nepal/ India regions. Within Tibet itself as it was broken up into different autonomous regions such as, Amdo, Lasha, Kahm etc, all these places each had there own style of Thangka art, much the same as the had their own dialects. Each region was influenced by artistic practices from their bordering countries such as India, Persia and China. So already we can see that the tradition of Thangka painting is influenced by other artistic styles that date back quite some time.

 

Garab Dorje

Traditionally a Thangka painter would use an array of natural materials such as, hide glue chalk powder and cotton to make a canvas, bamboo to stretch the canvas, paint brushes made from animal hairs, and a various assortment of paints and dyes made from natural pigments. These mineral pigments would come from precious stones such as, Lapus, Malachite, Asurite.  Today in the west it is a costly factor to use such fine things as natural pigments, but with quality acrylic paints and mediums, the same effects can be met.

In the present day and age, it is becoming harder to find people that are qualified in the art of Thangka Painting because of the length of time it takes to study and learn the different aspects involved with the tradition. At a Thangka school, it is normal that a student can study for up to 5 years, then graduate with a grade of  A, B or C according to their level of skill. If a student has a higher grade they are able to charge a higher rate for there work, as the grades are recognized by the monasteries and governments. In the west these traditions aren’t institutionalized, so western students either have to live in places like Nepal for extended periods of time, or dedicate time to learn from western teachers who have a lot of experience.

Damien

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