Art in the Buddhist-centric societies of Asia—Nepal, Burma, Tibet, and China in particular—has always been explicitly religious, usually taking the form of thangka paintings—depictions of the Buddha used for meditative or ceremonial purposes. The composition of thangkas is quite particular, as the Buddha’s arms, legs, eyes, nostrils, ears, and various ritual implements are all plotted on a systematic grid of angles and intersecting lines. Some iconic thangkas have been directly copied by artists for hundreds of years, each successive painter trying not to interpret the work in a different way (as would be the case in western art; one thinks of the many interpretations of the Virgin Mary, from Sandro Botticelli to Chris Ofili), but trying to make an exact replica of the original painting. According to Jennifer Neufeld, co-owner of Lodoe Gallery with her huband Janyang Lodoe, a new art space in Rhinebeck specializing in contemporary Asian art, “Asian art is unique—it’s valued for its ability to imitate a standard rather than for its uniqueness.”
This imitative streak in Asian art is still strong, but in the past 20 years, says Neufeld, painters have begun to break away from tradition. Two artists working within the new paradigm of Asian art are Soe Soe and Khin Zaw Latt, two brothers from Burma whose paintings anchor the inaugural exhibition at Lodoe Gallery, “Visions of Burma.”
Khin Zaw Latt works in a symbolist style more in keeping with the thangka lineage, but his work is a push-pull between tradition and modernity. His paintings often employ images of the Buddha, but in innovative ways, like using an oversized image of the deity’s head that is too big for the frame, or stamping the surface of a painting of the Buddha’s face with a pattern of tiny gold leaf Buddhas, evoking the quality of digital graphics, which have influenced Khin Zaw Latt’s aesthetic. (Gold leaf is a traditionally used in Buddhism to adorn religious statues and monuments.)
Soe Soe works in a more realist style, choosing to paint Burmese street scenes and other commonplaces. The settings, however, almost always involve some element of Buddhism, attesting to the influence of religion in the country. In some of Soe Soe’s paintings, it’s as simple as a representation of young monks walking with umbrellas, or praying, as in the untitled cover image. “His closely observed depictions of life in Myanmar show the overarching presence of Buddhism, the casualness of it, in everyday life,” says Neufeld.
Gallery Lodoe is also currently showing the paintings of three contemporary Tibetan artists, Wang Shiming, Jiang Yung, and Zung De.
“Visions of Burma,” featuring the paintings of brothers Soe Soe and Khin Zaw Latt will be exhibited through March 31 at Gallery Lodoe. The gallery will hold an opening celebration on Saturday, January 26. Buddhist monks will be present to perform purification pujas blessing the space. Call for information.
Gallery Lodoe, 6400 Montgomery Street, second floor, on the corner of Rt. 9 and East Market Street. (845) 876-6331; www.galerylodoe.com.