Jharna-Kala newsOn 3 May 1976 Mr. Henry Geldzahler, Curator of the 20th Century Collection at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, visited the Jharna-Kala Gallery to see Sri Chinmoy's paintings and choose some of them for a possible traveling exhibition. Following are excerpts from Mr. Geldzahler's comments about the paintings.
CommentsMr. Geldzahler: Did you know you were going to be a painter?
Sri Chinmoy: No, I call it God’s unconditional Grace or Compassion. In my family nobody was an artist. Everyone was in the literary line. They didn’t have the capacity even to appreciate painting.
Mr. Geldzahler: Did you have images in the back of your mind when you began?
Sri Chinmoy: No, I had no liking for any particular painting, or style of painting. I grew up in a spiritual community, and I had no opportunity to see much art work. I once visited an art museum, but my ignorance did not allow me to appreciate the paintings.
Mr. Geldzahler: It is like learning a language. It takes awhile to learn how.
Sri Chinmoy: Yes, you have to develop the capacity.
Sri Chinmoy: (Pointing to his pastel birds) It takes only a few seconds to do these, but I like them very much.
Mr. Geldzahler: I am nervous about choosing paintings in front of you. I don’t like this fluorescent lighting at all. First of all, it makes a reflection, and also I feel it brings a bad vibration down. It is unnatural. (Pointing to Sri Chinmoy’s second largest painting.) This one is very successful. (Speaking about painting No. 27,001) I like that one very much, but it doesn’t need the heavy gold frame. I would like it better without the frame.
Sri Chinmoy: After completing 27,000 I did it in front of my students. And that one (pointing to another painting) was number 100,000. This one (pointing to the rose) was the first painting I did on that rainy day in Ottawa when I started. I did this one (referring to his largest canvas) about four days ago. Would you kindly advise me in regard to it? How can we store it?
Mr. Geldzahler: Keep the surface unvarnished. If you go to move it around, cover it with clean cloth and roll it around a tube. Plastic, if it gets very hot, may stick.
Mr. Geldzahler: (Putting orange dots on paintings he was selecting as possibilities for the traveling exhibition.) Can we put two dots if we like a painting very much? This one is just perfect. … I think this one has real energy. (Commenting on a vertical painting in the series done for eleven years in the West) I like the landscaping in this one very much, but to me the horizontal ones are more successful than the vertical. How do you do them?
Sri Chinmoy: I stand on a chair so I can reach the top. As a matter of fact, sometimes we change the position after I have done them. We see how they will look better.
Mr. Geldzahler: As I’m choosing, I see one and I look down and see another …. How strong that one is! … I was just at an exhibit of two thousand paintings, but of course by two thousand different artists. But here it is a different experience. Twelve thousand paintings by one artist! It is a much more unifying experience. … Again, I maintain that if I went through them again I would make a slightly different selection. (Speaking about the calendar paintings) You have the most consistent success in that format in which the works are divided by the month. But I don’t want to pick too many of these because I don’t want to make the selection unbalanced. You work on them in a very unified way. When they’re not in crayon, when they’re in paint, these are the most successful. They’re the most consistently good, and my tendency would be to pick a lot of them. But you’ve done so many other kinds that I want my selection to be balanced.
(Yvonne Hanneman pointed out Sri Chinmoy’s earliest drawings.)
Mr. Geldzahler: These have the charm of the work of a student thirteen or fourteen years old. It would be an interesting thing to exhibit them, but it would take a block of words to explain them. I don’t know if you would want that.
Sri Chinmoy: I’d like to know your opinion on one particular kind of painting. (Pointing to a yellow circular fan-brush painting) I am extremely fond of this kind of art.
Mr. Geldzahler: The references are the brain, the cabbage, the cauliflower, the flower, what you see when you look at the sun and then close your eyes. In art that kind of configuration has appeal.
Sri Chinmoy: When I do it I immediately feel that a flower is blossoming.
Mr. Geldzahler: I noticed that that circular form appears very often in your work. It is the moment when the flower opens.
(Harit asked Mr. Geldzahler to comment about the largest painting.)
Mr. Geldzahler: It is extremely hard to talk about this one. I don’t know what to say. It is much more unified than most of the others around it, which is unusual for such a large painting, and part of the reason is that the white is allowed to remain visible. It’s not clouded or dense or impenetrable. It sweeps one way and then the other. It is unified in that way. And all the way around it has not only an edge, but a way of referring or moving.
Harit: It has an infinite quality.
Mr. Geldzahler: But it’s also finite, and that’s important. There is something eternal going on, but it also has to law a shape about it, otherwise no one would be able to understand it.
Sri Chinmoy: Here it is quite dense, and here it is different.
Mr. Geldzahler: It’s fine; it folds in. In order to see this painting it would be much more interesting if it could be carried down there and seen from a distance. (After the painting was moved) One can see the unity better from a distance. You can see that the area that is light blends with the darker parts above it and around it. You can’t be sure of it when you stand too close.
I’ve explained to them how to store this big painting. Some of the big paintings at the Metropolitan have to be carried out the front door and up Fifth Avenue. It’s like a sail, and if there is a wind blowing…
Now it looks like a completely different painting. So you have made two paintings — one from close up and one from far away. I’d like to see how it looks in natural light. Can we have the fluorescent lights turned off?
(After the fluorescent lights were turned off.) I think this is much more subtle. Fluorescent light makes everything even, highlights everything evenly, whereas here the dark and the light all look different. This kind of light doesn't emphasise the white so much. It brings forward the colours. Now the colours are the unifying factor instead of the white spaces.
Sri Chinmoy: It has much more strength now. It is my own painting, so now I am bragging.
Mr. Geldzahler: Before, the point was that the white part was unifying it. Now the point is the contrast of the different colours and the brush strokes. It is stronger and more subtle.
Picasso said you have to know when to paint and you have to know when to stop painting. The trouble with many art students is that they keep working on a painting and working on it, and never know when to stop. This one is amazing. One universe; compact.