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Avatar Art: A Book Review

By: for ISKCON News on Nov. 3, 2016
Arts

The book's cover art.

Avatar Art: Neo-Vedic Paintings Celebrating Life by Steven J. Rosen (Satyaraja Dasa) and co-author Kaisori Bellachoffers a beautiful artistic smorgasbord of the most popular figures in India's array of avatars, gods, sages, and demons. The alluring paintings of which this volume is comprised, portrayed by contemporary artists, mostly ISKCON devotees, focus on stories from the Srimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana), the Mahabharata, and the Caitanya-caritamrta. The text illuminates the art.

Here, at last, is a BBT art book that reads like an art book. More than just another volume of “painting, lila-explanation, painting, lila-explanation,” this work not only elaborates on the content of the paintings but also explains the art in terms of actually being works of art. Why was one particular color used as opposed to another? How does this compare to a similar painting in the Western tradition? These sorts of questions often lead to thought-provoking answers. 

Overall, this book insightfully brings to bear the spiritual in art both from Eastern and Western theological perspectives, finally explaining Vaishnava art in some accessible context. Satyaraja Prabhu was a student at the High School of Art and Design and then majored in fine art and painting at New York Community College before joining the Hare Krishna Movement. This informs his writing in this particular book, his latest among his 30-some-odd titles. 

The book opens with a lengthy Introduction explaining the basic principles of bhakti (devotion) and rasa (relationship) and how these two deeply spiritual ideas impact art in general. From there we learn about “spiritual art in the West,” briefly exploring the work of everyone from Kandinsky to Rothko. The authors show how most spiritual art is dominated by abstraction and seeing God in nature, largely because specific information about God and His personal form are lacking.

This leads to a discussion of spiritual art in India, ultimately exploring the form of Krishna and His incarnations. We then follow this more specific aspect of spiritual art as it makes its way to the Western world, complete with the founding of the ISKCON art department and the beautiful, award-winning pieces found throughout ISKCON temples and peppered throughout Srila Prabhupada’s books. 

After setting up the book in this way, key personalities and stories from the Srimad Bhagavatam, the Mahabharata, and the Caitanya-caritamrta are highlighted with traditional art and, more specifically, with ISKCON art, both from the early days of the movement until the present day. 

Since this is a follow-up to Satyaraja’s first BBT book, “The Hidden Glory of India,” it is designed as part of a series, sporting the same size and style of that initial volume.  

With 102 paintings by 27 artists, this full color book, in 224 pages, clearly depicts the entire tradition of Krishna Consciousness, at least in nutshell form. And it does so with considerable style and visual delight. The book is a must for artists and lovers of art and, well, for all who want to fully appreciate the visual beauty of Krishna Consciousness.

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The book is available at krishna.com (http://store.krishna.com/avatar-art-neo-vedic-paintings-celebrating-life/). Wholesale and retail orders can be made from NA BBT by phone: 1-800-927-4152. 

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[ art ] [ avatara ] [ book ]
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