Srila Prabhupada called Krishna conscious art “Windows to the Spiritual World.”
Every once in a while, an artist comes along who is truly blessed with the ability to open those windows for us.
One of today’s most exciting spiritual artists, Radhe Gendron, grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s on the New Mayapur farm in France, daughter of pujari Visesa Dasi and handyman Nrsimhananda Das. She started painting at the age of four.
Visesa Dasi was extremely supportive of her daughter’s innate talent, constantly encouraging her and engaging her in service to the Deities. As a teenager, on any given festival Radhe might be creating and painting wooden cut-out gopis for the altar, or helping her mother design outfits for Sri-Sri Radha Govinda Madhava.
Other devotees gave her opportunities to prove herself, instilling confidence in her. At just 17, a temple in Rouen, the capital of Normandy, gave Radhe her first commercial order when they commissioned her to paint a very large 180 x 90cm (nearly 6 x 5 feet) acrylic panel of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Prabhu dancing in Harinama Sankirtana.
With the flame fanned, Radhe took art history in university and at age 20 attended the Transcendental Art Seminar under BBT art legends Dhriti Dasi and Ramdas Abhirama Das to improve her skills, and learn about Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on Krishna conscious art.
Over the years that followed, the demands and responsibilities of life often made complete focus on her art difficult for Radhe. Living in Holland with her husband, photographer Bimala Naysmith, she first had a full-time job in customer support, then became a stay-at-home mom, caring for her son Kirtan.
‘Swimming in the Yamuna,’ a watercolor for a children’s search-and-find book about Krishna in Vrindavan
Still, she managed to produce a variety of different oil, acrylic, watercolor and other art projects. Her oil painting ‘Mother’s Love,’ of Mother Yashoda and Lord Krishna, is influenced by her studies of renaissance artists and their depictions of the virgin Mary and baby Jesus. Visually stunning and deeply touching, it brings one of the most special relationships with the Lord to life.
Contributing along with several other artists, her line drawings for Urmila Dasi’s Sri Manah-Siksa depicted the loving pastimes of Radha and Krishna. Her oil ‘Mahaprabhu,’ showing an open-armed Lord Chaitanya glowing against a stained-glass like background was the cover art for Badahari Das’ album Gaura Sharanam, and captured its devotional mood.
Radhe also continued to help her mother by designing Deity outfits for New Mayapur’s Sri Sri Radha-Govinda Madhava every year for Janmastami, Radhastami or Balarama Purnima. She still makes them today.
“The ideas for outfits can come from colors I see on a walk, an image that strikes me on the Internet, something beautiful in nature,” she says. “The last one we did came from a photo of a caterpillar where the colors were so striking and beautiful that I decided I had to design something with it.”
More recently, Radhe illustrated Kosarupa Dasi’s award-winning children’s book “The Jaguar’s Story,” which tells the charming tale of two young Jaguar cubs in the Amazon rainforest, and inspires care for Mother Earth in young kids. Vibrant and completely entrancing, her stunning paintings pull the reader into the world of the Amazon and make the story come alive.
‘Gopal Crossing the Yamuna,’ oil on paper. Radhe’s niece was used as the model. This painting is a test for Kosarupa’s next book about Krishna’s flutes
As a full-time mother, work can be both very challenging and very rewarding for Radhe. “When you have kids, you can’t always control what’s happening or plan ahead, so I had to learn to make time where I could,” she says. “I did a lot of late night sessions for The Jaguar’s Story, after Kirtan went to bed. It wasn’t easy, but it was very rewarding, and I enjoyed it. My son did, too. He would come and sit with me sometimes, and when he pointed out what he liked I knew I was going in the right direction with the artwork. Then when Kosarupa sent me the first batch of books and I opened the box, my little boy was so proud! It was very sweet.”
Radhe is particularly drawn to painting Lord Krishna as a child, not just because of her relationship with her own son, but also because the Lord’s childhood pastimes are what she relates to most.
“I don’t feel like I’m qualified to connect with the emotions of Radha and Krishna as adults,” she says. “But we’ve all been children, and I can still remember those feelings of freedom, of not worrying how you’re going to eat or heat the house, just playing and being 100% in your acticities. And children are generally happy and enthusiastic – for me it’s easier to connect to those emotions.”
Now that her son has started school, Radhe has set up her own studio at home and happily for all of us, her productivity has gone into high gear. She is working on gift posters and album covers for the UK’s Radha Krishna Records, and has auctioned a painting to support Belgium’s Radhadesh Mellows kirtan festival with the proceeds, something she plans to do every year.
‘Mahaprabhu,’ oil on canvas, created for Badahari Das’ album Krishna Sharanam
But most of her energy is going into creating much-needed high quality books and toys for devotee children. Her next project is a search-and-find book – her son’s favorite – about Krishna in Vrindavana, with magical watercolor paintings filled with joy that bring the Lord’s pastimes to life. One will show Krishna and his friends playing in the Yamuna river; another them having their picnic lunch; and one Krishna and the cowherd boys waiting to ambush the gopis and steal their butter.
Expected at the end of next year, the book’s busy scenes are meticulously researched – Radhe makes sure that all the animals and plants she depicts are native to Vrindavana.
Radhe is also already offering a series of eight high quality Ravensburger tray puzzles on her website, featuring one painting from her upcoming search-and-find book; two from The Jaguar’s Story; several charming paintings of Lord Krishna; and a unique painting of Prahlad Narasimha in which the Lord holds Prahlad in his hands as the boy devotee garlands him.
“I painted it while I was pregnant with my son,” Radhe says. “I originally saw the painting in my mind while watching a Narasimhadeva drama in Mayapur. The actor playing Prahlad was a small child and had difficulty garlanding the adult playing Narasimhadeva. All I could think about was, if Narasimha was really much taller than a human man, then He would have had to help His devotee put a garland on Himself. There was no way that little Prahlad could have reached His head. I love the special connection, simple loving gesture and intimacy of the moment.”
Prahlad Nrsimha, acrylic painted in 2013 when Radhe was pregnant with her son
Radhe also plans to create a series of wooden painted memory games and other good quality devotional toys, with help in the woodshop from her father Nrsimhananda.
Radhe’s art has drawn fervent praise on Instagram and Facebook, with some paintings getting tens of thousands of views and devotees sharing how deeply they have touched them.
But for Radhe, things are simple. “I don’t have any grand aspirations,” she says. “I just want to keep painting Krishna.”
She loves to paint the Lord, she explains, because it keeps her absorbed in Him. “When I’m painting, I have to research the kind of jewelry He’s wearing, or look in the sastra to find out what exactly I can and cannot depict,” she says. “Or if I’m painting His feet and I’m not satisfied, I’ll be thinking constantly about them until I get them right.”
“Painting,” she concludes, “Is my way of feeling connected with Krishna.”
One of Radhe’s high quality puzzles for children, featuring Lord Muralidhara playing His flute
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To see Radhe’s portfolio and purchase her art prints, children’s books, puzzles and mugs, fridge magnets, t-shirts and lunchboxes featuring her art, visit https://www.radhegendron.com/.
May 15, 2022
Sunanda Das, Temple of the Vedic Planetarium