messenger of the gods
Dinesh Charan Shrestha is one of the leaders in the contemporary Newar art movement of Nepal. Depicting Hindu and Buddhist deities in a style influenced by the work of Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli, the paintings of the Newar tradition are unlike other styles of sacred art found in Asia, and the top artists of this movement are known for their innovative depiction of the gods and goddesses, as well as for their incredible ability to show the beauty of the deities through minute details.
In 2005, Dinesh arrived in the United States from Kathmandu, Nepal. As an artist with a very high reputation in Nepal, he made a difficult choice to come to the West with hopes that he would be able to continue as a painter, unlike many other artists from Nepal who leave their country for a better future only to sacrifice their craft in order to earn a proper living. He had received numerous first prize awards in national art competitions, and his paintings had been acquired by a number of museums in Japan and the United States, including the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, which features some of the finest Himalayan art in the world. In addition to his presence in museums, he had the encouragement and support of world-renowned thangka painter and writer Robert Beer, who first brought attention to Dinesh’s work in the West.
Born into a traditional Hindu family, Dinesh was influenced by both his Shaivite Hindu upbringing, and the strong relationship with Buddhism in his native city of Kathmandu. For him, as with many Nepalis, veneration is due to all the deities, whether they are Hindu or Buddhist. His elder brother, Udaya Charan Shrestha, was Dinesh’s teacher and guide into the realm of Newar painting, and he acquired the tools he now uses in sharing the beautiful world of the deities through art.
As a child, Dinesh grew up hearing devotional songs and stories dedicated to the gods, and these all offered many detailed descriptions of the deities’ appearance and characteristics. When he paints an image of a deity, he says it is crucial that he follows the traditional iconography and descriptions found in scripture to maintain the integrity of the image. His own spiritual work comes through the practice of actually envisioning the deities as if they were visible in reality. Not only do the attributes associated with a divinity express symbolic meaning, but the very posture, expression and subtle movements of the deity also communicate something profound to the viewer.
Dinesh is now sharing his tradition through classes in Newar painting at Yoga Mandala Studio in Berkeley. In addition to offering courses, Dinesh also paints deities and teachers from the school’s Tantric tradition and, because of this new influence, the breadth of Newar painting is in a process of transformation as well. There are new deities and historical teachers to depict, new iconography to learn and an opportunity to share with the public the sublime faces and incredible reality of the gods and goddesses.