By Gopilal Acharya
TWINZ—Ugyen Samdrup and Tashi Dendup—are identical brothers who always pair up to produce works of art together. They are the latest big arrivals in the Bhutanese art scene, and have captured the country’s imagination with their distinctive and standout style. They take deep inspiration from the work and life of Rembrandt (Harmenszoon van Rijn). TTH caught up with them for a more intimate insight into their artistic world.
TTH: Artistic movements play a big role in the artist’s imagination, as well as in his/her output? For example, Dali did some of his best works as part of the Surrealist Epoch in the 1920s and 30s—The Great Masturbator or The Persistence of Memory. Given that we don’t really have any artistic movement in Bhutan, how do you integrate social thoughts and ideas into your work?
TWINZ: Our work is not dependent on what goes around us. We create our own small movement based on the ideas we conceive. Our work is not political, but more of a fantasy that we create in our imagination. But we do use inspiration from traditional Bhutanese Thangka (mural) paintings and the Japanese woodblock prints. We also take inspiration from some artists of the West who have oriental influence in their works.
TTH: Military chivalry, as seen in your Warriors collection, and also repeated in some newer paintings, including ones titled Bushido and Senshi, gives a sense your works celebrate human spirit in a more masculine form—physical strength and chivalry? Am I wrong here?
TWINZ: No, you are right. Our work is heavily influenced by Chögyam Trungpa’s book titled ‘The Sacred Path of the Warrior’. In this book Chögyam Trungpa says that the sacred warrior conquers the world through gentleness, courage, and self-knowledge, and not through violence or aggression. A true warrior confronts his own problems through meditation or by being mindful of his actions or by embracing his own human spirit and goodness. Bhutan’s history and the tradition of Pazap (warrior) also influenced Warriors. So did the Japanese Samurai tradition and its strict military and moral codes.
TTH: Most human faces in your work are rather stoic. They don’t give out extreme human emotions like the works of many European painters do…emotions like pain, anger, grief, angst, loss, etc. Is this part of your military take?
TWINZ: This is got to do with the Buddhist belief that no matter what happens one must remain calm and collected. It reflects the idea of the middle-path in one’s approach to life, that one must be awake and aware all the time about the dangers of leaning too much on one side.
TTH: Your Delhi exhibition featured 47 pieces of portraits. And you seem to be working on more. Is this how you will continue, with human portraits? Or should we expect new themes in the future?
TWINZ: Maybe, we might do some figurative paintings, but we will certainly not do abstracts. For now this is how we will continue. We like connecting with human faces, and through them relate and tell stories and ideas.
TTH: Is there any particular strong influence from Western movements or individual artist that you look up to or that influenced your approach to art? For example, I see that you have done Rembrandt and Klimt portraits. Any specific reason for this?
TWINZ: We find some similarities between Klimt’s Golden Phase paintings and what we do. He was a symbolist painter, and we too use Buddhist symbols in our paintings. Back in college we also took inspiration from the Japanese traditional art.
TTH: Do you think you guys are evolving more as figurative painters, more in the sense of representational work?
TWINZ: Yes, we think so.
TTH: One of my favorite painters is Egon Schiele. Like in his work, what is apparent in your work is the sheer intensity, best portrayed in Intimation of Self-Awareness and Guardian of the Transcendent World. What does intensity represent in your work?
TWINZ: The intensity in our work is intentional. We do not use any layouts. We go straight into the task at hand. If we feel we are not getting anywhere with our work, or if we change our mind somewhere in the middle, we just discard the canvass and start again. We approach our work with complete openness. We do not believe in planning and sketching. We consider all our works as unfinished pieces. We could add anything on any work as long as it remains in our studio. Every painting is an open canvass for us. No work is complete for us, because we believe that imagination does not end, that imagination should not end!
TTH: Have you done a landscape? Do you intend to do landscapes, or say still lifes, in the future?
TWINZ: We did one or two landscapes, but not still lifes. I don’t see us doing landscapes or still lifes in the near future.
TTH: I realize that many of our artists (including writers) are hemmed in by their own choice to remain parochial, for example the need that the artist feels his/her work must be distinctly Bhutanese, and in doing so often deny greater imagination? Do you agree?
TWINZ: Yes. Artists must look beyond what is being offered by their immediate environment. They should think out of the box and try different mediums. Our advice to young artists is that they should think differently and find newer paths to express themselves and shine in their work.
TTH: Do you think you have by now firmly established your own distinctive style? Or do you consider yourselves as work-in-progress?
TWINZ: We consider ourselves as work-in-progress. There is much to learn and so much to aspire for.
TTH: Last, any new exhibition in the offing?
TWINZ: Yes, we have an exhibition lined up for 2019 in Hungary.
Gopilal Acharya is the creator of The Talking Hills. He is an award winning journalist and has written for CNN, South Asian Monitor, The Straits Times, The Telegraph, Kuensel, Bhutan Times, and The Journalist, among others. He is the author of Bhutanese Folk Tales (From the East and the South) and Dancing to Death (a book of poems). The manuscript of his debut novel, With a Stone in My Heart, was longlisted for the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Asia Literary Review and Himal Southasian.