Over one hundred people attended the reception for a new art exhibit by ISKCON artists Ramadasa Abhirama Dasa and his wife Dhriti Dasi, at the Exeter Courthouse Gallery and Museum in Central California this January 9th.
The show, entitled “A Marriage of Art,” included thirty-six landscape and figurative paintings by both artists, as well as ten of Vrindavana and four large paintings of Lord Krishna, which the couple collaborated to produce.
Ramadasa and Dhriti have been painting Krishna since 1975, when they participated in the famous marathon to produce seventeen volumes of Chaitanya Charitamrita for Srila Prabhupada’s Bhaktivedanta Book Trust in two months. They are also the official Bhaktivedanta College Transcedental Art Tutors.
One of their paintings for the Exeter show, ‘Krishna and the Peacock,’ was created in 1983 in Florence, Italy, where they headed up the BBT art department for six years. It was used on the cover of the BBT’s recent Krishna Art book.
The other three—Gopal with the Cows, Radha and the Peacock, and Radha Krishna in the Monsoon—were painted by Ramadasa and Dhriti in the last two years, for a new BBT publication.
Board members of the Exeter Gallery invited the couple to hold their own show because they knew them to be artists in the nearby town of Three Rivers, and because they found it very interesting that two married artists could share a life and a career, and sometimes even work together on the same painting.
“They had seen a newspaper article from the larger city of Visalia, a few months prior, about our ‘Transcendental Art,’ and were aware that we did landscape and figurative art in the classic school,” says Dhriti. “They were very respectful and appreciative to have us do the show. And when we brought the Krishna paintings, they were not phased in the least and seemed just happy to have this level of artwork and beauty in their gallery. So happy that they gave ‘Krishna and the Peacock’ pride of place right in the center of the gallery!”
Despite the primarily conservative Christian population of Exeter, there was an excellent turnout at the show’s reception, and Gallery staff said it was their best show to date.
When a prominent senior administrator of the local college was asked which paintings he liked best from the show he said, “I can’t decide—it’s between Krishna
and the Peacock or Radha and the Peacock!”
“Krishna was definitely the star of the show,” Dhriti says. “People were expressing much appreciation for His beauty and that of His Radha. One person commented, ‘When I look at that painting of Krishna, I see love.’ Another, looking at ‘Gopal with the Cows,’ said, ‘I love the cows in the distance, and the path, and this figure of Krishna is so perfect and beautiful.’”
Dhriti finds she and Ramadasa are always amazed when people are attracted to Krishna without knowing the philosophy behind Him. “There is just a natural attraction,” she says. “Often the response seems to be from the heart. For most of the people at our show, a book or harinam might not have elicted a favorable response to Krishna consciousness, but through these paintings they were attracted to Krishna, which was what Prabhupada wanted.”
She adds, “Of course, doing these paintings for Srila Prabhupada’s books is always the most fulfilling, but it’s interesting to see people attracted to the paintings themselves. And this gallery setting gives them a greater sense of asthetic and value.”
The Western style of painting, using classical techniques, that Ramadasa and Dhriti employ was requested by Srila Prabhupada, who instructed his artist disciples to make Krishna “real” so that people would understand Him as a real person and not mythology.
“We strive to develop better technique and deeper understanding to communicate the beautiful profound teachings Srila Prabhupada has given us,” Dhriti says.
“It has been our meditation throughout our entire lives to make these pastimes ‘real’ but not mundane.”
It is Ramadasa and Dhriti’s dream that in the future, they—and other ISKCON artists—will have more similar shows in many different cities.
“This would be a great way for devotee artists to introduce Krishna to many people, and to bring appreciation and inquiry for the amazing philosophy of Krishna consciousness,” Dhriti says. “Already, we are seeing the potential of devotional art to affect the hearts of people who appreciate culture and fine arts.”
Hundreds of people are expected to continue visiting Ramadasa and Dhriti’s “Marriage of Art” show at the Exeter Courthouse Gallery and Museum.