Today, I saw the Tsherin Sherpa exhibit at the VMFA, all centered on his series Spirits. The layout of the exhibit was clever, taking the viewer from Sherpa’s early works and going chronologically. The paintings and sculptures move between contemporary and traditional, with both playing parts in each.
I found the melding of the old and the new exciting. Though I would say the line treatment of the paintings was crisp, the subject matter didn’t have such clear delineations. This is apparent from his first piece to his last and varies in levels of subtlety. For example, the figure in his paintings often has elements of popular culture despite having the face of Tibetan Deities, like logos Sherpa encountered in his life after moving to New York for a stint.
Sherpa embraces the physicality of his figures, as they squat, kneel, dance, and pose. This also brings the beings into conversation with the comparison of traditional vs. modern. Staying Alive, for example, draws its pose from Saturday Night Fever, and brings the spirit fully into the contemporary.
My favorite part of the exhibit itself was the change that took place as the subjects of his paintings transformed from having colorful faces and more plain, white bodies with patterns sitting outside the body in the background to having those patterns bleed into the body. The patterns differ from the earliest patterns present on the spirits’ bodies in their lack of basis in found imagery. Sherpa’s later spiritual figures are cloaked in layered, twisted, and colorful shapes that look almost graphic. This change was dramatic, and I loved to see that comparison so clearly laid out for me.