TISSA RANASINGHE: THE
Buddhist art ultimately comes down to the Buddha image. The
question is: How are we to depict the Fully Enlightened One? Modern Buddhist artists
have two easy options:
To return to classical examples (Gupta, Amaravati, Sukhothai etc.)
that are wholly dignified and 'safe' in that they ask no questions and issue no challenge.
To go over entirely to modern modes of expression (abstract,
surrealist etc.) and give the works Buddhist titles, again without challenging old
concepts or suggesting new possibilities.
Tissa Ranasinghe has chosen the much more difficult option of
reinterpreting traditional concepts in terms of modern experience, typified 'the Crisis of
Faith'. Few people, east or west, now enjoy the confidence and comfort that faith
Tissa's work takes up this challenge and invites his viewers to
confront reality. This is not always a 'comfortable' experience, but it is precisely
what the Buddha set out to do over 2,500 year ago.
Like all serious artists, Tissa refuses to 'explain' his works, which
should be allowed to speak for themselves and at the same time remain open to the
interpretation of the viewers.
Tissa's works are not necessarily religious; they are open to various
interpretations. For instance Self Mortification might be Prince Siddhatta
(the Buddha-to-be) when he mortified his flesh, or it might be any one in an agony of
striving. Similarly Ardhanarishwara might be the god Shiva in his
androgenous form; it might also represent man divided within himself; or human love with
all its conflicts, complexities and ambiguities.
Tissa deals with energy or power, which can take two different
directions. In his more obviously Buddhist works, the energy is concentrated within,
gathering at the centre, as in 'Self Mortification' and Enlightenment. This
also happens in his Lovers.
In contrast, in his works of Hindu inspiration (for instance The
Dance and Peacock & Rider) the energy explodes outwards. The
viewer must interpret these contrasting flows of energy for himself.
Tissa does not suppose that the achievement of the Buddha was an easy
one. Enlightenment was not gained by sitting with a calm smile beneath the Bodhi
tree. It was the result of an immense and desperate struggie with himself, his
fears, desires and weaknesses, of which Mara is only the symbol. Tissa therefore
dares to show the Buddha in distress and wounded as in Mara Yuddha.
Enlightenment provides Tissa's clearest interpretation of the
Buddha's achievement. His victory was not over an external adversary (Mara) but over
himself. The mask of his own features lies fallen at his feet, the illusion of self
finally torn away.
Tissa's work is open to numberless interpretations. It is not
only Buddhist, or Asian, or religious. It is universal and timeless, and the
thoughtful viewer may find all sorts of meanings in it that I have missed.
Real art is not 'art for art's sake', nor for moral or social
improvement. It is a magic mirror in which one can see the most extraordinary
things, some nice, some nasty, all vital to our understanding of what it means to be
Matichon Newspaper, Bangkok