ghulam rasool santosh

︎Artist, Painting, Spirituality  
︎ Ventral Is Golden

"The colourless through colour, the formless through form."

Santosh’s art changed dramatically towards tantra when he had a mystical experience in the Amarnath cave in 1964. From then on, until his death in 1997, G. R. Santosh dedicated his life to the study and practice of tantra, a yogi as much as an artist.

"Edith Tonelli, director of UCLA's Frederick S. Wight Gallery, was in a bind. By exhibiting eight contemporary Indian artists whose work is inspired by tantra - a philosophy and collection of meditational methods practiced by subsects of the Hindu and Buddhist religions - she was faced with minting a phrase that would simultaneously describe the little-known art movement's heritage and modernity." (Greenstein)

Within modern Indian art, Ghulam Rasool Santosh was synonymous with the school that came to be known as Neo-Tantra. Early in his career, Santosh started out with his deep love for Cezanne and the Cubist treatment of pictorial space. Bearing similar motifs to traditional Buddhist Thangka art, as well as more modern symbology found in theosophical paintings, and alchemical sigils, the essence of tantrism is still something that sits firmly outside of the Western canon. Throughout various revivials of Eastern art in the west, Neo-Tantrism sits comfortably on the boundries of sustaining indiginous identity whilst appealing to modernist mindsets nourished on abstraction.

The practice of Tantra constitutes Mantra (utterance), Yantra (aid), and Mandala (circle) construction.

Saffron Art, a leading auction house of contemporary Indian Art, describes Tantra as the worship of the dual male-female principle embodied in the physical union of Goddess Kali and her consort Shiva. This sexual union echoes their, and by extension, human origin in an indivisible oneness. The human tantric strives for this primeval unity through secret sexual rituals which involve the contemplation of religious images, sexual objects like the lingam, and sacred geometricised diagrams known as yantras.

The Yantra (meaning tool or aid) is a composition made by means of arranging the primal abstract shapes (such as the point, line, circle, triangle and square) around a central focal point, in order to represent stasis and dymanism equally.

In her article on Neo-Tantrism, cultural journalist, Rebecca M. Brown wrote that "the so-called ‘neo-tantric’ art movement looked to Buddhist and Hindu tantrism for its esoteric, abstract symbols and re-made this tantric language into a contemporary Indian modernism. Neo-tantrism appealed not only to Indian contemporaries but also to Western audiences, as it represented an ‘authentic’ art form that escaped purely formalistic aspects of 1960s Western art."

Seth McCormick, in his essay on Jasper Johns and Tantric Art, suggests that "In the West in the early twentieth century, it was precisely the promise of emancipation from the strictures of dogmatic Christianity and utilitarian rationality that rendered Tantra so attractive to Romantic orientalists like Sir John Woodroffe (author of the earliest popularising treatments of Tantra in English, under the pseudonym ‘Arthur Avalon’) and Heinrich Zimmer, as well as charismatic cult leaders like Aleister Crowley, who credited Tantra as a source of inspiration for his own brand of ‘sex magick’. Subsequently, in the 1960s and 1970s, Tantra was actively exported to the West by gurus and teachers from a variety of religious and spiritual traditions. The failed 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese communist authorities, which drove the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders into exile in India and the West, afforded Westerners unprecedented access to the esoteric traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, which includes many Tantric elements. In subsequent decades, the Tantric teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and other Tibetan Buddhists in exile found an especially receptive audience among avant-garde artists and Beat poets, many of whom already had long-standing interests in Hinduism, Zen Buddhism and other Asian spiritual and philosophical traditions. Meanwhile the popular reception of Tantra in the West linked it with both sexual liberation and mysticism, resonating with the countercultural embrace of the occult, ‘free love’ and goddess-centred neo-paganism."

“It represented an ‘authentic’ art form that escaped purely formalistic aspects of 1960’s Western art.“

“Meanwhile the popular reception of Tantra in the West linked it with both sexual liberation and mysticism, resonating with the countercultural embrace of the occult, ‘free love’ and goddess-centred neo-paganism.”

McCormick goes on to say that,"During the medieval period Tantric practitioners often dwelt on the margins of society, their transgressive ceremonies shrouded in secrecy: ascetic sects like the Kapalikas (‘skull-men’), who used cranium begging bowls and inhabited cremation grounds, inspired fear and awe by violating taboos against contact with dead bodies. But with the breakdown of the Gupta Empire in the sixth century and the decentralisation of power in feudal India, Tantric practices became more widespread throughout the subcontinent, as competition among local religious movements increased. During the same period, Tantric doctrines and rituals influenced the development of esoteric schools of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism that were exported abroad, contributing to the dissemination of Tantrism throughout Southeast and East Asia. Eventually Tantrism came to imbue many different strands of these religions with its characteristic philosophies and forms of worship, complicating the effort to disentangle Tantra from mainstream Hinduism or Buddhism."

Further Reading ︎
‘Awakening’, Retrospective Publication
A View Of India's Modern Tantric Art, Jane Greenstein
Articulating the Modern, article, Rebecca M. Brown
Incarnating Duality: Jasper Johns and Tantric Art, Seth McCormick