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Renaissance Art

16A truly inspired paintings exhibition by Nartana at Renaissance Resort.

A row of paint brushes as spiky as any punk’s hair stand ready for use. And standing on every side, finished pictures. They’re abstract, filled with colour; their shapes are like those seen in a dream: diffuse but somehow filled with expectation. There’s movement in them, and life. These are just a few of Nartana’s paintings.

After living in the artist’s Mecca of Santa Fe, you’ll now find him on Samui in a house that overlooks a colourful garden filled with tropical greenery. His atelier is a sala, dappled by sunlight, a simple space with the essentials he needs for his art. Nartana picks up a brush, nothing delicate; it has a broad, blobby end, and he begins to paint with it. A slow steady hand and the colours flow across the white of the canvas. It’s just the beginning of a picture. Often, Nartana doesn’t know at first what he’s going to paint. The expression on his face is one of relaxed concentration, much like the pilot of a ship who’s setting out on a journey, but not for the first time; he’s an expert.

He’s been chosen for an exhibition at the Renaissance Resort and is showing some 50 paintings. “Most of them I did last year and this year,” he says. “They are of various sizes and subjects. Only a few have been displayed elsewhere.” He’s fairly prolific as painters go and it’s clearly his life’s work; he’s been painting now for almost 30 years.

Nartana’s earliest inspirations were his mother, also a painter. He grew up around her pictures and it made him aware of all the possibilities that art has. “But, these days,” he says, “my biggest inspirations are children. They paint without fear and without thought of the consequences. They’re more spontaneous. And they’re still innocent. Painters don’t paint from a position of knowledge. It’s more an intuitive business. I try to find that space of innocence that children inhabit. I try to work from there.”

It’s difficult, he says, because he’s not painting as a hobby. “I’m a commercial painter and this is my sole livelihood. So I have to be aware of what I am doing, if I am to succeed. It’s the conundrum that bothers every artist, no matter what his or her medium is.” And it’s still something that troubles him, he confesses.

But it certainly doesn’t hold him back. The whole house reflects his artistry; a toilet seat is vibrantly painted, and the bathroom looks more like a work of art than it has any right to. A simple dustbin lid reflects rainbow colours, and the wood of the house is often interrupted by colourful grace notes. Downstairs, meanwhile, a small room has become a gallery and a variety of his paintings hang here, along with a blue guitar.

If Nartana is plagued by artistic demons, this isn’t reflected in his demeanour, which is very relaxed, or the atmosphere of his house, filled with tranquility. Perhaps it’s just peacefulness of the surrounding countryside but it’s more likely due to the fact that he’s devoted himself to meditation for years. He learned it in India and his travels there are an important part of who he is today.

“The exhibition’s tagline is ‘Touched by the East’ and, for me, that’s exactly how it was,” he says before pausing. “Well, whacked by the east is more accurate.”

He recounts how going to India helped him to overcome his past. “It made me come to terms with my upbringing and to discover spirituality,” he says. “It’s there that I got the name Nartana.”

He’s kept the name ever since and it’s replaced his former, German name. Nartana is Sanskrit (roughly translated as ‘dance’) and this is one of his qualities, a kind of lightness, an ability to be cheerful and not dragged down by the gravity of life and all the worries it entails.

India remains a place he gravitates to and has never tired of. “I go back fairly regularly,” he says with excitement. “When I started traveling there, it was in the south, then the extreme south. Later on I began going to the north, and in 2007 I got as far as Ladakh.”

Has meditation helped him to paint better? He doesn’t think so. “At least, not directly,” he says. “Not that I'm aware of.” But he concedes that it keeps him more focused in the here-and-now. “And that’s a good place to be,” he continues, “especially if you’re painting or doing any kind of art.”

For Nartana, what’s important is that nothing is really fixed in his mind before he starts work on a painting. “Maybe I begin with some intention or other,” he says, “but I’m not aware of it. I never know what the outcome of a painting will be; I don’t plan it that way. For me, what’s important, is tapping into the unknown. That’s how I aim to work. Sometimes it’s scary.”

Asked if he ever suffers from artist’s block, Nartana says, “Yes, of course. Sometimes I feel I can’t come up with anything new. But I get easily inspired. Not so much from visual things but from experiences I've had and from silence. When I teach people, I often ask them to close their eyes and paint blindly. I do this myself at times. Or I just let myself paint shadows – the ones that fall across my canvas. These are ways into painting.”

When the process is going well, Nartana has half a dozen paintings on the go at the same time. All are in various stages of completion. Whilst some are in the final drying stages, he’s at work on brand new ones. They are proof of a serious creative flow.

 


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