“I evolved from copying images to transforming the philosophy behind Thangka in my creations. They turned out to be more realistic and unpredictable, which truly presented “emptiness”, “anatta” (non self) and “anitya” (impermanence).”

Chantal Fok

Chantal Fok

After graduated from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Chantal Fok (L6-20) went to Shangri-La in Yunnan to learn Thangka. She finds artistic inspirations from the chemistry combining her knowledge in Chinese painting with techniques in Thangka painting. In her recent creation, she presents the process of producing Thangka art in the form of abstract painting, showcasing limitless possibility in art creation. “I evolved from copying images to transforming the philosophy behind Thangka in my creations. They turned out to be more realistic and unpredictable, which truly presented “emptiness”, “anatta” (non self) and “anitya” (impermanence).” Chantal said.

A Jar of Mist
Image courtesy: the Artist
Image courtesy: the Artist
CChantal Fok
Q1. J

How to appreciate the art of Thangka? Do you perceive changes in aesthetic standards from the past?

A1. C

Art has two distinct purposes: To gain wisdom or to obtain worldly pursuits. The term “supremacy” in Tibetan language means “an art piece represents supremacy itself”. Art brings liberation and pleasure through any medium, with dependance on the motives of the artist. Transliterated from the Tibetan term ཐང་ཀ(thang ka)་, Thangka means religious scroll paintings. They usually depict yidams, mandalas and gurus. Thangka paintings are often seen in mediation and religious ceremonies. As a religious art with its essence in Buddhism, Thangka is an assistive tool to a person’s attainment of spiritual enlightenment and liberation. For this reason, the aesthetic standards for Thangka art have changed little through the years.

There are four key elements in Thangka appreciation: measurement, contour, colour and gold outline. Measurement is the key criteria for rating a piece of Thangka painting. Thangka painting must demonstrate precise and refined measurement. Imprecise measurement in Thangka is seen by Tibetan buddhists not merely as an aesthetic flaw, but a blasphemy against the Buddha. A quality Thangka contains smooth and exquisite outline. The contour of body figures in Thangka should be delicate, even, and fluid. Drapes of clothings should be curvy, emphasising the layers. Thangka masterpieces display vibrant colours with neat but smooth transition between the hues. Outlining in gold is another important element. Thangka masterpieces display vibrant colours and intricate outlines in gold that are concisely executed. Last but not least, Thangka is rated by the overall impression it makes: a great Thangka painting will display a certain magnificence and realism.

CChantal Fok
Q2. J

Would you care to share with us the current direction of your art creation?

A2. C

The concept of my recent work is to turn the process of producing a Thangka art piece into a painting.
Through repetitive rhythm, I am made aware of the sensation of every movement and then enter the realm of meditation. My senses are sharpened during meditation, dormant sensations are stimulated and I am able to re-experience the world.

Shakyamuni Buddha (Bodhgaya)

Image courtesy: the Artist

Q3. J

Why did you start painting in abstract style? What did the art form bring you? Do you think one shall “see” with other senses apart from the eyes?

A3. C

It is neither possible to completely separate ourselves from things, nor see things purely as objects. I gain my perception towards things through my experience, and present the observed world through body movement. In this way paintings are no longer an imitation of the world, but an isolated universe portraited by pigments and strokes,
separated from reality, truths and rationales.

Q4. J

Are there limitations or disputes related to religious belief in Thangka art creation? How do you tackle them?

A4. C

Being a Tibetan buddhist, I am aware that there are religious limitations and differences. I certainly would not want my paintings to commit blasphemy against Buddhism or cause any negative impression on people. I have evolved from copying images to transforming the philosophy behind Thangka in my creations. And I think this makes the creation more realistic and unpredictable, and thus a more truthful representation of “emptiness”, “anatta” (non self) and “anitya” (impermanence).

Self Nature

Image courtesy: the Artist

Q5. J

What social issues are closest to your heart? Do you think bringing art or religion to the public may help find solutions to them? What kind of virtues do you wish to promote to the public?

A5. C

Among social issues I am most concerned with those related to mental health – some describe it as body heart and soul. I wish to promote Buddhist philosophy through Thangka art. Some of my students have gained patience and inner peace despite the busy city life they live through drawing Thangka. I hope my paintings could bring viewers a moment of peace.

Sakyamuni Buddha Mandala

Image courtesy: the Artist