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Sohan Qadri

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1932, Punjab, India
Died 2011, Toronto, Canada
Lived and worked in Copenhagen, Denmark

Sohan Qadri is one of the major exponents of meditative and Tantric philosophy and symbolism in art. He is known for his dye-infused works on serrated paper that act as a repository of energy. He lived the major part of his life in Copenhagen and put up more than 70 shows during his lifetime.



Masters in Fine Art from Government College of Art, Shimla

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His travels inspired his works and made him into a truly cosmopolitan artist

The artist in order to devote himself to painting completely and trying to establish himself internationally, traveled to Africa, where he contacted Elimo Njau, a catalyst of contemporary art in Nairobi. He recognized Qadri's work from Delhi. With the help of the Indian ambassador’s help, Qadri's show became a sellout and the talk of the hour in Nairobi.

He then moved on to Zurich and put up an exhibition at Brussels. With a friend, he met the surrealist painter Rene Magritte and was colossally affected by him. He proceeded to Paris to meet S.H. Raza and Mulk Raj Anand and put up an important exhibition there. On his return to Zurich, Qadri received an invitation from Kushalin, Poland, where the Souks Museum acquired one of his paintings.

Copenhagen with a serene and calm lifestyle was ideal for his meditative art and this is where he stayed up until his death in 2011. It was here that he met his most important patron, Henreich Boll.

He presented this at the African show.

Sohan Qadri Untitled, oil on canvas, 45 x 33”

This is from the Henreich Boll collection.

Sohan Qadri, Sruti II, 2008, ink and dye on paper, 55 x 39”

The Tantric thought in Qadri's work

Sohan Qadri's work is deeply meditative, endeavoring to calm the soul and arrest the thought process. Qadri has devised unique ways to combine Tantric philosophy with symbolic minimalism. On reaching Copenhagen, his paintings can be interpreted as displaying the serene Scandinavian landscapes in the form of color. The choice of the medium that is ink also helps him achieve this translucency and transience of form. He serrated and punctured the largely monochromatic surfaces like "lustrous bubbles of energy". He transforms paper into a three- dimensional surface, thereby instilling life in his work, just like Tantricism does to the world. Despite all the years away from India, the greater ethos of his paintings reminds the viewer of his origins and belongings. In the scheme of colors one can find Sindoori reds, peacock blues, intense oranges, even heavy blacks and grays that are distinctly Indian.

A good example of serration on paper that absorbs ink is his work below.

Sohan Qadri, Ink and Natural dyes on paper with incisions, 39" x 55”

He used ink and natural dyes to depict landscape in the most interesting manner.

Sohan Qadri, A new vision, ink and natural dyes on paper with incisions

The importance of color and medium in Tantric art

Sohan Qadri throughout his artistic life followed the simple categorization of colors- dark, warm or cool and light. While the dark colors express the earth (lower) elements, the warm/cool colors denote the middle ground and the light colours denote the sky (upper) level. This helps to create a balance of energy in his paintings and his paintings can be understood accordingly with this arrangement.

Right before his departure for Copenhagen, he switched from oil impasto to ink and paper, because he felt that though oil sold well, paper proved to be more suitable for the feminine, sensitive and fluid qualities of meditational art.

Gradation of dark, medium, light can be seen in:

Sohan Qadri Untitled, 2012, ink and dye on paper

Translucence due to ink as a medium can be seen in the untitled work from 2006 as compared to the solidity of oil in a work from 1972.

Sohan Qadri, Untitled, 2006, ink dye & incision on paper

Sohan Qadri, Untitled, 1972, mixed media on canvas

Early Life and the struggle of an artist

Born into a wealthy landowning family in Punjab, India, he had a rudimentary village life, without electricity, roads and cars. Early in his life, two spiritualists- a Tantric Vajrayan yogi and a Sufi influenced him through dance, music and meditation. Soon after completing his eighth grade, his mother wanted him to take charge of the family farm, but he ran away to the Himalayas in protest. He came back though and refused to take control of the farm, completing his three year undergraduate degree instead. He moved to Bombay after and worked as a still photographer. Not finding spiritual fulfillment there, he went to study art at the Shimla School of Art. In 1961, Dr. Mulk Raj Anand, the founder and editor of the art journal Marg recognised his talent and became his first major patron. During this time, he changed his name from Singh to Qadri to show his devotion to Sufi spirituality. After gaining critical acclaim, he began to paint in a small Jalandhar, teaching himself the art of abstraction through the emptiness of mind. This was the period of a marked Eastern spiritual influence on his work.

Sohan Qadri Lila, It’s Play, 1974, oil on canvas, 48 x 48”