Thangka painting has a history of more than 1,000 years and is a unique art form in southwest China’s Tibet autonomous region. A craftsman has dedicated his life to adding new glory to the traditional art.
Han Shuli, 67, has spent most of his life in the land of Tibet. His feet have stepped in almost every county, even in the most remote sections of their virgin forests and along the area’s unpaved roads to pick up some inspiration for Thangka art.
“You can find the culture melting in these places. They are very characteristic as you can tell from their own clothing and buildings,” Han said.
Life is never easy for the Thangka painters who concentrate on every drawing and brushing of their pieces.
“At the beginning, there were even no chopsticks and we had to eat using our pencils. I remembered that my best wish at that time was being able to buy a spoon in a shop. But we couldn’t find a single one after walking through 17 counties,” he said.
Han is moved by the kindness of the people in the region despite the extremely poor living conditions.
“Once I sat on the ground trying to find a better painting angle. Someone kicked a rock, hitting my wrist. And some women anxiously warned me with body gestures. Then I found I was actually sitting on the ice. After all of those years, I have never forgotten the temperature of that ‘rock.’”
Han has had many opportunities to develop his career abroad, but quickly found that he could not leave this land as his life has been bound to Thangka and the area’s culture.
“It would be untrue if I said Paris was never a tempting place for contemporary artists, but I was haunted by the culture and the scenes of Tibet as I stayed away from this land. I suffered from such memories.”
Han has thrown himself into learning Thangka art from folk artists and others. He wants the art to be preserved longer and glow with new luster through innovation.
Han has tried to add more modern content into the images of Thangka besides the traditional depictions of the life of the Buddha or historical myths. He says the only concern for him now is that there will never be enough time for painting.