Life Lessons #4: Tsherin Sherpa & Wang Gongyi | Innovation through Tradition


Life Lessons #4: Tsherin Sherpa & Wang Gongyi | Innovation through Tradition

September 29, 2020
Online Via Zoom

Organized as part of AAA’s twentieth anniversary, Life Lessons is a new series that examines models of education led by artists. We ask: What was the most influential lesson they learned in school? And how have they, in turn, passed on what they learned about forms of knowledge and care to their students or communities of learners?

Scheduled for spring 2020 to spring 2021, Life Lessons presents online and offline conversations and workshops with artists and art collectives who teach at universities, build educational programs at arts organizations, and run their own schools. Each session addresses their unique teaching methods.

The fourth session invited Tsherin Sherpa and Wang Gongyi, artists who were trained in the traditional painting styles of Tibetan thangka painting and Chinese ink painting respectively, and have incorporated these techniques into their contemporary practice as well as  their years as instructors. In this session the artists discuss their early education, enduring interest in traditional methods, and how these methods and spirit have influenced their later artistic practice and their approach to teaching.

Tsherin Sherpa began studying traditional Tibetan thangka painting with his father, renowned thangka artist Master Urgen Dorje Sherpa, when he was twelve years old. In 1998, he moved from Nepal to California, where he worked as a thangka artist and instructor at several Tibetan Buddhist Centers throughout the state. After two decades in the US he moved back to Kathmandu in 2018 and founded the Himalayan Art Initiative, a space for students to learn traditional thangka art. Throughout his career, Sherpa has used traditional techniques and motifs he learned from his father to explore the hybridization of cultures he experienced as part of the Himalayan diaspora. His recent return to Nepal has also provided him with the opportunity to more directly collaborate with traditional artists.

Metamorphosis by Tsherin Sherpa
Tsherin Sherpa, Metamorphosis, 2020, 39.5 x 53 in, acrylic and ink on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.

Wang Gongyi began her career as a teacher after receiving her master’s degree from the Printmaking Department at Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now the China Academy of Art) in 1980. She stayed on with the department as an instructor and returned as an associate professor in 1992 after studying art and art education in France. She has been teaching independently in her studio in Portland, Oregon since she moved to the US in 2001, taking on students of all abilities. During this two-decade period she has continued to produce her own work reflecting the natural environment of the Pacific Northwest where she now calls home, particularly in her ongoing series Windsor Blue.

Melisma by Wang Gongyi
Wang Gongyi (王公懿), Melisma 韵律, 2018, watercolor on Chan-Yi Xuan paper, 37 × 67 3/10 in. Courtesy of the artist and Chambers Fine Arts.

This program is organized in collaboration with Hong Kong-based Asia Art Archive and Asia Art Archive in America. Life Lessons is part of AAA’s ongoing research about the role of academic and alternative pedagogy in the development of modern and contemporary art in Asia and beyond. This event is part of the AAA Learning and Participation Program, supported by the S. H. Ho Foundation Limited and C. K. and Kay Ho Foundation.

Tsherin Sherpa was born in 1968 in Kathmandu, Nepal. Sherpa immigrated to California in 1998 and began to develop his own style, using vibrant colours on flat surfaces, reinterpreting traditional tantric motifs, symbols and colours, and exploring his diasporic identity. Sherpa has participated in exhibitions in the US, Europe, and Asia, including the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Australia in 2015, the Kathmandu Triennale in Nepal in 2017, the Yinchuan Biennale in China in 2018, and the Yokohama Triennale in Japan in 2020.

Wang Gongyi was born in Tianjin, China, in 1946. In 1986, she was invited by the French Ministry of Culture to study art and art education, and take part in exhibitions in France. She moved to the United States in 2001. In recent years Wang Gongyi has become known for her ongoing series Windsor Blue, watercolor paintings that combine her love of literature and the natural world, all executed in her signature blue pigment.