PAINTINGS of His Holiness Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
“Rough Art” in Devotional Service by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
When I began painting in the 1990s in my 50s, I had not heard of outsider art or art brut (a French word for “rough art”). I just painted for the fun of it, but with passion and as a therapeutic release from my migraine headache syndrome. Then someone put Raw Vision magazine into my hands. Under the title of the magazine, the logo reads “Outsider•Brut•Folk•Naive•Intuitive•Visionary.” I was fascinated by the contents. I discovered there was a worldwide network of self-taught artists and their followers, galleries dedicated to this school of art and spokespersons who championed it. I was especially inspired by the revolutionary writing of the French artist Jean Dubuffet. He proclaimed that the art of untrained individuals and even the insane had an authenticity that was greater than the professionals. I identified with the concept of outsider artist for two reasons: 1) I was a member of the Hare Krishna Movement, which was considered a marginal sect in the West, and 2) within ISKCON (the International Society for Krishna Consciousness) I was not a polished realist like the illustrators of Prabhupada’s books. I painted mostly Krishna conscious subjects, but they were primitive and childlike compared to Pariksit, Bharadraja, Murlidhara, Jadurani and the whole school of artists working for the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. In Raw Vision and outsider art, I found kindred spirits who validated my work under the umbrella of a genuine movement of alienated artists and their followers who were accepted on their own terms as honest and visionary, although outside the cultural norms. I did not really consider myself as belonging to any school of art. I wasn’t imitating anyone. I wasn’t copying Dubuffet or Picasso. I was my own man, painting for pleasure and pursuing my spiritual path by rendering pictures of Radha-Krishna, Gaura-Nitai, Vaisnava sadhus, and pictures of my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, often with a self-portrait beside him. I did cows and birds and forests of Vrndavana, and sankirtana singers and dancers, and Lord Caitanya’s land of Navadvipa. I did Radharani with Her gopi friends, and Krishna and Balarama with Their cowherd boys. Sometimes I did rough-looking characters and captioned it, “Can I Become Initiated?”, “May I Have Some Prasadam?”, “May I Chant Hare Krishna?” I did many pictures of a man writing with a pen and captioned it with the title of one of my books like Every Day, Just Write—Volume 35. I did a man sitting writing at a desk in a shack reading Srimad-Bhagavatam. I did a man in rain gear and boots walking in the rain chanting with his bead bag, or a man walking briskly with a cane. Sometimes at the end of a session, I mixed all the colors of my palette and did a wild face, to which I added Vaisnava tilaka. If the face looked demoniac, I applied Shaivite tilaka or no tilaka at all. I rarely did pure abstract but favored creatures, human and animal and fantastic, and usually in a Krishna conscious setting.
In my peak productive period, for about five years in a cottage in Ireland, beginning at the beginning of the twenty-first century, I painted four and five canvases a day. My disciple-assistant, Baladeva dasa, kept me supplied with canvases, acrylic paints, brushes and “oil sticks,” and my next-door neighbor Caitanya-candrodaya would set up the canvases in the morning before going to work, and in the evening rinse out my used brushes for the day. Fifteen years later I am still painting in my own ashrama in upstate New York, but I am averaging two canvases a day now. I add graffiti and splotches of ink and paint in the background.
Some art brut painters don’t even think of themselves as artists. I think of myself as an artist, a very humble one, with no training and few technical skills. I love to paint; it gives me satisfaction, and I am getting validation that it is pleasing to others and they enjoy seeing and owning my paintings. I think I have my spiritual master’s permission, and in a small way it is pleasing to Krishna. Thus it is part of my devotional service to the Lord. I intend to keep it up.