ISKCON Artists Boston 1970s

By: Satsvarupa dasa Goswami

Mar 10 2010

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Category: A Place for Art, Krishna

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These are pictures of the ISKCON artists working in Boston in 1970. Bharadraja is painting Lord Caitanya taming the wild beasts in the jungle by His chanting of the holy names. Murali-dhara is touching up a picture of four-headed Lord Brahma in Satyaloka. The devotees hadn’t been painting so long, but they were learning by working. This was a favorite policy of Prabhupada’s: A book distributor would learn how to sell books by doing it, a manager would learn on the job. The artists made mistakes and were awkward at first, but they would work so hard and constantly that they would quickly learn. Prabhupada didn’t even like the idea of their studying the great masters in painting. They should just paint by their own abilities. Prabhupada had introduced paintings as illustrations for his books. He initially asked Jadurani to paint dozens of pictures of Krishna’s pastimes for his Krishna book. Some of the paintings were obviously beginners work, but he saw some sincerity in them and he published them. Gradually the artist group became efficient in a realistic style of figures painted according to the way they were described in the scriptures, literally.

They worked in a rather large area on a second floor with lots of windows. About six painters could work at one time, with lamps clamped to their canvases. They’d listen to Prabhupada’s lectures or bhajans of him singing while they painted, and they considered their lives blissful. Working on the Press in separation from Prabhupada while he toured the world produced intense dedication. The painters felt dedicated. During this early time I was the manager of the painting department. I didn’t have many duties. I assigned the pictures, managed the personnel and my main job turned out to be how to restrain the devotees from working too much. Painting was a service that gave the painters great enthusiasm, and they worked all day and night, and I had to tear them away from their canvases. They were in a mood of painting in a marathon spirit, and Prabhupada encouraged it.  When the paintings were completed and used in the books the originals were put in simple frames and hung in the temples. Prabhupada personally gave instructions by mail as to how  exactly the characters should be painted.  Arjuna should not wear a mustache, Radharani’s feet should not show, as a sign of Her modesty. And he liked bright colors. Jadurani kept painting men with long curly hair below their shoulders. Prabhupada had a hard time curing her of this habit. He wanted the hair only down to their shoulders. Prabhupada declared the paintings were “windows to the spiritual sky” and were worshipable objects, like Deities.

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