Brush strokes: The colours of artist Buddhi Thapa

“I cannot retire. I still look at things with the same curiosity of a child and always want to know more. There is so much to do.”

We could not thank our lucky stars to have this honour of meeting with artist Shri Buddhi Thapa from Nagaland. Buddhi Thapa is a recipient of senior artist Fellowship from the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. He is also a commissioned artist by the state government of Nagaland and Sikkim.

A graduate of Government Art College, Kolkata, Buddhi’s oils throb with colours and intensity. In a world of abstracts, Buddhi’s paintings stand out for their realism making him one of the few oil portrait painters of excellence today. His eye for details captures the intricacy of ethnic attire including the minute beads of a ‘potay’ necklace in his iconic painting of the Magar lady which appears in the book ‘The Khukri Braves: The Illustrated History of the Gorkhas’ by Jyoti Thapa Mani. His ability to capture the fine nuances of tribal features brings alive portraits of Naga tribals. His works also include esoteric depictions of spirituality or the ‘green women’ series expressing the state of women.

In a career spanning more than four decades, Thapa’s work has been collected in galleries such as Lalit Kala Academy, National School of Drama, Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust, India International Centre, Central Production Centre, Nagaland State Museum, North East Zone Cultural Centre, Eastern Air Command headquarters, Ministerial Complex of Kathmandu, B.P. Koirala India-Nepal Foundation, Nepalese Embassy, National Birendra Art Gallery of Kathmandu, Ananda Pragya (Osho) of Kathmandu and Satya Sai Baba Kendra of Kathmandu.

Born in a family of First World War veterans, Buddhi Thapa grew up in Kohima, Nagaland along with 5 other siblings. Having seen the death of his father British-Gurkha Chandrabir Thapa when he was just 1 year of age, Thapa realised early in life the need to be financially independent and support his own education. He tells us how he sold two of his paintings for one thousand rupees to fund himself for the Art College in Kolkata in 1976.

In his skilful narration, Buddhi Thapa shared interesting anecdotes of his life, its challenges and lessons. In his comical and animated story-telling style, he reveals the deep experiences of his life, like, how it made him happy to stare endlessly at the sky and imagine what lay beyond the clouds, despite being ridiculed by others. Another interesting story was how during his class four painting assignment, he was asked to draw the solar system. While drawing, he suddenly realized that the universe consists of several other planets like ours and that there are things beyond planet earth too. Though he got beaten for a bad drawing, he was overjoyed at his newfound discovery of art.

Buddhi Thapa is currently based out of Dimapur as he says that the hot and dry weather there is better suited and helps the paint dry faster. Starting with a sketch of Rabindranath Tagore, he gradually discovered how painting made him happy and contented. He says that every event in his life has only pushed him towards living the life of an artist, without caring much for financial rewards, fame, or family. As and when he began to discover the joy of being a painter, he left everything to work and live as an artist.

Very natural with music and instruments, Buddhi Thapa plays Banjo, harmonium and mandolin with equal ease. He has even tried learning music and exploring opportunities as a singer. His zeal for seeking new knowledge and learning is never ending. When we asked him his advice for the younger generations today, he says “we must create a sense of brotherhood and harmony amongst our people and work proactively with other communities to bring about positive impact in the society at large. A community-oriented approach to issues facing issues, along with an intellectual and strategic approach is what the community needs at utmost urgency. Taking part in cultural exchanges between communities and promoting achievers, art and culture is equally important. We must also win the love and respect of other communities and spread awareness about our rich culture and history.”

Replying to a query on how long does it take for him to complete a painting, he gently smiles and says “if you go by the hours I put in to create a painting, it can anywhere be between 4 hours to 10 days. But the idea that goes into each painting is an experience of my lifetime.”

This interview was published as part of a social project we were part of. Our sincere thanks to Ma’am Jyoti Thapa Mani, author ‘The Khukri Braves: An Illustrated History of the Gorkhas’ for arranging and inviting us for this wonderful interaction.