Professor Om Prakash Sharma, of India.
(December 14, 1932 - July 19, 2019)
MY EULOGY: It is with a deep sadness that I say ‘arrivederci e grazie’ to my wonderful teacher of art, my guruji and mentor in painting, the Great Soul, Professor Om Prakash Sharma, who passed this mortal life into eternity this past year, due to natural causes and old age. He was cremated on Thursday, and his ashes were spread by his children into the Ganges River at Haridwar, where the river meets plains.
I knew Om’s paintings were something truly special the moment I laid eyes on them. Unlike anything in the west. Om was a true genius, a true artist, as well as a committed teacher and professor, gifted musician and sitar player, and an insightful scholar, possessed of a golden mind and sharp intellect well into old age, not to mention a loving husband, father and grandfather.
He was such a giant of an artist in my eyes, and his accomplishments pile up over the course of his long life. Om Prakash (also known as prof. O.P. Sharma) left a massive body of thousands of beautiful paintings, created over 7 decades of practice, each one different and unique, like blossoming flowers of creativity. They were “offerings” he told me, within them one finds masterful color and composition, and images of tantric union, temples, mandalas, goddesses, and ragmalas (musical paintings).
Although he was in a Brahmin caste, he grew up poor like so many in India, and with no encouragement in art from his family. But he persevered, and eventually gained his degree and after exhibiting for several years he was presented with many awards, including the Fulbright Scholarship. It was this scholarship that allowed him to first come to New York City, where he enrolled in Columbia University (Robert Motherwell was his advisor) and classes at the Art Students League, and became friends with Mark Rothko, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and many other New York City artists of the early 1960’s. He also held concerts of the Indian sitar, including playing at Lincoln Center. He would run around the city with his friend Pandit Ravi Shankar (they had the same sitar teacher) exploring the city’s cultural offerings and visiting studios. He eventually returned to Delhi to take up teaching posts and raise his family. From 1961 to 1981, Sharma served as the head of the art department at the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, teaching art to architects, which he loved and where they gave him a spacious studio and flexible schedule. In 1981, Sharma was appointed as the Dean at the National College of Art, Delhi serving until 1992, doubling its size. He told me that although the pay and prestige was better, (He was now the top academic artist in India) the studio provided was much smaller and the time commitment was so great he had little time to paint in these years.
He became primarily famous as the founder of the “Neo-Tantra” movement of Painting, which took the geometric and mystical ideas of Indian tantra as a departure point for beautiful, glowing modernist paintings. Overall he had over 100 solo and group exhibits around the world, and his work is in many important museum collections. 16 of his works are in the National Gallery in Delhi, at least 4 on permanent view when last I visited. He traveled, lectured, exhibited, and wrote books, and was a meticulous record keeper.
I only knew him the last 6 years of his incredible life, but his impact on me was great. He changed my whole approach to art and painting. I met him through his son Yogesh, who introduced me to his work and who eventually invited me to India with him on a trip to meet the master. Om was so very kind to me, generous with his knowledge, a wealth of wisdom and knowledge. He really showed me how to paint, to control my colors and technique, to be ordered in my compositions. Just watching him work and going through his finished canvases was an education in itself. He taught me about Indian art and architecture, and I got to stay with him in his house and studio in Delhi, travel with him on a life-changing trip to his ancestral village of Alwar, visit a famous museum collection of Indian miniature paintings, as well as a trip through the Punjab and saw a great seihk temple, to the modern city of Chandigarh, and into the foothills of the Himalayas. We visited the exiled Dalai Lama’s temple there together in Daramsala, and marveled at the Buddhist tankha murals. He told me many stories about his life, and growing up, and his world travels, and about tantra, spirituality, and art. He was unvarnished in his critical assessment of my own art work up to that point, followed by suggestions on how to improve, but that was a really good thing for me, and helped me grow immensely in my practice. (One of my great regrets is that I never got around to sending photos of my latest works of this year for him to see, which I know he would have approved of and finally seen much of his timely lessons coming to full fruition.) In 2016-2017 I had helped to organize an exhibit of 90 of his best works here in Northern California. He actually traveled all the way here for the opening and it was a great treat to spend more time with him, and learn about his time with Rothko and in New York. He was truly a great artist and teacher.
It is my wish for the future to one day establish a permanent gallery of his work here in the US, to educate the people about his legacy, about Neo-Tantra art, and the beauty of his accomplishment in the Arts. I can only hope to have a career as long and as illustrious as his.
The world is a little darker now that his light has left us, but for my own part I strive to let the lessons, spirit, and light and color he imparted to me live on in my own paintings, and in this small way preserve a little of his great spirit.
I miss you guruji, and pray May the Lord Protect You And Keep You Close.
Professor Om Prakash Sharma (December 14, 1932 - July 19, 2019)
"OM TRIYAMBAKAM YAJAMAHE, SUGANDHIM PUSHTIVARDHANAM, URVARUKAMEEVA BANDHNAN MRITYORMRIKSHIYA MAMRITATT"
(...chanted for the uninterrupted travel of departed soul to its final heavenly abode)
To learn more about him go here:
Om Prakash Art Legacy Project
or visit Wikipedia: