Shakti Maira: In pursuit of beauty, from 1947 to 2021

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An artist, but also a thinker and author of global renown, Shakti Maira passed away on May 9 at the age of 73, leaving behind a multifaceted legacy

Via Shakti Maira on Facebook

An intense belief in beauty, in all its forms, lingers behind in the passing of artist, sculptor, writer, philosopher, polemicist and teacher Shakti Maira, who slipped away in New Delhi at the age of 73 on May 9, 2021.

The septuagenarian began his life journey in 1947, born in Himachal Pradesh’s Shimla. Maira studied at Mayo College, Ajmer, and was also an alumnus of St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and IIM Ahmedabad. He worked with several multinational banks and corporate groups in India, Sri Lanka and the US before debuting in the art world with an exhibition at Bombay’s Taj Art Gallery in 1973.

This began a prolific stint, as global accolades poured in for Maira across solo and group exhibits in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai in India, as well as Colombo in Sri Lanka, Paris, Rotterdam, Manchester, Cambridge in Europe, and Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Santa Fe, Newport, Concord, Acton, Portland in USA.

Today, his work stands in the National Gallery of Modern Art, India, besides leading corporate and private collections in India, US and Europe.

An artist who worked in a variety of media, Maira’s paintings are in oil, acrylic or mixed media on canvas, paper, silk, board, marble, wood and byōbu. His printmaking includes collographs, monotypes, etchings, woodprints and stoneprints, while sculpture and reliefs are in terracotta, stoneware, wood, stone and bronze. He chose to stay away from abstract expressionism and his practice remained rooted in realism, exploring and expressing the tangible, yet managing to be incredibly diverse.

Insight/Absorption, 1997, Painted Byobus (Folding Screens) | Via shaktimaira.com
Mirror-Inner, 2010, Mixed media on wood | Via shaktimaira.com
Subverting Duchamp, Celebrating Beauty, 2018, Acrylic on canvas | Via shaktimaira.com

His series of paintings titled ‘Mountains Breathing, Whispering Mandalas, ‘Fallen Gods’, ‘Daan’, ‘Subverting Duchamp’, ‘Celebrating Beauty’, ‘Mirror-Inner’, ‘Beej’, and more, or sculptural oeuvres like ‘The Seekers’, ‘Intimations of Transcendence’, ‘Silent Witnesses’ and others have been widely appreciated.

Dancing Shiva, 2000, Bronze | Via shaktimaira.com
Via Shakti Maira on Facebook

In the course of building a multifaceted legacy, Maira also wrote a host of essays and the books, ‘The Promise of Beauty and Why It Matters’, ‘Artistic Visions and the Promise of Beauty’ and ‘Towards Ananda’. The critically acclaimed artist-philosopher has served as faculty at various institutions and conducted seminars across the world on a variety of topics, exploring art in relation to spirituality, science, economics, sustainability, religion, history, mythology, education, philosophy, and more. He has conducted numerous art workshops in schools in India and abroad and was invited to speak at international events like the International Arts Education Symposium in Seoul, the Mystics & Scientists Conferences in the UK, and the Edinburgh International Festival.

Via shaktimaira.com
Via shaktimaira.com

In his own words, he has said, “Years ago, I formed an artistic intention that my art must effectively integrate all four levels of experience — sensory, emotional, intellectual and spiritual, and that it should be an engagement that brings pleasure to the senses, generates positive feelings and thoughts, and deepens and uplifts the spirit. It turns out that this is very much the central purpose of classical Indian aesthetics and arts, too.”

His observers saw a deep spiritual passion in his work inspired by Buddhism, but not limited to it. In one of his interviews, he said that with art, he is “able to go much deeper into the sensory and tactile world, and the emotional world, and the world where the conscious mind meets the subconscious mind… journey into a world of delight, and into the many dimensions where perception and understanding are wordless, and exist in different relationships and continuities”.

Via Shakti Maira on Facebook
Via Shakti Maira on Facebook
Via Shakti Maira on Facebook

Maira discovered that he had lymphocytic leukaemia seven or eight years ago, but began living with it and gently continuing his work in art and philosophy, alongside with his author-publisher wife Swati. It was to this cancer that he reportedly succumbed, earlier this month.

In his book, ‘The Promise of Beauty and Why It Matters’, Maira has written, “There is a higher level of beauty, when things are real, true and good… When things do not just look beautiful but are in fact so.” A unique, keen and transcendental vision has been lost with his passing.

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