Renowned German thangka painter Andy Weber began his studies of Tibetan art in Kathmandu in 1975. He lived at Kopan Monastery for two years, painting large thangkas for Lama Yeshe, and moved to England in 1979. He lived and worked as a painter at Manjushri Institute, and now lives in a village in the Cumbrian mountains in the north of England. For many years Andy has been teaching thangka painting at Maitreya Instituut in Holland. “Some of my students have shown remarkable results,” he says. His course this summer, featuring White Tara, will run from June 13-27. “Sculptors are also welcome,” says Andy. Here he tells the story of one of his favorite paintings.
Most of my paintings have their own stories and destinies, either to be widely known due to publication or to go to Dharma centers or individual practitioners. Some, I believe, once blessed, lead a life of their own, choosing their own destination. One in particular, of Atisha, showed me its amazing story, and although not well known, it is my favorite creation.
This painting of Atisha grew within me over a few years; there was a strong urge to create it in a special way that I hadn’t tried before – a blend of East and West. From the East came the inspiration and most of the symbolism, with its deep meaning, and from the West came the techniques and perspective.
Using oils I painted on a specially prepared panel, trying to imitate the great Western masters of the past, working with light sources and shadows, a foreign concept in Tibetan art. It took over a year to complete, interspersed with my work as a traditional thangka painter.
Once finished it was hung in our living room, much to the delight of our children and the curiosity of neighbors.
During a lunch visit by Ganchen Rinpoche one day in 1994, I requested him to bless it. Rinpoche had seen the beginnings of the painting on a previous visit, and I asked him to suggest an auspicious place for it. “It doesn’t need blessing and I want it,” was his answer. “The Atisha is with me now,” were the words that I recall Rinpoche saying. I was quite baffled, but I agreed to the sale.
In its special box, created by our local carpenter, this large painting started on its journey. I thought that because it contained black and white tiles (a symbol of spirituality used in Venetian paintings) it was destined to end up in Italy, where Rinpoche has centers. But two months later I received the message, “Atisha is back!” on a postcard bearing a stamp from Tibet! Perhaps it’s hanging in one of the Gangchen Rinpoche’s newly opened medical centers in Tibet, I thought. A few weeks later I received a photo and a detailed letter about the amazing journey this painting had undertaken.
From Manchester Airport it had gone to Milan, where it stayed in the local Dharma center before moving on to Rome, Kathmandu and finally to Lhasa, accompanied by two large Maitreya statues and other precious offerings.
In Lhasa it actually vanished, but was recovered in an airport storage room among brooms, buckets and rags – and another missing item, a thangka of a Yamantaka mandala.
Finally, Atisha was offered formally to the Potala Palace by Gangchen Rinpoche on the occasion of the inauguration ceremony held on August 8, 1994, following a five-year reconstruction program by the Chinese government. It was given a place of honor on the balcony of gifts and offerings. (I wonder what the Tibetan and Chinese dignitaries thought of this odd creation: “Where has this come from … ?” – that thought itself, perhaps, a symbolic offering from West to East.) After the celebrations, news reached Tibet that UNESCO had taken the Potala Palace under its wing as an outstanding historic building.
And now? According to various visitors the painting hasn’t been seen since that ceremony. Maybe it won’t be seen for years, shelved in one of the endless treasure rooms of the Potala, but maybe one day it will reappear and be of benefit.
For me, the journey of this oil painting from a remote English hamlet to the Potala Palace in Lhasa is one of the wonders of the Dharma.