Artistic guidelines from Srila Prabhupada.
On one occasion, when Srila Prabhupada, and Goursundar and I, arrived in San Francisco, there was a new painting of Narada Muni hanging on the temple wall. I was impressed. It was one of Jadurani’s latest works. Jadurani’s technique had improved immeasurably, and her proportions were also much better. Her colors were more subtle, so the painting showed great technical improvement over her past works. Looking at it from a purely technical point of view, as a trained artist, it was indeed much better than her work in past. So I mentioned it to Srila Prabhupada, commenting that “Jadurani has improved her oil painting technique so much!” Srila Prabhupada glowered and winced. He said, “I do not very much like this new style painting!” I was shocked. This painting was obviously adapted from some Renaissance work of the old masters; it looked a bit like a figure from a Renaissance painting, that was then modified with an orangey saffron dhoti and a vina placed in Narada Muni’s hand. Technically, it was good.
“Why?” I exclaimed. “What is it that you don’t like, that you find so distasteful?” I was truly concerned. “Narada Muni is an eternal brahmachari!” Srila Prabhupada exclaimed. “She has made him look like a meat-eater and a woman hunter!” I was stunned. Later, Srila Prabhupada explained this in more detail. He said, “Cheeks gone down. ‘Galtobra.’ This is the face of a meat eater, and a womanizer. And a wine drinker!” I noted that the figure did indeed have a lustful and wanton look about the face. It was not a face full of spiritual luster and innocent beauty. While sitting in front of his desk, taking dictation for a letter to Jadurani, he explained further. I asked, “So, how should this be corrected? What should his face look like? What needs to be done?” Srila Prabhupada pointed to a Brijbasi print hanging on the wall near his desk. “Like this,” he said. “These are the faces of milk-drinkers, rounded and beautiful. They have moon-like faces!” He explained that Krishna has the “moon-like” face of a milk-drinker, and so do His servants like Narada. No “nonsense muscles,” or “squared jaw,” as is shown in Western art, especially in Renaissance art. Renaissance artists, such as Michelangelo, were famed for their elaborate portrayal of the musculature of the human body. Even in art school, I recalled, the female face was said to be rounded, like an egg, and the male face was said to be squared off, like a flower pot. This was indeed what the old masters taught. But Srila Prabhupada wanted all the faces to be round and full. My husband did not particularly like my drawings of moonlike round faces; he sometimes teased me, calling them “balloon faces,” and “balloon figures.” But this is what Srila Prabhupada liked, this is what he wanted, and he clearly did not like the figures from the Western schools of art! He wanted us to use for reference the Indian styles of art, showing the beauty of the “transcendental form.” And, it suddenly dawned on me, the people of that era, the European Renaissance, were indeed meat-eaters, wine drinkers, and womanizers!
I quickly contacted Jadurani, and she created her future paintings based on Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on this, and his explanation of “galtobra.” Perhaps it was safe to assume that we could draw upon European art for some things, but not for all. And certainly not for figures or for faces! Nor for the dark and foreboding colors often found in the backgrounds of old masters’ paintings. Dark surroundings were not to be a prominent feature in our transcendental art style. Transcendental art, Swamiji explained, was meant to depict the spiritual world. That means it has to be bright, shimmering, colorful, and effulgent. The faces and figures should be soft and supple, rounded and child-like, full of innocence and sweetness. The backgrounds should be bright and full of colorful beauty, with birds and flowers gracing every part of the landscape. Since Swamiji had the vision and experience of the spiritual world, and how it was to be depicted – and I certainly did not – I tried to model my artistic style after what he wanted. That should be the goal of any artist who is attempting to paint transcendental art…
Another incident took place while we were staying in Los Angeles. Srila Prabhupada wanted Goursundar and I to make Deities of Gour-Nitai, dancing with upraised arms. To do this, we first had to perfect a drawing that was approved by His Divine Grace. Because my husband Goursundar was more expert with male figures, this drawing was first done by him. Goursundar had studied male body structure, and had also been a weight trainer, so he knew the exact muscles that would show in upraised arms. He carefully drew the upraised arms of Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda having some very gentle hint of muscles, both in the upraised arms and in the upper chest. The muscles were not very pronounced at all; they were quite subtle, only hinted at. But Srila Prabhupada immediately nixed it. “No! No muscles showing!” he said. “This is not transcendental form – this muscles, this is human form. Human bodies have muscular forms, but not transcendental bodies. They are smooth and beautiful.”
Srila Prabhupada explained that transcendental form is always smooth and graceful. “Arms like the trunk of the elephant,” he described. Muscles and veins should never be shown in pictures of Krishna or any transcendental beings. “This fleshy muscle and vein form is the body of human beings. Not transcendental beings!” Srila Prabhupada taught that we could not simply take a photo of a human being, and paint it blue for Krishna, or golden for Lord Chaitanya! Rather, he explained, the transcendental form has long sloping arms, like the elephant’s trunk, delicate hands, graceful feet, large head, high forehead, arching brows, waving hair, lotus eyes, and curved, sweet smiling lips. The transcendental form does not look at all like the mundane beauty of human beings. There are many examples of this in Indian art. South Indian sculptures show the graceful beauty of transcendental form…
(from “Srila Prabhupada the Transcendental Art Master” by Govinda dasi)