Have you ever been to Bhimsengola, Kathmandu? If you have, you must have seen a number of mural on the walls of that area. A chimpanzee hugging its baby, a leopard running towards peace or two wolfs fighting over the same bone. At least a few of these images must be still on your mind. And if those murals made you wonder who the artist could be, here is the answer to your question. The creator of all of this art is Laxman Shrestha, a local from Nepalgunj, who is spreading social messages through each of his paintings. He is also a motivational speaker. This week The Catalyst had a chance to sit with him and talk about his art work and life journey.
When did you start painting? Why did you choose to become the artist that you are today?
It has been 7 full years since I started this journey in 2010. But before that, I was an accountant for a few years and teacher too. In 2001, I also went to Saudi Arabia, but it didn’t make me feel good. I came back after 3 months. I was always interested in arts and painting, but I grew up in a place where people scared me by saying that I would not be able to make ends meet with arts. But later in June 2010, when a friend of mine suggested me to check out shot take photos in the national daily newspaper, that’s when the click thing happened. I realized I should be in the field of arts. I went back home to Nepalgunj to think in peace. And it took around 18 months for me to finally decide to just continue and switch to painting. Painting gives me the kind of satisfaction that I didn’t find in anything else or anywhere else. People say that there is no potential in this area in Nepal, but I think potential is something we create for ourselves. And that’s what I am doing. Also, we cannot wear each of the clothes that we own all at the same time. Just a pair of clothes to cover our body is enough. And even though we own a big house, we just need a corner of
the bed to sleep. So I thought, why rush and die for that right? All of my painting explains what I have been through all my life, what I see around, how I feel about things and things like that. Most of them, actually all of them are out of my experience. Anything that touches me, I try my best to get it into my painting. I take things and ideas from people and give it back to them, but in a different way and want them to interpret the mural in their own way. Currently, I’m working with my team co-artists on a mural titled Water which is about water crisis that the valley is facing. It’s a huge issue here in valley also outside the valley. And also the world, as drinking water has been the major problem of the world itself.
Tell us something about the goal to start wall art? Why wall painting?
I could create a painting and put that in an art gallery or up for auction or something. But if I do that, only a limited number of people would be introduced to my painting. And that is something I never wanted for my work. Instead, I wanted to reach a maximum number of people and spread the social message on what’s going around in our country, what we are dying for and what actually we should run towards, what actually matters to live a happy life and so on. I wanted to make people think of society and their existence in it. I thought walls would be the best canvas for my paintings and vision. So, I chose wall art. Everybody, people with different ages, status, different mindsets and perspectives who walk along the road can see the painting and get something from it. Also, I feel responsible towards the public to help them walk on a good path in life and pass on the knowledge that I have.
What kind of paintings do you usually create? What subject and painter fascinates you the most?
Each of my paintings has some message and information about what’s going on with people, in our country and where is our world is going towards. I try to collect and establish as many as issues and messages as possible. And every kind of art fascinates me, but mostly I am fascinated by the types of art that are more than just pleasing to our eyes and carry a real message. I was inspired by Bhim Bahadur Thapa's 'KHOJ' philosophy. He is also known as Khojbaa for his Khojbaad (Philosophy of Search). He has been engraving a word ‘Khoj’ since 1978 on walls and stone pavements. His works are Khojbaadka Pracharak Bhim Bahadurko Khoj, Khoj Marga Darshan, Khoj Jeevan, Mero Khoj Abhiyan. I have used his concepts in my paintings. He has traveled all 75 district (77 districts now) of Nepal just to have people gaze at his work to find their own search for meaning in life. He conveys the message to the people 'to know' oneself that is 'Khoj. And I’m trying to keep his vision. Hence I also write Khoj in most of my paintings. Our group's name is also Khoj. Apart from that I am reflecting social issues like domestic violence, wastage in our society and global warming in my paintings.
You do it just for your own interest or do people call you for painting their wall or you approach them? How does it work? How do you collect painting colors and brushes?
Till date, it’s more for my interest. People call me too, but then that’s a rare case. It’s me more who calls people and asks for their permission to paint their wall. Sometimes they provide me painting colors and brushes, sometimes they don’t. Most of the time, we help each other in the group for our art materials. Sometimes, the passersby pay keen interest upon our creativity and willingly contribute in our social cause.
Are you a solo artist or there are people working together with you?
I was all on my own, just a solo artist until a few months back. But now, I have a team of six people; four painters including me, one writer and one photographer. Pushkar Chamling Rai is one of our painter from the team, who was the one of the first to approach me. I met him and our photographer Bidesh Chamling Rai at Chiya Ghar. I was introduced to the another painters Raju Ghalan Tamang during a story sharing session at Lalitkala Campus where I was the speaker. Later Pushkar introduced me to Yam Bang Gahahood at Chiyaghar. And then we all came together formed an alliance and named it Khoj. Later, the team was joined by the writer Shiva Kumar Sharma who I got to know at an art exhibition.
How hard is it to live as an artist in Nepal? Is it sufficient for you to earn your livelihood?
I won’t lie and want to be completely honest about it. I remain financially unsound though my art work continued with full of vision. The other painters from our team cover me up with daily lunch and snacks most of the time. I’ve got one tiny room to live which is just
74/100 inches that charge me Rs. 2000 every month. Situation makes me many time to go bed without dinner. I accept that and I express my situation in canvas for my inner pleasure. I don’t know if that is sufficient or not, but I know that I am sustaining. Before I was a art teacher which paid me NPR 20000-22000. While life was easy then, wasn’t as happy and satisfied as I am today. I think it’s all you who decides to get what you want and take your life in the direction you want it to go.
What is your biggest motivation? What has kept you going? Is there any incident or story that inspires you, even today?
For me, motivation doesn’t necessarily need to come from big achievers. You can get motivation from the rickshaw puller, people living in the street, the cell phone that we use, cups, actually from everyone and everything around us. Or you can create it within yourself. Though I remained aloof from my friends, I was very close to my family members. I only had me to keep myself motivated and positive. And that’s what I did, I encourage myself to be strong enough to not need anybody to move forward in life. Also, a lot of people come to me to talk and ask about my paintings and art that I have created. Their curiosity, reaction, and questions make me create more art. They make me feel that my works are reaching to them carrying the message I try to convey.
How many wall arts have you created so far? Have you been able to meet your goal? Were there any goals?
Till date, I have created 28 to 30 murals in different parts of Nepal. I started with Nepalgunj. I also created a few in Nawalparasi, Chitwan, but mostly in Kathmandu. Every mural is my favorite and I’m connected to each of them, but some of them took a lot more effort and energy like Bhadragol Deshka Byasta Nagarik, Nagarik Masta, Desh Astabyasta, Ma Masta and so on. These paintings portray the chaotic and indifferent situation that we are living in. I don’t have an accurate or a fixed goal to explain. But, I try to make sure that my painting has something to make pedestrians and locals ponder for a while and have their own perception and story for the painting. So far the way people come to me with different questions about paintings and curiosity has kind of met the vision I had when I first started. But our fresh and ongoing goal is to create 101 mural by 2022, at least 20 murals each year.
How has this journey with painting shaped your understanding of life, society and human value?
My whole life has been about learning, losing and gaining.
But important thing is I met many nice people that I am friends with who have been there for me when I had nothing. If you want to do something so bad, you’ll prepare yourself for the worst and won’t settle for something you barely enjoy. When you do something out of your interest and enjoyment, and not just for money or fame for sure it will turn out to be a great work. The chances of people appreciating your work will be high, but it may also take time. The journey will be a little painful and frustrating, but trust me the satisfaction and happiness you’ll discover is worthy of all. A lot of people nowadays hangout more with people on the internet and are living in a completely different world. They spend a lot of time on chatting, video calling and other stuff while they don’t even know the person in their neighborhood. Well, I’m not against technology or something, but if you ask me the world would have been a better place if people could use technology in a right way and weren’t as selfish as they are today.
At last, what do you want to share with the people reading this blog?
If you like doing something, if you think you’re better at something, just go for it, just jump in it. First, you need to know your interest and what’s inside you. I think a lot of people are not aware of the thing they have inside and they don’t even care. Despite the busy schedule and everyday run, you should take time for yourself, know yourself better and find yourself, your interest and happiness. And once you do, move forward with it and you’ll be free.