This exhibition has been made possible by the generous donation of the Hudson Collection  to ICON’s permanent collection by Patricia Hudson, James Hudson, and Thomas Hudson, and by major support provided by David T. Hanson, the Fairfield Cultural Alliance, and the Fairfield Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Janet and Bill Teeple, Patricia and Thomas Hudson, and David T. Hanson
The Hudson Collection
Click on each painting to enlarge.
  13. David T. Hanson and Allen Cobb, Anonymous Shiva Linga Paintings/1,000 Names of Shiva,  2014/2017, HD video, color, sound, 48 minutes.
Twelve anonymous Shiva Linga paintings
Tantra: Ancient and Modern Since the publication of the first books on Tantra Art some fifty years ago, followed by the first major exhibition in London in 1971, Tantra has remained an enigmatic visual and spiritual force. Practitioners of Tantra are to be found on the outskirts of religious culture, both Hindu and Buddhist. Although rooted in ancient tradition, Tantra remains very relevant today and influences many layers of contemporary culture, as demonstrated in the recent exhibition and accompanying publication organized by Imma Ramos at the British Museum. David T. Hanson, a distinguished landscape and environmental photographer whose work is represented in major American museums, was aware of the early books on Tantra in the 1970s and was deeply impressed by the visual intensity of the imagery and by its spiritual implications. From 1998-2008 he travelled extensively throughout India. His earlier photographs of strip mining in Montana created extraordinary awareness balancing the beauty of his imagery with the toxic nature of his subject. Subsequently, in Waste Land, he created a series of triptychs: each aerial view of a toxic waste site is flanked with a modified topographic map to one side and a text from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the other. These juxtapositions he viewed as “toxic altarpieces” in which the urgency with which the environmental catastrophe needed to be addressed was heightened by the iconographic format. Even though the work was polemical, it glowed with its own chilling aesthetic. Indeed, although the issue at one level was secular, the desecration was so profound as to register as a defilement of the sacred. During his travels in South Asia, Hanson started a personal collection of Tantra art. Over the past decade he has organized exhibitions of Tantra paintings at ICON Iowa Contemporary Art. He began combining his color photographs of ancient Tantra sites in India and Nepal in diptychs and triptychs with Tantra paintings. The results are unique. Far from diminishing the meditative power of the paintings, the combinations present a narrative that is comparable to the experience of wandering through the narrow streets and temples of the Indian subcontinent. We are offered a route of unparalleled visual power that is both timeless and of this time, glimpsed through the camera lens and created through the most delicate of brush strokes. —This text has been excerpted from an essay by Mark Holborn, an internationally recognized editor and designer of art books.
More about the Hudson Collection This inaugural installation in ICON’s Hudson Collection Gallery features the Anonymous Shiva Linga Paintings exhibited at the 55th Venice Biennale, curated by Massimiliano Gioni, artistic director of the 2013 Venice Biennale and associate director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. For the Biennale installation, Gioni selected 31 paintings from the series of 71 Anonymous Shiva Linga Paintings assembled by Franck André Jamme and Feature Inc., New York. ICON’s exhibition duplicates the selection and sequence of the paintings at the Biennale. The Shiva Linga is an abstract or aniconic representation of the Vedic god Shiva as an eternal cosmic pillar of fire, the first and final form of all creation. The three-dimensional stones and two-dimensional drawings of the Linga are considered by devotees to be not mere representations of Shiva but rather the sacred embodiment of the Divinity. These Shiva Linga paintings on found paper are made anonymously in India (primarily in Rajasthan) by practitioners of Tantrism—some of whom are artists—to represent and embody fundamental aspects of Tantra, a vast and complex spiritual and philosophical practice. Made to awaken heightened consciousness, these devotional images are used for visualization and meditation as part of Tantra’s spiritual practices. While the images are centuries old with highly codified forms and colors, the paintings are filled with such a high level of the artists’ intentionality that they continually appear fresh and alive. The French poet/scholar André Padoux has described these images as “painted silences. . . the simple revelation of pure consciousness.” According to French poet Franck André Jamme, who has played an instrumental role in bringing these paintings to western audiences, the tantrikas who create them work in a focused state of mental rapture. Despite their expression of an unbroken, centuries-old tradition, the works in this exhibition (made between 1966 and 2004) seem both timeless and utterly contemporary. They also possess a remarkable affinity with examples of twentieth-century abstract art. The progeny of hand-written, illustrated religious treatises from the seventeenth century, copied across many generations, these paintings are part of a distinct visual lexicon that confounds assumed differences between East and West, the spiritual and the aesthetic, the ancient and the modern. This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Hudson, founder and director of the New York art gallery Feature Inc. The Hudson Collection has been very generously donated to ICON’s permanent collection by Patricia Hudson, James Hudson, and Thomas Hudson.
1. Udaïpur, 1975, 12 x 9.75" 2. Udaïpur, 1979, 13.25 x 8.75" 3. Chômu, 1980, 12.25 x 9.25" 6. Jaïpur, 1987, 12.75 x 9.75" 4. Near Jaïpur, 1989, 15.25 x 10.5" 5. Near Jaïpur, 1990, 12.5 x 10.25" 7. Sanganer & New Delhi, 1994, 14.25 x 10" 8. Sanganer & New Delhi, 1994, 14.25 x 10" 9. Palna, 1996, 13.25 x 9.75" 10. Pali, 2000, 14.75 x 10.25" 11. Samode, 2004, 13 x 9.25" 12. Udaïpur, 1995, 12 x 10.5"
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All of the paintings are anonymous and untitled. The tantrika artists use various media (watercolor, tempera, gouache, ink, hand-made colors) on found paper. The location of the artist in India, the date of the painting, and the dimensions are listed below.
   1. Udaïpur, 1975, 12 x 9.75"    2. Udaïpur, 1979, 13.25 x 8.75"    3. Chômu, 1980, 12.25 x 9.25"    4. Near Jaïpur, 1989, 15.25 x 10.5"    5. Near Jaïpur, 1990, 12.5 x 10.25"    6. Jaïpur, 1987, 12.75 x 9.75"      7. Sanganer & New Delhi, 1994, 14.25 x 10"    8. Sanganer & New Delhi, 1994, 14.25 x 10"    9. Palna, 1996, 13.25 x 9.75"  10. Pali, 2000, 14.75 x 10.25"  11. Samode, 2004, 13 x 9.25"  12. Udaïpur, 1995, 12 x 10.5"
Excerpts from Franck André Jamme’s last interview, September 2020, “Only This Glow Remained” (by Amy Hilton, TL Magazine)
TLmag: You have travelled many times to India. Let us circle over to these extraordinary abstract Tantric paintings that you are known for introducing into the West. How did you discover them? F.A.J.: I first discovered them through literature. Originally, it was at a bookshop in Paris where I found a small gallery catalogue about an exhibition that had been held some years before. The catalogue opened with two texts: one written by Henri Michaux, the other by Octavio Paz. I discovered something existed in India that was totally abstract, with such simple shapes and symbols, inside such a baroque culture. I absolutely wanted to know more about this Tantric art. But I realized that there was next to no information published about the meaning of these paintings. So, I decided to go to India in search of them. But the first few trips were unsuccessful. It took twenty years for us to find each other. TLmag: Why so little information? F.A.J.: Because of bad climate conditions, monsoons, rats, insects, careless conservation… not many survived. Certainly, some of these paintings did exist before the 17th century, but we don’t have proof of that. And, even the Indians don’t have real access to Tantrism itself. It is a kind of small secret society in Hinduism. All is enriched by secrets and a hidden world. TLmag: Tantrism, as it is known in the West, has been used in quite diverse ways throughout history to mean various things for different people. It defies easy definition. F.A.J.: Tantrism is so deep. And, yes, it is not very well understood in the West. Because, as usual, Westerners think about the parts of it, which often have a close relationship with sex or eroticism. This is a very important point: a body of thought that has cosmic sexuality included at its own heart. But there are so many other parts to it. There is a main part of it about language. The mantras. The Tantrikas are the kings of mantras. This became so interesting for me. Because of the language. TLmag: I have read that the ‘way of Tantra’ involves a highly individuated personal research enquiry: a personalized ontological journey. Essentially, each person finds her or his own ‘way’. F.A.J.: You know, I was very lucky. Because a terrible thing happened to me on my way. On one of my research trips in India I was involved in a terrible road accident where the bus I was traveling in hit a lorry coming the other way. Around me, almost everyone died. And the irony of the thing is that I would not have had any access to the families who were making these little wonders without this accident. It opened another door… After the accident I was petrified of going back, but with the help of some friends in Paris, I decided to return three years later. A friend told me to go and see a soothsayer. A sort of guru. I met the man, and it was one of the strangest meetings with another human being I have ever had in my life. He looked like a fox. Really. A pure fox. I told him I wanted to continue my research, but I was so terrified to do so. He asked me to wash my hands in a large jar of sand. He stared at the patterns and read the shapes in the sand, made by my hands. They do that in Africa also. It is a kind of divination… And then he told me that I had paid my tribute to the deity, to the goddess. He told me I could go ahead with my research. But secretly. I could show these paintings in the West, but on two conditions. First condition, I could sell the pieces but only for enough to earn my own living, not to become rich. Second condition, he said when I would go to meet the families who were making this art, I must go alone or only with the one I love. He was standing at the door with a foxy smile and, just as I was about to leave, he wrote down two names and addresses on a little piece of paper, and kindly handed it to me. I truly thought that I was going to leave without what I was supposed to find. But he handed me the key. And I immediately went to the first address. And so, it began like that. TLmag: Can you expand on the creation of these paintings? F.A.J.: They were originally illustrations that accompanied hand-written manuscripts. Over time, they were copied out separately from the texts. Their purpose was to be used as tools to meditate, to connect with cosmic forces in the larger universe. It is important to remember that they are made anonymously by people who would not describe themselves as artists. They do not think for a minute that they are artists… They are just continuing the tradition of the family. What is so inspiring to me is that if I send them a commission for a piece, I sometimes receive it one year later. There is absolutely no rush for them to receive money quickly. And I love that. I really love that. It is very important for me. They do not react quickly at all. Another thing that inspires me – this is not at all a patriarchal tradition. There are so many women painting these pieces. And this is so rare in India. As they are anonymous, we would never know this. TLmag: They are so akin to poetry. Visual poetry. I am interested in the actual spark of creative transmission. These simple geometric shapes: ovals, squares, circles, triangles. The choice of colours… F.A.J.: They paint them according to an endless schema, constantly repeated and passed on from generation to generation in each family. Like a raga in their music – you start with the scale and then improvise. You have five or six notes for one raga, but you can play it as you like. You just need to respect the original five or six notes. They do not vary too much. When they make these paintings, it is also very much like Indian music – it depends very much on a feeling at a certain moment, on their inside mood. They are not going to paint a very powerful and red image if they are in a breezy mindset, if you know what I mean. It is an inner gesture each time. TLmag: “Never in the universal history of painting,” you once wrote, “have works been produced that are both so mysterious and simple, so powerful and pure… a bit as if, with these works, man’s genius had been able to assemble almost everything in almost nothing.” They are jarringly affective. F.A.J.: They are. They vibrate. A Shiva Linga on fire. So full of energy, it is burning. TLmag: Curiously, I do not see one of them exhibited here in your house. F.A.J.: It is funny, but yes, I do not have a single piece on my walls. Because I have been very prudent with these pieces, you know. In a sense I do not want to show them too much. And certainly, I do not want to see them too much. In a very strange way, I do not like the idea of possessing them. They are much stronger than me. They could possess me, but I could not possess them. I do my best for them. They know that I have done my best for them, for a long time now. They are friends. Maybe I need their energy. Perhaps they could help. Nevertheless, I am so happy to have met this art. You have no idea how truly happy it has made me.