Nebulas burst before your eyes, galaxies mingling with divine light. Some are rose-gold like sunrise; others are inky and bruised like a rainy evening sky. In the large-scale paintings of Nepalese artist Govinda Sah “Azad” (b. 1974), the many faces of the sublime in nature can be found – from bursts of energy exploding like volcanic eruptions to swirling, smoky cloudscapes. “Nature is a force far bigger than us,” he says. “What I try to do is immerse myself in the elements, meditating, reflecting on the interconnection between clouds, the landscape and weather.”
As a boy growing up in southeast Nepal, Sah always knew drawing was in his blood. His refusal to give up his passion – much to his parents’ frustration – earned him the nickname “Azad” (or “Freedom”), and by the age of 15 he had made his way to Delhi, where he found work as a billboard painter, before returning home and enrolling at art school at Nepal’s Tribhuvan University. Daily sessions painting outdoors at dawn allowed him to experience the splendor of the sun rising over the majestic Himalayas, while his experience as a sign painter gave him the confidence to go big.
With exhibitions in countries from London and Krakow to Kathmandu, he has ample opportunity to travel and draw inspiration from the awe-inspiring scale of nature. What he sees there often goes beyond the physical. By painting clouds as repeated drops of water and light, he says he has come to understand “why the cloud is the visual symbol of spirituality in nature, that we can see transcendence against gravity”.
While his main palette is paint, it is not his only medium. The master also often adds sculptural interventions in the form of burnt holes in the canvas or small tears, as well as physical objects such as hair and pearls. He also sometimes paints with smoke, the blackened charred strokes creating a sense of delicacy, as if the marks were made from air itself.
Next, he hopes to create even bigger, oversized paintings that are contained yet burst forth from the frame. “Who knows?” he says. “I let art take me where it wants to go.”
“In my early works, there was a sense of 3D and of illusion,” says Govinda Sah “Azad” (below). “You had to come up close, almost to touch it. I like this idea of touch, like connecting your eternal self to the universe. I’m still playing with the relationship between 2D and 3D, trying to see how we understand the notion of ‘infinity’ by connecting with the night sky.”
Wondering in Dark, 2015
“In Wondering in Dark (above), you can see the influence of the great British painter Turner, who I came across in my early studies. I love his paintings of seas, water and storms; they really move me. I love his use of light, how he creates reflections of light and color. I want to capture that energy in my own work, that energy of nature.”
Tactile Universe, 2016
“I use a special breathing technique while painting. That might come from my Eastern culture: making art and painting is like a meditation in everyday life. I’m trying to make the emotion I feel visible, tangible in the painting. Tactile Universe is a good example of that. The closer you get, the more you want to touch it – to make emotion tactile.”