RABINDRANATH TAGORE (1861—1941), a poet, playwright, and novelist, was one of the towering cultural figures of modern India, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Through his multi-faceted activities, Tagore has become for the world the voice of India’s spiritual heritage. Of his many works, the most enduringly popular has been Gitanjali, or Song Offerings, due to the honesty with which these verses articulate the poet’s personal, and humanity’s eternal, spiritual quest. Although steeped in Hindu roots, they have the capability of bringing together compassionate, seeking minds of all faiths. Certainly they are worth reading and rereading in these times of troubling religious strife.
About the Author
MARK W. MCGINNIS is an artist and educator whose interdisciplinary projects have been featured in over 110 solo exhibitions nationwide. His previous publications include Buddhist Animal Wisdom Stories, Lakota and Dakota Animal Wisdom Stories, and Wisdom of the Benedictine Elders, Inspired by his first reading of Gitanjali, the artist created 103 exquisite nine-by-nine-inch paintings, after the fashion of Indian Kangra-style paintings of the late eighteenth century. Mark’s paintings are intended not to be simply illustrations of Tagore’s verses but images inspired by them and the artist understands of the creative mind behind them.
In the summer of 2001 I began reading the works of Tagore and soon discovered this book. I immediately knew that I needed to drop what I was currently working on and begin a series of paintings inspired by these poems. The book consists of 103 “song offerings”; my project was to create one nine-by- nine-inch painting for each poem. I decided on the small size to harmonize with the very intimate nature of the poetry and to allude to the Indian miniature paintings of past centuries.
To produce the Gitanjali project I attempted to submerge myself in Tagore’s world. I read material from all areas of his diverse and creative career. The paintings are not meant to be illustrations of the verses but images inspired by the poetry and by my understanding of the creative mind behind them. This understanding is then merged with my own sense of aesthetics, my evolving painting technique, and my interest in Indian Kangra-style paintings of the late eighteenth century. Elements of paintings XVI, XXXII, XXXV, XXXVII, XL, LX, and LXXIV were inspired by the photography of Gerald Cubit in his wonderful book Wild India. One of the things that has made this series such a rewarding experience was my determination early in the project to not be locked to one stylistic approach. Instead I allowed each poem to pull me in whatever direction the verses inspired. This led to freedom that I have not experienced in my previous projects and a path that I plan to follow in the future.
What moved me so deeply in Tagore’s poetry was the beautiful honesty in his search for the eternal and his striving to find his relationship with the spiritual. On occasion Tagore’s connection with his Hindu roots became wonderfully evident in his allusions to traditional devotional imagery. In several paintings I have suggested this with blue-skinned figures that refer to Vishnu and his other manifestations such as Krishna, Rama, and Buddha. But in spite of my interest in Hindu religion and culture what primarily drew me to Tagore’s poetry was its universality. I felt that a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, a follower of nearly any religious tradition, could draw inspiration from Tagore’s wisdom and insight.
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