Gallery preview: Living Treasures of Nepal

Artists aim to preserve ancient techniques

Kennesaw State University, which has long had a practice of bringing international art to campus, hits a home run with its current exhibit, “Living Treasures of Nepal: Masters of Ancient Techniques in a Modern World.”

The work in the exhibit, co-curated by Asheville artist Barbara Cook and Kennesaw professor Lin Hightower, takes us armchair travelers to the Katmandu Valley, where artisan families of the Newar people have developed and practiced Buddhist devotional arts over many centuries.

Based on careful study of the Buddhist iconography of their forebears, these artists create representations of the Buddha and his incarnations through what Hightower calls “the five Buddhist revered arts”: lost-wax casting, repoussé, stone-carving, wood-carving and painting.

It’s painstaking, labor-intensive work. For example, to produce a Paubha painting, similar to the Tibetan Thangkas often exhibited at Oglethorpe University, many artists make their own paper and grind their own pigments. The paintings are dense with intricate detail, rendered with pinpoint precision.

So are sculptures and carved wood architectural elements. Sculptors enhance supple forms with filigree, gemstones and often painted surfaces. Floral elements and sinuous bodies animate carved downspouts, lintels and the like.

It’s no wonder that visiting artists Rajesh Shakya and Ujay Bajracharya — whose sculpture and paintings, respectively, are featured in the show — make only six or seven pieces a year.

The exhibition has an agenda. Cook, who has worked closely with Nepalese artists for 20 years, put the show together not only to expand awareness of these artists and their work but also to advocate for the preservation of these art forms.

Concerned that the tradition is dying out, she founded Traditional Handicraft Center in Katmandu in 2006. She wants to find a broader market for the work as well. (Most pieces here are for sale.)

If the show celebrates continuity, it also showcases at least one example of evolution.

That monumental golden Buddha sitting cross-legged at the far end of the gallery is made of plastic foam.

The lightweight piece solves a problem for monasteries high in the mountains, which can neither afford nor transport a sculpture of that scale made of traditional materials.

Also on campus:

● “Athos Menaboni: Portrait of a Painter.” Don Russell Clayton Gallery, Bailey Performance Center, through Dec. 2. A panoramic view of Atlanta’s own Audubon, beloved for his skillful paintings of birds (and flowers and butterflies).

● “Barry Sparkman: The Allusive Subconscious.” Fine Arts Gallery, Joe Mack Wilson Building, through Sept. 30. The Arizona artist translates a vocabulary of swirling skeins of lines and color into paintings, lithographs, woodcuts, monoprints, collage and combinations thereof.

Catherine Fox is chief visual arts critic of ArtsCriticATL.com .

Event preview

“Living Treasures of Nepal: Masters of Ancient Techniques in a Modern World”

Through Oct. 11.

11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays

7-9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays

1-4 p.m. Saturdays.

The Art Gallery, Sturgis Library, lower level, Kennesaw State University. 1000 Chastain Road, Kennesaw. 770-499-3223. www.kennesaw.edu/arts /galleries/visit.html .

Bottom line: A beautiful exhibition that celebrates skill, discipline and continuity as well as the tradition of spiritual art.