Rabkar Wangchuk’s First-Ever Solo Exhibition ‘Mystery of Life’ Opens June 7 in New York

mystery of life presents Rabkar Wangchuk’s journey as a young monk in India to his beginnings in the United States through 36 additional works of art and sculptures.

“Spirit Connection”, mineral pigments on Korean linen, 30”x30”, 2020 (right)

Rabkar Wangchuk, a former Buddhist monk and Tibetan-born artist now based in New York, will present his first solo exhibition mystery of life on June 7, 2022, at Here now space in the West Village.

mystery of life presents Wangchuk’s journey as a young monk in southern India to his beginnings in the United States through 36 additional works of art and sculptures. Trained in traditional Tibetan thank you painting, butter carving, wood carving and sand mandala, the work in the exhibition ranges from pop-art acrylic paintings that mix traditional techniques with modern figures, mineral pigments on silk and 3D installations. The exhibition also features sculptures by guest artist Michela Martello.

The exhibition is curated by Paola Vanzo, a longtime friend of Wangchuk. The two met years ago through Vanzo’s work in Tibetan art when she asked Wangchuk to be part of an exhibition she was curating. Wangchuk’s first solo exhibition was a long-awaited opportunity, the two say. The idea was floated before the COVID-19 pandemic when Wangchuk expressed her desire to have a solo show and asked Vanzo if she would be the curator – an idea she was hesitant about at first.

“I’m not a professional curator,” says Vanzo. “I love the art world. I’ve worked in the art world, but I don’t have the power of a big art gallery. I just have a lot of passion, energy and friendship that I have with him personally.

At the start of the pandemic, Wangchuk’s mother died. He went to India to be with her, and when he came back he knew he wanted to dedicate the show to her memory.

Rabkar Wangchuk in his studio working on “Spirit Connection”.

“In this pandemic situation, many people have lost their loved ones, not just me,” Wangchuk said. “We are facing a very difficult situation, but the art helps to calm the spirit… I put everything in the canvas to present my memories.”

In addition to telling the story of his life, the works presented in mystery of life think about “a mother’s undying love for her child despite being separated by two oceans”. In each piece, Wangchuk “used her brush and canvas to transform her grief into color and artistic expression”, an act of meditation on the “fleeting moment unfolding in the unknown”.

As they set out to plan the exhibition, Wangchuk and Vanzo met outside Vanzo’s house, masked and from a distance. The first painting he showed her was Herowhich represents a young child with a mask, the words Stay Home / Save Lives scripted under it.

“Hero (child with mask)”, Color pigment and ink on Iranian fabric; size, 12 x 22 inches, 2020

“He said to me, ‘I want to dedicate this to all the nurses and all the frontline workers and staff,'” Vanzo says.

“When I saw this play, I said ‘OK, I’ll do it’,” she says. “The moment I said yes, it gave him the strength to give his soul in every piece you see in this exhibition. I think it’s his best work so far.

Wangchuk began his life as a monk as a child. At the age of seven, he entered the monastery where he remained for 20 years before leaving to begin his life as an artist and layman. The character of the “little monk” is found throughout his work, representing “the character of my life”, he says. This little monk also represents his personal journey from monk to layman and the difficult path from India to New York.

“I became a monk, then converted to a layman,” says Wangchuk. “The life of a monk is a life of solitude, but a lay person has more connection and communication with the world. I try to show that in my paintings.

“The reason I left my life as a monk was that if I had continued as a monk, I wouldn’t have been able to share and connect with more people,” he says.

In his painting The land of opportunityWangchuk is depicted as the young monk, wearing a backpack and holding a teddy bear as he gazes out over the New York landscape.

“The silver lining of this piece is that despite all the challenges, despite the difficulties of coming here on his own, he had the baggage – which you see in his backpack – of his culture and his hard work. He had everything he had learned as a monk. And he never gave up,” says Vanzo.

“The Land of Opportunities (Monk at New York Harbor)”, pigmented color on canvas board; size, 18 x 24 inches

Familiar pop culture figures also appear in Wangchuk’s work, from Mickey Mouse to Dumbo and Bugs Bunny. These characters act as a bridge between its spiritual traditions and the modern world, telling traditional stories through familiar characters.

“He tries to communicate the spirituality that emanates from his works to make them accessible, transforming characters into images and common pop icons. In this way, the message could go further. People will be curious and ask him questions about it, like “Why is Mickey Mouse here?” Vanzo says.

When Wangchuk left the monastery in his twenties, his master gave him special advice.

“He told me, ‘No matter what kind of challenges you face, always stand up straight and move shoulder to shoulder with people,’ Wangchuk said.

With this force in mind, he made his journey to New York, becoming the artist mystery of life windows today.

“Art is always with me,” he says.

The exhibit begins June 7 with an opening reception and runs through June 21, 2022 at Here Now Space at 132 Perry Street in New York, NY. Wangchuk and guest artist Martello will give an artist talk on June 11, and Buddhist teacher David Nichtern will lead a meditation practice at the exhibit on June 15.

More information can be found at Here Now Space’s websiteand on Instagram @herenowspace and @rabkar.wangchuk

James C. Tibbs