Originally educated at the ‘court’ of the Dalai Lama as traditional thangka painter, the principles of thangka painting are still visible in the contemporary art of Tashi Norbu.
Tibetan thangkas - developed in 11th century in an oral culture - were used to teach and spread the Buddhist philosophy among the people and at the same time as an aid for meditation.
Thangkas visualized in an iconic way the story of Buddha and his enlightenment and stories about the gods. In modern times, probably a comic strip would be used to tell these stories.
Traveling lamas used these thangkas -which were most of the time scrolled paintings on cotton - to teach about Buddhism. When they arrived at a village, they unrolled a thangka and used it to illustrate their teachings.
Thangkas, Buddha paintings and -sculptures are following an exact grid of measurements and proportions to establish continuity and the correct transmission of figures. In original thangkas, the expression of the painter stayed invisible, because not the painter but the story needed to be in the center of the attention. That’s the reason that traditional thangkas are all anonymous.
In modern art however that is completely the opposite; the individual expression and signature of the artist is explicitly present and important, which can be seen on the art works of Tashi Norbu also.
Tashi Norbu tells in his contemporary paintings and collages the stories of Buddha and the Buddhist philosophy, but he also tells stories of modern life from a Buddhist point of view. His icons are modern icons in combination with traditional icons. Because he lives in Holland now, many Dutch icons are used in his paintings as well.
Many of his paintings and collages can be read as comic strips. The longer you look, the more you will discover: wooden shoes, tulips, windmills, traditional costumes, dolls, "Dear Kitty", cars, mobile phones, airplanes and laptops. Everything is possible in the art work of Tashi Norbu.
However, no matter how ‘wild’ the art work is, it is clear that it’s made by an artist who has learned the fundamentals of painting.
The modern thangkas and Buddhas of Tashi Norbu are often full of humor and very entertaining. Probably, more traditional ‘believers’ will not appreciate this artwork nor the modern icons that are part of it, because it’s not serious enough. The Dalai Lama as spiritual leader, however, often showed us that humor in Buddhism - in contrast to most other "religions"- is appreciated and is maybe even part of the Tibetan culture.
Tashi Norbu constantly seeks to explore the ways of western art that inspire him, in combination with Tibetan motifs and patterns. He tries to bring the energy of abstract expressionism in harmony with the meditative and reflective spirit of Buddhism.
Since 2007, Tashi Norbu lives in The Netherlands and has a studio in Wormer (9Pillars Contemporary Art Studio), close to Amsterdam. In 2008 he co-founded Tibet House Holland, an organization for Tibetan art and culture. In cooperation with the International Tibet Art Movement he organized in 2009 the Tibet Art Now exhibition in Amsterdam during the visit of the Dalai Lama. Tibet Art Now was an international art exhibition in which the Dalai Lama himself was also present in a subsection. The contemporary art works of Tashi Norbu formed the background at the Dalai Lama's lecture.
The art works of Tashi Norbu are exhibited in e.g. the Worldmuseum in Rotterdam, The Netherlands and in one of the greatest Tibetan modern art galleries of the world in London: Rossi & Rossi. In this gallery, the famous curator Tenzing Rigdol organized an exhibition under the name IN-BETWEEN: . The complete collection of this exhibition was bought by a private collector and is going to travel over the whole world. Besides these, works are presented in the museum "Huis van Alijn", Ghent, Belgium.