Those who feel the truth of 14th century German theologian Meister Eckhart’s words, “When the soul wants to experience something she throws out an image in front of her and then steps into it,” might do well to consider Franck André Jamme’s latest book, Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan from this point of view. It is an evocation of the image as a threshold leading to new dimensions of meaning, a revelatory understanding that some images are more than mere data; they are instead vital seeds, living carriers of possibility.
It could be a cult classic: the debut edition of Siglio Press’s Tantra Song—one of the only books to survey the elusive tradition of abstract Tantric painting from Rajasthan, India—sold out in a swift six weeks. The works depict deities as geometric, vividly hued shapes and mark a clear departure from Tantric art’s better-known figurative styles. They also resonate uncannily with lineages of twentieth-century art—from the Bauhaus and Russian Constructivism to Minimalism—as well as with much painting today. Rarely have the ancient and the modern come together so fluidly.
—Lauren O’Neill-Butler, THE PARIS REVIEW
Tantra Song is a singular and revelatory collection of rare Tantric paintings made anonymously by adepts in Rajasthan and used to awaken heightened states of consciousness. The paintings’ magnetic, vibratory beauty—as well as their deep affinity with 20th century abstract art—inspires acute attention and boundless contemplation.
The paintings are the progeny of hand-written, illustrated religious treatises from the 17th century which have been copied over multiple generations. Like musicians playing ragas of classical Indian music, adepts paint in a concentrated state of mental rapture, repeating and subtly reinterpreting melodic structures of line and color. When complete, the paintings—made in tempera, gouache, and watercolor on salvaged paper—are pinned to the wall to use in private meditation.
Having spent more than two decades in conversation with the private communities of Rajasthani tantrikas, Jamme—like other poet-ethnographers Michaux, Leiris, and Bataille before him—draws on an unconventional body of knowledge. His accompanying texts—concise and luminous—further open readers to the paintings’ subtle magic.
FRANCK ANDRÉ JAMME is one France’s leading contemporary poets and the author of more than a dozen books. His publications in English (translated by John Ashbery, Charles Borkhuis, David Kelley, and Michael Tweed) include New Exercises, Another Silent Attack, Moon Wood, The Recitation of Forgetting, and Extracts of the Life of a Beetle. Described by Henri Michaux as “a writer of rare quality,” Jamme has also collaborated with a number of artists including Phillippe Favier, Suzan Frecon, Acharya Vyakul, and Hanns Schimansky, as well as translated the works of John Ashbery and Lokenath Bhattacharya. A specialist in art brut, Tantric and tribal art of India, he has curated and contributed to exhibitions at The Drawing Center, Centre Pompidou, and Beaux-Arts de Paris, among others.