A visual artist, RJ, writer, poet and musician, Chirag Bangdel always greets you with a friendly smile. Probably the most active and popular person in the arts scene in Nepal today, he even tried his hand at theater, but as a kid he was serious about playing music. Spending part of his younger days in Mirik, Darjeeling District, he had a lonely childhood and spent time reading and dabbling in watercolors. The son of a writer, Chirag was to later come under the life changing influence of the Father of Modern Nepali art, his grand-uncle, Lain Singh Bangdel. Bonding with the great man, young Chirag immersed himself in the world of painting. Eighteen years after his first exhibition, he looks back and has no regrets.
When Chirag first saw his grand-uncle’s paintings, he was amazed but he was not alone, King Mahendra too was fascinated enough to invite the senior Bangdel to Nepal. Initially, it was his younger brother Anurag who came under Lain Singh’s tutelage, which coaxed him to take lessons as well. In the mid 90s, he started with watercolors and held his first exhibition at Hotel de l’Annapurna in 2000. He smiles broadly as he recalls how he used every medium under the sun: watercolor, oil, acrylic, pastel and charcoal. “I was young and so enthusiastic,” he says defensively. That’s when he first felt like a real artist, someone to be taken seriously. He eventually settled for acrylic as his preferred medium and explains why: “It dries quickly, it’s luminous, doesn’t crack up with age like oil paint and the best part is you can paint on anything with acrylic, like paper, wood, canvas, glass, you name it.”
Talking fondly about his grand-uncle, he reveals that his influence wasn’t limited to art, but also touched upon lifestyle. He would go to the senior Bangdel’s house in Sanepa and they’d sometimes paint outdoors besides working in the studio and he recalls how in an excited state, the old man would add his own touches to Chirag’s work. “Sometimes to avoid him doing that, I’d frame my painting before showing it to him,” he says. Their closeness is revealed in his next sentence: “He loved tanduri food, so I would often take him some and he relished it.” The brothers took care of him when he fell ill and Chirag goes on to talk about another side of Lain Singh when he reminisces, “He would sometimes call me over and show me his new painting and ask for my opinion.”
Chirag loved Lain Singh Bangdel’s Blue Period so much that he went through his own Blue Period. He would often receive a painting as a gift from the older Bangdel and some of them were from this period. Chirag found great satisfaction in doing figurative paintings and has continued in this vein since 2003. He also went through post modernist influences and tried his hand at installation art and was commissioned twice by WaterAid Nepal to create a series of installation art that talked about water and sanitation, and women’s reproductive health.
Chirag Bangdel wrote regular columns for different magazines including ECS Nepal and has authored four collections of poems, “But To Dream”, “After Midnight”, “Fermenting Flowers” and “Uphill Darjeeling.” His book of short stories and haiku, “Mist Around The Stupa” was published by Chautara Publications, the Netherlands, in 2009 and has enjoyed a second reprint.
But depicting violence in art doesn’t appeal to him. “There was so much violence around the world at one time; we had the Maoist revolution, there was the Iraq war and other wars in many countries. So seeing violence depicted in paintings put me off. I believe only love can save humanity and art should be healing. We should focus on peace,” says Chirag. But he faced a dilemma; how do you depict love in a painting? The answer came in the form of a book of poems entitled “Geet Govinda”. His focus then turned to religious figures like Krishna who is all about love. “I depict Lord Krishna in my paintings but it’s not really Krishna and merely a representative of love. It’s a celebration of love,” informs Chirag. He also feels that admiration of a painting begins with the eyes, so it should be pleasing to the eyes to begin with. “Only then, should the intellect kick in and come in a subtle way,” he explains.
Chirag had a sold-out exhibition in the Netherlands and is grateful to Beata Wiggen for promoting Nepali artists there. “I also had two sold-out shows in Dubai where the exhibition led to the Orange Art Company deciding to come up with handicrafts featuring my paintings. I have held exhibitions in France, Germany and twice in Pakistan. Many of my works hang on the walls of the The World Bank in Kathmandu, Investment Bank Headquarters and other branch offices, Hotel Annapurna, Hotel Shaligram and in private homes here and abroad,” informs Chirag. Fifty-three of his paintings have been featured in United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 2009 calendar. He represented Nepal in the prestigious India Art Fair 2018 in February that year along with six other artists. He has now taken to social media to boost sales of his paintings and uses facebook and instagram very successfully. Many artists like Erina Tamrakar and Asha Dangol are also selling online and the trend seems to be picking up.
Chirag gets regularly invited to schools and colleges where he talks about art appreciation. He also thinks that all schools should have art in their curriculum, employing competent artists as art teachers. Asked about art critics in Nepal, he believes there is a dearth of art critics who are actually very essential for the development of art in Nepal.
Bangdel is also the Founder President of South Asian Poetry Festival for Peace, a poetry festival that takes place in Kathmandu. In 2007, he was invited to participate in the XVII International Poetry Festival of Medellin, Colombia, South America. The festival is considered one of the largest in the world and has won Alternative Nobel Prize in 2006.
Besides painting, Chirag Bangdel is also busy as a radio program host and producer at Image FM. He’s actively involved in writing and promoting poetry; he’s dabbled in television, is often invited to emcee programs and yet finds time to play music. What might he be doing further down the road, only time will tell, but he will no doubt be inspiring the younger generation.