In the past, ISKCON devotees have been treated to stunning coffee table art books like the Krishna Art Book and the Ramayana Art Book.
Now, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) has released an art book for the general public, written to provide people with a cultural experience and to attract them to take a closer look at Krishna consciousness through its “windows to the spiritual world.”
“Avatar Art: Neo-Vedic Paintings Celebrating Life” includes 104 BBT paintings, some vintage and some newer, with supporting text that takes readers on a tour through Srimad-Bhagavatam, Krishna Book, and the Caitanya-caritamrta.
The book is much handier than previous coffee table art books – at eight inches by five-and-a-half, it’s designed for devotees to distribute on the street or give as a gift to relatives or curious friends or co-workers.
It’s also more accessible, condensing a huge portion of the Vedic scriptures into 224 pages through a medium everyone loves – stories and gorgeous art.
In its preface, the book introduces readers to its subject matter in a populist way that they’ll easily relate to.
“These days, video games and graphic novels have coopted personalities like Indra, Krishna, and Vishnu, and created characters loosely based on something Vedic,” explains co-author Kaisori Bellach. “I think that some of the main personalities appearing in Avatar Art are no longer foreign names for many people, and this book will show them who these personalities really are.”
She adds: “I have already heard from yoga teachers that there are many people who are curious about the ‘teaching and puranic stories’ they hear of in their yoga classes, and this book gives them what they want from the perspective of bhakti.”
The preface of Avatar Art promises, “Learn why Vishnu has four arms, Shiva dances, and Ganesh sports the head of an elephant,” and the book follows up on that promise.
It begins with an introduction by scholar Steven J. Rosen (Satyaraja Das) explaining the basics of bhakti, the development of Indian spiritual art, and the contribution of Srila Prabhupada and his disciples in bringing it to the West.
The rest of Avatar Art is then divided into three sections: “Avatars, Devas, Sages and Demons,” “The Life of Krishna,” and “Sri Chaitanya.”
Each painting is given a two-page spread, with the painting on one side. On the other, the artist’s spiritual and given names, and the medium and size of the original painting, are provided, along with explanatory text.
In the text, authors Steven J. Rosen and Kaisori Bellach take the chance to tell the story around the painting, fully fleshing it out. With just a short amount of space, they deftly introduce readers to many different characters and philosophical themes in a very accessible way. They even discuss the symbolism and techniques used in the paintings, in a way that will be very appealing to anyone interested in art.
“The text was informed by research in Prabhupada’s books, in Vedic and Vaishnava iconography and symbolism, in the Vedic teachings about art, and in some understanding of the Western art tradition,” says Kaisori. “To write my part, I also interviewed the artists themselves, and studied books on how to write about art.”
The paintings themselves are stunning, a very carefully chosen collection of classic and lesser-seen ISKCON art, of very different artistic styles, and different personalities and scenes.
Interestingly, in thinking out of the box, the BBT have created one of their best ever introductory books. Avatar Art gives people a huge amount of knowledge about the bhakti tradition in an effortless and entertaining way that never beats them over the head with it.
“I hope that through this book, people will get a glimpse into the spiritual culture of bhakti yoga,” Kaisori says. “I hope they will become attracted to Krishna, attracted to look a little deeper into the source texts like the Srimad-Bhagavatam, and that their curiosity will be piqued by both our tradition and philosophy. I hope those on any sort of spiritual path will feel some resonance with the principles of bhakti even though the images may seem exotic to them.”
Avatar Art, however, will also be appealing to devotees. It’s a great way for them to to get an at-a-glance reminder of the many different astonishing and edifying stories in our tradition, and to absorb themselves in the pastimes of Krishna and his avatars.
“Art is a universal experience and a private experience,” Kaisori says. “You can be drawn into paintings and find something in yourself that you didn’t know was there.”
* * *
Avatar Art is full-color, 224 pages, flexibound, and 8 x 5/12 in. It is produced entirely from eco-friendly materials. It is currently available from the following retailers:
Worldwide: Bhaktivedanta Library Services – blservices.com/avatar-art
North America: 1-800-927-4152 or Krishna.com
Sweden: Write to email@example.com
UK: Bhaktivedanta Manor Online Shop – krishnashopping.com
Hungary: Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
For quantities and wholesale, please contact your nearest BBT office, or write to <email@example.com> and they will connect you with your BBT office.