A thangka of White Tara, by Michael Prettyman (Writing, Religion, ’12)

Alum Michael Prettyman’s thangka of White Tara hangs in the CUNY BA office, and brings joy to all those who visit. Read the story behind the artwork here.
A thangka of White Tara hanging in the CUNY BA Office

“I came to CUNY BA with a background as a working artist – I funded my return to school by painting murals in China and Dubai. My paintings reflect my fascination with world mythology- my first real painting on canvas was of Shiva Nataraja, the Hindu god who dances the creation of the material world. So I came to academia with a hunger to understand philosophy, theology different mythological systems, and ancient philosophy. I then turned to artwork to complete and reflect back that new understanding.

One of the subjects I always wondered about was thangka painting, an ancient depiction of deities in Hindu and Buddhist traditions of the Himalayas. If you look at one of those paintings, you see it is composed of thousands of tiny lines, that are impossibly perfect, totally consistent in weight and thickness, and about the size of a human hair. I knew what it would take, in terms of concentration, skill and time to execute one of those, and I wanted to find out how they were made.

So I spent a lot of time in research at the Rubin Museum of Art, with a Buddhist group here in NYC and a monastery upstate. Did a lot of research, and learned a lot of rules and customs, one of which is you are not supposed to just sit down and paint a thangka, you must first get permission from a lama. So I did that, was empowered (which involved a long ceremony and the waving of peacock feathers) in order to get permission to make a thangka of White Tara, the deity you see in the painting at the CUNY BA office.

Twelve years later, I continue to pursue the path of combining theological and mythological questions with the visual arts. I’m working on a big painting for the Cathedral of St. Paul the Apostle in Manhattan, and am completing a body of work on climate change and the sublime that will be part of a global show of contemporary art put on by Saatchi.”

– Michael Prettyman (Writing, Religion), 2012 graduate of the CUNY BA program