Tibetan artist Tsherin Sherpa was born in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1968, after his family fled persecution in Tibet. His father, Urgen Dorje, was a well-known artist who began teaching him Tibetan thangka (scroll) painting when he was 12 years old. Today, Sherpa uses the traditional techniques and motifs he learned from his father to explore the hybridization of cultures that followed the Himalayan diaspora.

Sherpa, who at the age of 30 moved from Nepal to California, is intimately familiar with the complexity of assimilation. In his paintings, cultures blend and clash, seeking the places where the sacred and profane collide. In Muted Expression, disembodied hands appear as a single entity, gesturing in ways reminiscent of traditional Buddhist mudras, while in paintings from his Spirit series, celestial beings appear in casual undressed poses with Warhol-like accessories (polka-dot underwear, for example) that redefine our sense of what subjects merit devotion.

Whatever the theme, Sherpa’s perspective remains rooted in his Tibetan identity. In an interview with Asia Art Archive in America, he recalled stories his grandmother told about Tibetan spirits and said, “I’ve always wondered what happened to these spirits when many of the families left their villages to go in exile—if they followed the people, how they functioned in this world, and how they would assimilate into different, non-local atmospheres.”

In his paintings, Sherpa imagines these spirits adjusting to a global society. Blind Spirits depicts two beings who oversee silhouettes of life on earth: people, animals, and mythical creatures from different cultures, along with humans wielding tools of warfare. The spirits’ facial expressions and the paint that drips over them evoke sensations of grief, while butterflies fly above them symbolizing change. In Two Spirits, two beings crouch on the ground examining blocks carved with the letters A, B, C. They engage on a basic level with the English language, attempting to acclimate themselves to a contemporary world. Such adaptation is necessary, Sherpa believes, if an ancient tradition like his own is to survive.

A Tibetan spirit poses like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever in a painting by Tsherin Sherpa
Untitled, 2012, 58 x 48 in., gold leaf, acrylic, and ink on linen

In his paintings, cultures blend and clash, seeking the places where the sacred and profane collide.

Two Tibetan spirits crouch back to back over silhouettes of life on earth while butterflies fly behind them in a painting by Tsherin Sherpa
Blind Spirits, 2012, 48 x 58 in., gold leaf, acrylic, and ink on linen

The spirits’ facial expressions and the paint that drips over them evoke sensations of grief, while butterflies fly above them symbolizing change.

Over a colorful patterned backdrop, two Tibetan spirits run in opposite directions
Lost Spirits, 2014, 31.5 x 46 in, gold, acrylic, and ink on cotton
A Tibetan spirit poses in a sumo wrestling pose, making a pained face, in a painting by Tsherin Sherpa
Spirit (Neurosis), 2013-2015, 37.5 x 40 in., gold leaf, acrylic, and sumi ink on cotton
Two Tibetan spirits face crouch, examining a stack of blocks carved with the letters A, B, C, while butterflies fly above them
Two Spirits, 2010, 26 x 43 in., gold leaf, acrylic, and gouache on paper

Temple
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