All sale proceeds will be donated to RTA and VAST

Art: Step into the world of Olaf Van Cleef through his paintings of various Buddhist icons and symbols starting from Guru Padmasambhava, lotus flower to Serngye (golden fish), which are currently exhibited at the Royal Textile Academy (RTA) in Thimphu.

The French artist has displayed 57 paintings that are studded with Swarovski crystals, gems and chocolate paper, which he recently completed in Paris.

The 64-year-old artist is in the capital to showcase his first exhibition in the country. Apart from Buddhist religious figures, his paintings also include Hindu gods and abstracts.

Clad in a neat black shirt with a red collar, polka dot pants with shocking pink sneakers, Olaf Van Cleef is pleased with the reaction from Bhutanese art enthusiasts.

For him, his works are not decorative art but precious and religious art. “All these paintings have a touch of Buddhist religion and nature, which every Bhutanese cherishes,” he said. “These arts are like jewelries to the eye, giving a perspective on modern art.”

Olaf Van Cleef said he infuses French designs in Bhutanese art and vice versa.

“Apart from the crystals and gems, the most important element in the painting is the chocolate paper, which I have been collecting for many years,” he said. “Your garbage is my gold. For me, it’s an eco-painting and I want to show people that anything is possible in art.”

The artist is happy to see many Bhutanese understanding and appreciating art today.

“I am surprised to see so many younger generation interested in art here because in other countries only the elderly appreciates art,” he said. “I think it’s something unique and a positive sign for the development of art in the country.”

However, he said, Bhutanese art hasn’t spread its wings wide into contemporary and modern art yet.

“People still stick to the traditional forms of art, which is good but I hope to see many Bhutanese exploring and coming out of the boundary of traditional art,” he said.

This is the reason why Olaf Van Cleef is donating all his sales proceeds from the paintings to the RTA and the Voluntary Artists’ Studio in Thimphu. Of the 57, he has sold 30 paintings since Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck opened the exhibition on October 13.

“The art gives the image of the country. If the art is all about the past, it means the people are still in the past,” he said. “I hope Bhutanese artist will keep exploring modern art.”

Before coming to Bhutan, Olaf Van Cleef painted Indian religious figures with an European touch. After finding a niche market in India, he decided to move his interest to Bhutan, and now plans to explore Myanmar.

Since 1982, he worked with high-end jewellery designer, Cartier in Paris, as a counsellor. A Cartier clock fish and necklace can be seen in some of the paintings, a reflection of European touch into the Buddhist elements.

He is also a descendant of the family of the Van Cleef family who were the jewellers of the Czars.

Olaf Van Cleef said, he is an insomniac and paints from 3am to 8am. He takes 300 to 500 hours, about 12-21 days, to complete each painting.

The exhibition is on until October 22 and the RTA galleries will remain open from 9am to 4pm during weekdays and Saturday.

Thinley Zangmo