All the drawings in this post are by Sanjay Patel
Before I went to India, I found the Hindu religion utterly baffling. All I could see was a colorful, vibrant pantheon of gods and goddesses, fighting, fucking, playing and dancing. Shiva in his ecstatic dance with the dead Kali while her body parts scattered across the countryside. Plump Ganesh with his eating disorder. Blue Krishna cavorting with the gopis, the cowherd maidens. Coming from my monotheistic culture, I just couldn’t grasp its meaning.
Fortunately, a number of wise and patient Hindus took the time to attempt and explain the complexity of this beautiful religion, and eventually, I began to get something. Maybe not with the Hindu mindset, but it began to make more sense and I saw the many gods not as separate entities but as different manifestations of one great source.
So when I came back to the U.S. and came across a write up about Sanjay Patel’s show at the San Francisco Museum of Asian Art, I decided to take a trip to the city to see how Patel, a second generation Asian, who says he feels “wholly American” would reinterpret the art of his ancestors.
Patel, who grew up in Bakersfield, California where his parents ran a motel is now a Pixar animator and brings the Hindu deities to life through his multicolored graphics. It seems somehow appropriate that Patel’s influence comes from comic books as well as Hindu art. It’s a perfect blend of cultures.
Hindu art is intrinsically bound up with enlightenment. The spiritual aspect is as important as its aesthetic properties. It seeks to express the universal, the eternal in its renderings. And comic illustrations are such a classic example of pop art that Patel seamlessly weaves the two together. He takes the seriousness out of the gods and brings them down to earth.
Myths always change with each generation, with each retelling, and Patel’s drawings continue the lineage, yet give them a modern twist as well.