Himalayan Art Resources

Painting Tradition: Karma Gar-ri Main Page

Terminology & Classification of Traditions & Style Names

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Painting tradition & painting style
- Karma Gar & Yongle Art Relationship
- Early Karma Gar-ri Painting (16th & 17th century, see images below)
- Late Karma Gar-ri Painting (18th to 21st century)
- Karma Kagyu Lineage Paintings
- Karma Gar Sculpture
- Palpung following a Karma Gar-ri Tradition for Lineage Paintings
- Unique Palpung Painting Tradition
- Masterworks
- Confusions
- Others...

Video: Karma Gar-ri Painting Tradition

Karma Gar-ri painting, primarily identified with the Karma Kagyu (Kamtsang Kagyu), itself is not a style but has become a painting tradition that incorporates, since the 16th century, many different styles of painting.

The images below are identified as early Karma Gar-ri (gar-ri, Karma Encampment) following the tradition of the artist Namkha Tashi who lived during the 16th century. He was a student of Konchog Pende of E who was himself a master of the Menri tradition of painting. At this time there is only one mural painting of the 1st Karmapa located at Karma Gon monastery in Eastern Tibet that is attributed by the local monks as a work of Namkha Tashi. This attribution however is highly suspect based on the painting style appearing to be 18th and 19th century in character rather than a work of the 16th century.

The early Karma Gar-ri tradition of painting is best defined as: Karma Kagyu lineage teachers depicted on copies of Chinese Yongle Style Arhat compositions with a naturalistic landscape background.

Essentially the Tibetan artists belonging to the 'Tent Encampment' entourage of the Karmapa copied the landscape compositions leaving out the Chinese style arhat figure and replacing the figure with a Menri or Khyenri Tradition lineage teacher, such as Marpa, Milarepa and others.

There are two distinct periods with regard to the Karma Gar-ri painting tradition - early and late. The images below are from the early period where the subjects of composition appear to be limited to Karma Kagyu Lineage painting sets. In the late Karma Gar-ri paintings, primarily products of Palpung monastery, other Karma Kagyu lineage systems were also included. A distinct tradition of Karma Gar sculpture also developed along side the early Karma Gar-ri painting tradition.

At least one 20th century scholar has proposed that there are three types of 'Karma Gar-ri' tradition painting periods: early, middle and late. The early is in reference to Namkha Tashi (16th century). The middle period with reference to Choying Dorje (17th century) and the late with reference to Situ Panchen Chokyi Jungne (18th century) and his artistic production. This reinforces the understanding that the term 'Karma Gar-ri' is not accurately a style but a tradition which includes many artists, time periods and individual styles.

The main emphasis of Karma Gar-ri is on the two words 'Karma Gar' meaning related to, or produced by, the Karma Kagyu Tradition, originating with the 'Karmapa Tent Encampment' (Karma Gar) of the early Karmapas.

For more information please read the article by Tashi Tsering A Classification of Karma sgar ris and Related Styles. Also see an Alternate link.

Jeff Watt 5-2014 [updated 10-2016, 6-2017, 4-2018, 10-2019]

(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links above).