Lasha Mutual and the White Tara

Lasha Mutual and the White Tara

How can someone truly integrate one’s everyday work, and one’s Buddhist practice? And how does a Westerner internalize the very different visual cultures of traditions such as Tibetan Buddhism?

These can be big questions for many Westerners, and they are often forced to find answers on their own. We spoke to Lasha Mutual, a successful artist from Ontario, Canada, who has thought deeply about these issues. Lasha’s deep interest in Buddhist philosophies, meditation practices and imagery have informed and shaped her uniquely beautiful artistic work.

One of the most popular and meaningful figures in Tibetan Buddhism – and for Lasha personally – is White Tara. Lasha’s affinity with this Buddha has led her to embark on an ambitious mission to paint 108 White Taras, and to incorporate into them her own Western experience. We asked her about how she balances two very different worlds.
What is your background, and how did you come to painting Tara?

Artistic expression has always been part of my life since as far back as I can remember.  I was formally trained as a printmaker at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, graduating with a BFA, and have continued to work in a variety of mediums.  As my interest in Buddhism grew and I became exposed to thangka paintings from the Tibetan tradition, the images of Tara captivated me, along with the concept of visualization and mantra practices being based upon such images.

Your works range from ceramics, oil paintings, and watercolors, in a variety of subjects. The Tara works seem to be particularly evocative. Did you have a western or Tibetan teacher? How was the process of learning to paint in Tibetan style?

I do not have a western or Tibetan teacher yet, but I read voraciously to try to keep expanding my knowledge of Tibetan (and other forms of) Buddhism and I maintain a personal meditation practice.
I have no formal training in traditional thangka painting, so the style that emerges in my work is purely a combination of exposure to different types of artistic influences over my life, relevant to my own interests mixed with my own developing style and approach.
Your work seems to combine the essence of traditional Tibetan painting, but in a way that is authentically western. There also seems to be an influence from traditional Indian painting. How faithful do you feel you have to be to traditional Eastern techniques (which can be very proscriptive, in terms of proportions and symbolism)? How much can you bring from your own culture or influences… particularly when painting something as traditional as a Tara?

The process of painting or drawing Tara began as an exercise to memorize all of her symbolic elements, her types of garments and the positions and postures of her hands, feet and limbs, in order to make my visualization practice richer.  There were such delightful associations with using Tara as a central focus that it be became natural to create more finished works along the same lines

It seems that Lasha has found a unique way to balance the different influences and impulses that manifest in her life, through a practice which seems to emphasize integrity, honesty and discipline. Where some of us encounter confusion or tension working between cultures, Lasha shows us that there can also be beauty. As such, her work could be a perfect trail marker for the development of Western Buddhism.

Lasha is currently accepting new White Tara painting commissions, and you can also purchase her previous work on her website.

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