Raman Bhardwaj has two favorite animals: the tiger and the
lion.

Both exemplify the artist’s love and fascination with the
majestic, the monumental, the mythical.

“Ever since I was a child, I was fascinated by tigers and
lions,” says Bhardwaj just a half-hour before his opening reception at the
Artery gallery in Greensboro. “There’s something natural, maybe the power and
the grandeur, the regal grace of the lion that attracts me.”

The tiger is also the national animal of India, where
Bhardwaj is from.

The 44-year-old artist traveled from Chandigarh city in
northern India to the United States in 2018 after his mother had passed away.
He had been working as a freelance artist for more than a decade and took the
chance to move in with his brother, who has been living in Greensboro for the
past 23 years, after he got an artist visa.

Coming here was initially a huge shock, says Bhardwaj.

“Everything is different,” he says. “The buildings are different.
People look different — the skin, eyes, hair. Everything is different. It’s so
fleshy, fascinating… you are lifted from one location where you are surrounded
by people who look like you and suddenly implanted somewhere else. So, your
visual things is all shaken up, and because I’m a visual artist, that’s going
to influence me.”

One of the biggest changes to Bhardwaj’s style presented
itself as a new art form: murals. To date, the artist has created about two
dozen murals throughout Greensboro, painted on the backs of various buildings
and businesses. Like the tiger or the lion, painting murals gives Bhardwaj a
feeling of being larger than life.

“Murals weren’t so prevalent in my city,” Bhardwaj says.
“There wasn’t so much of a tradition of mural and graffiti, but I’ve always
been fascinated by the large-scale paintings and drawings.”

Some of his favorite ones include a painting of Dorothy and Toto on the back of Red Cinemas as well as a portrait of Bruce Lee on the rear side of Pure Barre in the Westover Gallery shopping center.

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The man who balanced the energies of Fire and water. Reposting about this Bruce Lee mural I did a few months ago. There are numerous Bruce Lee fans around the world who admire his skills as well as his teachings. He was a popular icon when I grew up in 80s in India. This mural was Curated by @kotisstreetart. photos by @brutcherphotography #kotisstreetart

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The latter, again, appealed to Bhardwaj because of Lee’s
magnetic persona and his display of strength despite his smaller size. Murals have
become his favorite form of art.

Painted across the back of the brick building, Lee is cast
in orange and blue hues, one side represented by fire while the other evoking
water. In bright-yellow, blocky letters, the word “khiladi” appears on
top of Lee’s right shoulder, a word that means “champion” in Hindi.

Bhardwaj says that he tries to include parts of his Indian
identity in his work, so as not to lose that part of him as he adapts and makes
a life here in America.

“I think the influence of Indian culture is mostly in my
approach to life and art,” Bhardwaj says. “I think I became more aware of my
Indian identity when I came here. Here, you tend to feel like you’ve lost your
identity and I don’t want to do that. I think I want a constant reminder, and
that’s what makes me different and maybe special.”

As the coronavirus spreads throughout the world, Bhardwaj is concerned about his daughters that he left behind in India. He had planned on going back next month, but says that he had to cancel his trip because of the pandemic. He says he eventually wants to bring his daughters to the United States because he believes that gender equality is better here.

In the meantime, he says he’ll continue to focus on his art.

In the exhibit at the Artery, Bhardwaj’s pieces aim to ask
the viewer questions about what constitutes reality and the struggle between
indulgence and hedonism versus spiritual enlightenment.

Figures floating above the ground with multiple limbs
interlaced stare out at the viewer while symbols like the pyramid, the moon and
snake leave hints on the canvas. Titled, “A Perfect Myth,” Bhardwaj explains
that, in a way, the painting is a visual representation of his own inner
struggles of what life is really about.

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Recently finished this 4ftx4ft painting in oil and acrylics. I started this in April last year based on one of my drawings. It’s one of my favorite works. Titled “a perfect myth’ it will be displayed in my show “maya, myth and shakti” hosted by @kotisstreetart that opens on 23 Jan in Greensboro.

A post shared by Raman Bhardwaj (@artistraman) on

A few years ago, he says he gave up life as an artist in an
attempt to become more spiritual. He began practicing with a guru, meditating
day in and day out, and picked up trades like acupressure, reiki and astrology.

“I thought, Maybe I can be better if I support people
with these things,”
he says. “But then, I later started feeling that that
was an illusion too. It was also egoistic. I did it for seven or eight years
and I never reached a stage where I found God. Those questions all define my
art.”

Despite his earnest attempt, Bhardwaj found that he felt
empty and unfulfilled. He returned to the canvas.

“I came back with a richer experience,” he says. “I’m more
humble, and I’m starting to bring in that spiritual side. I’m trying to combine
the two.”

Now, it’s about finding a balance between just creating art
and making his work more meaningful.

“We all have these dualities inside each other,” he says.
“Sometimes it’s tilted towards one side or the other. The human mind is
fascinating.”

Bhardwaj’s exhibit Maya and Myth will be on display at the Artery in Greensboro through March 30. Check the gallery’s Facebook page or call them to check if they are open. Follow Bhardwaj on Instagram at @artistraman and at ramanartist.com for more information.

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