There is an enchanting aura about Romio Shrestha. He is different from other Nepali traditional artists. He looks different, he talks differently, and he feels different. Deepak Chopra calls him a Himalayan visionary, others call him a spiritual healer, but Shrestha himself calls himself a normal guy.
“I am just an ordinary guy who wants to awaken the divine in every single person I meet in my life,” he says.
Maybe it is that divinity that has earned him a lot of praise from a global audience. His art hangs in the homes of people like Bill Clinton, Prince Charles, Deepak Chopra, Madonna, Bono and Diane von Furstenberg among many others. He is also one of few artists whose work has been bought by museums all across the globe.
While he may not be a well-known figure in Nepal, many people here think he is a national treasure who, through his paintings, has always tried to promote Nepal and the message of positivity. Now, as he is ageing, Shrestha wants to continue to spread positivity as he hopes to help people who need help.
From prophecy to practice
Romio Shrestha grew up in a traditional and strict Newa family in Kathmandu during the 60s. But, he was always an odd one. He grew up around many hippies and learnt to be free-spirited. He was curious and was always full of questions.
Things changed when he was around five, a few monks arrived at his house and told his parents that their son was the 17th reincarnation of an ancient Tibetan painter. It was shocking to everyone in his household. His parents refused to send him to Tibet with the monks and enrolled him at St Xavier, a catholic school in Kathmandu.
After school and high school, Shrestha’s parents sent him to California to study architecture where he was completely blown away. Coming from a conservative family in Nepal, America in the 80s was wild. After a few years in the US, he was back in Kathmandu where he started opening a shop and a restaurant.
But, as fate would have it, as tourists stopped coming into Nepal, he shut things down and started to learn how to paint thangkas.
“Maybe it was meant to be,” he says.
Life was going alright until one day when Shrestha met a lady named Sophie from Ireland. After that, things changed. He fell in love with her and says that that is when his life really began. However, he knew that it was going to be hard to convince his family and as the armed conflict was brewing in Nepal, he left with Sophie for Ireland and got married.
It was after his marriage that he started to take a keen interest in art. He says Sophie taught him what art really meant to people in the west.
“In Nepal art was for religious purposes; it still is. But, in the west, art was seen differently and that changed how I perceived it.”
Before the turn of the millennium, Shrestha started to get serious about paintings. It was around then that he met writer Deepak Chopra and his life has not been the same since. When he met him, Chopra was going through some problems and Shrestha helped him out and since then, the two became close friends.
“He then helped me get into Hollywood.” He began selling his works to superstars.
Helping and healing self and people
Romio Shrestha says that helped create the work he has done. In the 2000s, he claims, he started a small renaissance in Tibetan traditional painting using the money he got from Hollywood.
“It helped me produce some great paintings that hang on the walls of some of the most famous people in the world.”
But, he did not do them alone. While the paintings were his vision, the work was done in a collective manner by different artists who were paid well by Shrestha. He says that he supported nearly 200 families at one point in time and says he will continue to do so as long as he can.
That is not all, a few of Shrestha’s paintings are can also be found at the British Museum, The Victoria Albert Museum, London, The Buchheim Museum, American Museum of Natural History New York, National Museum Moscow, The Chester Beatty Library Dublin, The Voelkerkunde Museum Zurich as well as many private collections around the globe some costing nearly $1 million.
He has also helped a lot of people through his art. He says meditation is key when you are trying to heal from any incident. And, he wants people to use his artwork to heal themselves.
“My paintings are a mirror reflection of your true self.”
Shrestha has also produced several books of his paintings, through which he wants to teach people the art of healing and meditation. But, the best one is arguably his book about the Goddesses of the Celestial Gallery where he has focussed mostly on the White Tara, the goddess of compassion.
“These paintings are my homages and to all women; I believe it’s the women who will save the planet.”
His other paintings mostly centre on healing, enlightenment and peace. He has even done painting on the age-old art of healing because he says humans are not robots and diseases can only be cured if one gets into the root of them.
But, now, things are changing. He wants to use his paintings to help and heal people. While he mostly stays in his home in Kerry, Ireland, he does visit Nepal quite often to look at the projects that he has here. But, he thinks it is time he moved on.
“I want to give back what I have learnt. As I say, my monastery has no walls and that is why I travel and help people. The purpose of my work is to make everyone aware of the divinity within us all.”