Manish Dhoju in hyperrealism

Artistic rebellion in the age of Instagram, instant gratification and visual overload

Artist Manish Dhoju. Photo: SIMON WATKINSON

Manish Dhoju’s parents did not see much prospect in art, and persuaded him to study architecture. But the young man’s passion and creativity could not be quenched.

The carefully drawn lines needed for architectural designs pushed him to become a self-taught hyperrealist artist. Watching YouTube tutorials and practicing endlessly on his own, Dhoju started by making exquisitely detailed sketches of people’s eyes and faces.

Every strand of hair, pore on the skin, and wrinkle was drawn with photographic accuracy. But it was the eyes that were the main focus, mirroring the soul of the person with more depth than mere photographs. 

Hyperrealism is a genre of painting resembling high-resolution photography and entails a softer, more detailed focus, differentiating it from photorealism, which is just the copying of a photograph. 

Read also: Giving faces to a deity, Shaguni Singh Sakya

Manish Dhoju in hyperrealism NT
Maa (2020), Graphite on Paper, 66 x 55cm

Hyperrealism creates the illusion of reality not seen in the original photograph as it also imbibes the emotional journey of the artist during the painting process. Through subtle lighting and shading effect, it is a visual illusion that tells a deeper story, not just through the artist’s draftsmanship but the ability to bring out the emotion of the subject more intensely. 

Hyperrealism is almost surrealistic because, in reality or in photographs, nobody can see or feel such profound depth. Hyperrealists like Dhoju possess the innate talent to understand their subject’s core emotions without even knowing them in person.

In the age of Instagram, instant gratification and visual overload, an artist like Dhoju is a rebel. Photographs are no longer ‘real enough’ and exaggerated depictions of tiny details carry a shock factor. 

Dhoju’s works, Baa and Maa show the tragedy of senior Nepalis living the remaining years of their lives alone, a story familiar in many households in contemporary Nepal. Every wrinkle and line on their faces, their aching eyes express loneliness. Could this be longing to meet children and grandchildren settled abroad?  

Read also: Unnamed masters of Nepal’s art identified, Shaguni Singh Sakya

Manish Dhoju in hyperrealism NT
Baa (2020), Graphite on Paper, 66 x 55cm

Another painting is of temple architecture with careful renditions of carved struts, doors, and windows that seem even more detailed than the carvings themselves. 

Dhoju uses hyperrealism to show dimensions that even the carvers may have been amazed by. A sculptor is focused on chiseling the wood, but Dhoju sees beyond this perfecting micro details of the wood, copper, and bronze. 

The sculpted work is then enhanced through an array of lenses giving a depth of field to the objects and deities. Dhoju first takes pictures and then enhances them in photoshop before sketching with spatial 3D visualisation.

The Royal Golden Window of Patan Durbar Square above the entrance to Sundari Chowk is one of Dhoju’s finest hyperrealist heritage pieces. The central figure is the Buddhist deity Shristi Kanta Lokeswor with Shiva, Parvati, Ganesh, Saraswati, other deities on top and the Garuda below. 

Read also: History on Canvas, Shaguni Singh Sakya

Manish Dhoju in hyperrealism NT
The Royal Golden Window (2023), Graphite and Charcoal Mixed, 6 x 4ft

Built in the 17th century by King Srinivasan Malla, it portrays a perfect amalgamation of two religions that the Malla kings promoted to maintain social harmony. The window is an artistic marvel and Dhoju has enhanced the genius of the unknown carver(s) with a three-dimensional effect. 

Since there are no old reference drawings of many ancient Newari architecture masterpieces, Dhoju’s hyperrealism could serve as blueprints for the future. 

The Narasimha statue at Bhaktapur Durbar Square is one of the finest stone sculptures in Nepal. Installed in the 17th century by King Bhupatindra Malla, the half-man-lion is a mythical incarnation of Vishnu. The Narasimha is close to Dhoju’s heart as his mother used to take him to the deity to cure his colic. 

Narasimha is believed to cure sick children, and the hyperrealistic version of this ferocious avatar tearing out the stomach of the demon Hiranyakashipu feels more powerful as the disembowelment is enhanced through lighting, shading, and multi-dimensional layers.    

Read also: Five Decades of Lok Chitrakar, Shaguni Singh Sakya

Manish Dhoju in hyperrealism NT
The Mighty Narasimha (2023), Graphite on Paper, 6 x 4ft

Dhoju is now using his interest in science, philosophy, and psychology to explain the complexities of our ancient texts in a hyperrealistic form. 

His conceptual art, Bhairava’s Radiant Embrace, depicts the creation of the universe as explained in the Chandogya Upanishad – the Hindu text that unravels the mysteries of the cosmos. Using the new 3D software Blender, Dhoju chose a 16th-century Bhairav mask, now housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to define the concept of Hiranyagarbha which resonates with the Big Bang theory. 

Bhairava represents the divine trinity of creation, sustenance and destruction and Dhoju is syncing religious philosophy with astrophysics on canvas in a dynamic and continuum of parallel universes. This is a novel art form in the hyperrealism genre.    

Dhoju’s technique requires patience and dedication. He spends up to seven hours at a stretch without rest, so engrossed is he in sketching that he does not feel tired or notice the passage of time. 

Read also: Kathmandu Art Biennale begins, Anita Bhetwal

Manish Dhoju in hyperrealism NT
Bhairava's Radiant Embrace (2023), Graphite and Charcoal Mixed, 160 x 100cm. Photo: ANISH DHOJU

The 3D visualisation is not just a technical skill, but the ability to convey and capture feelings at a more intense level, almost having an extrasensory perception. 

Dhoju has only sketched in black and white, and his next challenge is to paint in colour and further develop the art form. It is said that time and space exist in the 11th dimension, and humans can see and capture only three dimensions.

Perhaps the hyperrealist in Manish Dhoju can see and render the fourth dimension?    

Read also: Nepali art finds a new home, Shristi Karki

Shaguni Singh Sakya is Director of the Museum of Nepali Arts (MoNA) and KGH Hotels. Manish Dhoju's exhibition is part of the Kathmandu Art Biennale at MoNA, Thamel and is on till April.

  • Most read