Lewis deSoto: Paranirvana (Self-Portrait)

Works by Lewis deSoto are informed by the artist’s longstanding interest in anthropology, history, mythology, and religion. Proficient in a variety of media, deSoto is recognized for his photography, sculpture, and mixed media installations that incorporate video, sound, and performance. Paranirvana (Self-Portrait) (2015) is the most recent work in a series of oversize, inflatable sculptures based on the figure of the 12th-century Buddha at Gal Vihara in Sri Lanka. Conceived after his father died, figures from this series are in recline, much like the famous Buddha, and painted with features that resemble the artist. This work is just as much a self-portrait as it is a representation of universal life, death, and supreme consciousness. Activated with a low-noise industrial fan, the 26-foot long, 6-foot high sculpture inflates (inhales) when switched on, and deflates (exhales) when switched off at the end of each day, alluding to the spiritual breath, or Prana, in Hindu philosophy. Prevailing among a vast range of counterpoints:  monumental and ephemeral, witty and thought-provoking, Paranirvana (Self-Portrait) rouses reflections upon existence, loss, spirituality, and much more. This work was specially commissioned by SBMA and is presented in the Museum’s historic Ludington Court.

Lewis deSoto grew up in San Bernardino, California. His Spanish and Cahuilla (Native American) heritage are often subjects of his work; as, for example, in his constructed, fictional automobiles with titles such as the “1965 DeSoto Conquest” (2004), and the “1981 GMC Cahuilla (2006).”  He studied Fine Art and Religious Studies as an undergraduate at the University of California Riverside, and received a Master of Fine Arts from Claremont Graduate School. His work has been collected and exhibited internationally throughout his 30-year career. He has been a professor at San Francisco State University since 1988.

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