Pema Namdol Thaye, Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan

Pema Namdol Thaye

Pema Namdol Thaye is a painter, sculptor, 3-D mandala specialist, traditional Tibetan architect, author, and art educator.  He has won international acclaim as a master of traditional Himalayan arts, and his "extraordinary ability in his field of expertise," was recognized by the U.S. government awarding him permanent residency in the USA in 2008.  In the same year Pema Namdol founded Padma Studios® in Los Angeles, CA.


Lama Gonpo with Pema Namdol at Zangdok Palri Monastery, Kalimpong, India (circa 1980)

Born in 1967, Pema Namdol was a child prodigy of Tibetan-Bhutanese heritage who intuitively recognized his path in life. Through the kindness of the Bhutanese government, Pema Namdol received a scholarship to attend a distinguished international school in Kalimpong, India. Even then, he spent the majority of his school days honing his skills on comic book design, developing his own unique characters and exploring the medium in every detail.  Parallel to his academic studies, at age thirteen, Pema Namdol entered artistic and spiritual training under the holder of an impeccable artistic lineage - his own uncle, the Venerable Lama Gonpo Tenzing Rinpoche.  

Pema Namdol excelled in the rigorous artistic curriculum and mastered the primary sacred arts representing the Buddha's body (painting and sculpture), speech (calligraphy), and mind (architecture).  Upon this scholarly foundation Pema Namdol demonstrates remarkable talent as an artist, both in terms of technical skill and creativity. Lama Gonpo Tenzing Rinpoche, Lama Dakdhen, and Ven. Professor Nae-Jung Rinpoche, among others, have recognized Pema Namdol as a tulku emanation of Vishvakarma, the divine architect. 

Only a handful of living artists can claim his depth of knowledge of this 1,200-year-old heritage, with its elaborate geometry, symbolism, and iconography.


Prints from Pema’s print box set Celestial Portfolio

With Tibetan Buddhist culture under the threat of extinction in its own homeland, Pema Namdol early on nourished a passion for conserving and disseminating the traditional Tibetan arts.  At the youthful age of seventeen he was determined to fill the need for a guide to Buddhist icon measurement.  With guidance and instruction from his own artistic master, Pema Namdol began writing and illustrating his first book, Concise Tibetan Art Book (1987).  At the time of publication this book became the touchstone of icon measurement in Bhutan and throughout the Himalayas. To further preserve this precious heritage Pema Namdol authored a second definitive guide: Tibetan Thanka Painting: Portrayal of Mysticism (2000).   

Pema Namdol's third publication, Celestial Portfolio (2013), is a museum quality limited edition print box set featuring his finest thanka paintings spanning more than twenty-five years.  All three publications have been acquired by academic and national libraries across the globe.  Pema Namdol's fourth book, a graphic novel entitled A Guided Tour of Hell: A Graphic Memoir with co-author Samuel Bercholz, was published by Shambhala Publications in 2016.


Film shooting, Los Angeles, CA



Pema Namdol's highly innovative thanka paintings and 3-D mandalas – so detailed that it requires from months to years of intensive focus to complete them – have been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the world, including the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), Völkerkunde museum (Zurich), Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), Forest Lawn Museum (Glendale), Pacific Asia Museum (Pasadena), Tibet House and Rubin Museum (New York), and the Asian Art Museum (San Francisco).  His work has been commissioned by esteemed lamas from all the major Tibetan Buddhist lineages, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness Dodrupchen Rinpoche, Kyabje Chatral Rinpoche, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, as well as by museums, cultural centers, and art collectors worldwide.

Guru Padmasambhava Thanka

According to Professor Robert Thurman of Columbia University, Pema Namdol exhibits "the most remarkable originality, even genius, in his portrayal of the traditional themes and subjects of Tibetan icon painting."  Dr. John Listopad, former curator of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, describes him as: "a Renaissance man of the caliber of Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo".

Dedicated to preserving a culture rich in philosophical symbolism and vast in view, Pema Namdol has dedicated his life to mastering the complex art of 3-D mandala creation.  He completed the construction of a scale model of the celestial palace of Zangdok Palri in April 2009, for Ari Bhöd, an organization for the preservation of Tibetan culture in Tehachapi, CA.  It was exhibited in the Hammer Museum in 2010 as part of "The Mandala Project," during which time Pema Namdol was described as being "akin to Tibetan art's ambassador to the world," by the Los Angeles Times.

In May of 2011, Pema Namdol created an intricate scale-model of the Shi-Tro mandala for H.E. Rigzin Dorjee Rinpoche to commence the Shi-Tro Mandala Temple project in Sikkim, India, known as the Golden Buddha Temple: Pantheon of One Hundred Buddhas. This model is Pema Namdol's eighth 3-D mandala.

Pema is one of the greatest living Tibetan artists and possesses a unique grasp of the many facets of art, architecture, symbolism, geometry, Buddhist history, iconography and spirituality that are required to create traditional Tibetan imagery. His work is not only visually spectacular but has the power to impact people and change lives.
— Meher McArthur, Asian art curator, author and educator


Pema teaching studio apprentice Aja Goldman

Pema teaching studio apprentice Aja Goldman

In addition to his artistic endeavors, Pema Namdol is an educator of Himalayan art and architecture, being invited as a guest speaker at the first International Art Symposium on Tibetan Art, London; to lecture on and supervise the construction of traditional Tibetan architectural design at the Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture.  At an early age Pema Namdol was granted the distinguished position of honorary head teacher at the National Thanka Painting School of Bhutan.  Most recently he was invited to lecture and teach at Skidmore College and the Tang Teaching Museum in Saratoga Springs, NY as part of their Second Buddha exhibition. He continues to offer dharma art workshops and lectures to museums, schools and dharma centers across the globe, and he plays an active role mentoring Padma Studios® apprentices.

HH Dudjom Yangsi Rinpoche visiting Pema Namdol at Padma Studios®, with Mayamla, Venerable Khenpo’s, and Lama Sonam Tsering


Pema Namdol is honored to be fulfilling His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche Sangye Pema Shepa’s request to design and direct the building of Guru Padmasmabhava’s celestial palace in Yangleshö, in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. Pema Namdol is working closely with His Holiness to create every majestic detail of this groundbreaking Zangdok Palri Mandala Temple.

Pema is also working with H.E. Rigzin Dorjee Rinpoche, Head of the Nyingma Institute and Retreat Center in Gangtok, to build a one-of-a-kind Golden Buddha (Shi-Tro) Mandala Temple in Sikkim, India.

For over thirty-five years Pema Namdol has provided a vital contribution to the global appreciation of traditional Himalayan arts, and he continues daily in his mission to impart his knowledge and artistic creativity to the utmost of his ability for the benefit of all beings.  Pema Namdol lives in Los Angeles, CA, with his wife Jessica, and their family.