Saturday, April 23, 2016

Painting dead trees alive

Living in our crowded, polluted urban environments, we yearn to see a bigger patch of sky, trees and bushes of all sizes, or just more open spaces. And trees define and beautify the skyline and the space around our neighbourhoods as only they can.

The poet Joyce Kilmer wrote:

"I think I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree............

....................Poems were made
by fools like me
But only God can make a tree."

There may be poems about symmetries of trees too, but as an artist I have always marvelled at their awesome symmetry which I am sure contributes to their beauty.

There are spectacular cases of bilateral symmetry in nature, like the Traveller's Palm Trees of Singapore. As per legend, the orientation of the trees in a East-West direction, and the water stored at the base of the leaves were great resources for thirsty and tired travellers.

A Ficus tree shows a unique radial symmetry. Which means you could cut the tree in half at different angles, but as long as you cut through the center, the two halves would be identical.

With such a great "Form" bestowed by nature, dead trees are a "thing of beauty" and "a joy forever" too. You feel sad looking at a dead tree in the urban environment, choked as they are with all the buildings around. Often the footpath around a tree is constructed and does not allow the roots to breathe, cables of all kinds mercilessly cut through the branches of the tree; banners, and electric lights are strung across, large vehicles brush past unmindfully, and people nail wooden signages to the trunk casually, not pausing to wonder if the tree was still alive!

All this for trees that ask little of us, purify our air, beautifies the surroundings, add moisture to the air; and all parts of the tree like its leaves, twigs, seeds, fruits, and even dead stumps are all useful.

The artist Curtis Killorn in Colorado has been painting dead trees in spectacular colours. He says he paints them so that they don't blend into the live trees around them, and people notice how beautiful they still are.

Three young women in Mumbai with a mind of their own, similarly started painting dead trees in Mumbai, for a different reason. They wanted to draw attention to the number of trees which had been dying on the streets of Mumbai due to lack of care, and instead of providing shade and shelter to the citizens, were hardly visible with the city rubble and hustle-bustle. The group called "Rastaa Chaap" (meaning "Street Wanderer", literally) has painted dead trees in bright colours to draw the attention of citizens and municipality authorities, to these dead trees, which would otherwise have been quite invisible.

Here are some pics.

Some celebrity participants (Twinkle Khanna) and funds from NGOs and corporates have helped the group. They plan to take the movement to other cities. And of course, hope that this will launch public awareness, funds and efforts to save the live trees!

Friday, April 15, 2016

A 200-artists get-together

An art camp with 200 artists is bound to generate a lot of creative energy and excitement. That is exactly what happened last weekend at Gurgaon, when artists from all over the state of Haryana congregated for a collective exercise. It was a two day affair, with music, theatre, art, food and friends.

The artists were provided with paints, canvasses and all the supporting logistics for painting.

Numbers being large, every body spread out their canvasses on easels, against walls and chairs, on tables or just on the floor!

Artists worked, chatted in groups or watched each other paint. It was a great way to get in touch with other artists in the state, and get familiar with each other's styles of work.

The organizers had set a broad theme to the workshop. They wanted the paintings to be on a similar theme of showcasing the talents of the state of Haryana and the Indian nation to rest of the world.

India is a diverse country and this broad theme meant different things to different people.

Here is a young artist working on the theme of Kathakali dancers of Kerala. Kathakali is an ancient dance form, and uses stunningly elaborate and colourful costumes, a detailed make up routine that takes hours to apply and characteristic head dress.

I depicted the "Shankha" or divine conch of Vishnu in this composition. The "Shankha" or white conch shell, when used as a trumpet, has a significant role for the Gods, as a trumpet for various mythological wars, and in religious functions as a divine note.

The Shankha is one of the main attributes of Lord Vishnu, and is an auspicious symbol in Hinduism as well as Buddhism.

There were several styles on display at the workshop. And here is a young artist using geometric lines and forms.

While most people used Acrylics which was the material supplied, some teamed it up with the use of charcoal, pencils, pens and water colours.

We have all made a lot of friends at the Art Camp, and thanks to technology, will continue to be in touch with each other.

Looking forward to more art camps and maybe with the use of technology, some "networked" and more international ones?

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Fifty shades of white

The colour white can set off any other colour in a composition. But what if one had to make the entire composition in white alone? While there is a richness to the use of different colours in a painting, there is a distinct richness to using white alone.

White has been the colour of peace, calm and purity across cultures. The grace of a white marble sculpture cannot be obtained by using colours.
The different shades of white set off the differences of form or texture in a much more subtle, refined and gracious way than any amount of colours could have, as in the famous Elgin marbles and other Grecian sculptures.

A group of artists held an exhibition of contemporary works recently titled "White on white", using visuals, sculptures and installations, at the NIV Art Gallery, Delhi. The compositions were stark, simple and minimal.

The exhibition curated by eminent artist Shobha Broota, was a visually profound experience. Her words about the exhibition, displayed here, capture well the spirit of the event:

Here are some representative compositions from the exhibition:

This one had a collection of everyday objects, as you would see on a study table, or on a dressing table, all in white.

Having them all in white emphasised the relative forms and spacings of the objects in a much more significant way, and also showed all the various "shades of white".

This installation was made up entirely of glass tubes. On a white background. Again the texture of the background, the texture of the tubes, the reflections and shadows cast by the glass tubes, the relative sizes and placings, all were emphasised in a severe sort of way by the absence of colour.

A white fabric, white threads and a white board, was all that was used in this composition of a tree. The constant outward growth, the formation of tinier and tinier branches and the surge of life in a tree, were all visible in this strong, silent composition.

It was an interesting exhibition, and thought provoking. I thought about the fifty shades of white and more, one saw in the clouds, on snow and ice, in the marble of the Taj Mahal, or in fluffy balls of cotton. It is only the textures, the shadows cast by the various layers and forms that make beautiful compositions.

As in this beautiful marble bust of Ippolita Maria Sforza. It is the white on white strands of hair, and pure form of the face and neck in white, that make this sculpture so incredibly beautiful.

 Looking forward to seeing more such contemporary experiments in the various shades of white.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Public art at Gurgaon

The city of Gurgaon is located just outside the southern border of the national capital of Delhi. It has got rapidly urbanised in the last fifteen years or so, and today its skyline boasts some of India's most recognizable and contemporary high rise residential and commercial buildings.

Gurgaon has an ancient past, and has got its name from "Guru-gram", or literally the "village" of the master. The land was supposed to be owned by the royal families of Pandavas and Kauravas, and was given to Guru Dronacharya in appreciation of his teaching the young princes the art of warfare. 

Just ten years back, peacocks, hoopoe, kingfisher, the tailorbird, robin, sunbird, owls, sparrows and hawks would be seen in plenty on the city balconies, terraces and verandahs. Now with decline of perching places,  a growing population, decreasing green cover, more traffic and urban chaos, most of the birds have disappeared. Some hardy crows, mynahs and pigeons are holding out.

The initiative by the municipal corporation of Gurgaon (MCG) and a citizen's forum, Gurgaon Action Plan (GAP), was welcomed therefore by artists and laymen alike. The idea was to get groups of artists to work together and paint some wall spaces, on anything to do about the past and present of Gurgaon. 

The MCG cleaned up some wall spaces on one of the main roads of the city, M. G. Road. Teams of 5-6 artists worked on each of these walls, with school children, lay citizens and bystanders all chipping in. 

The end result was varied, colourful, and refreshing. The biggest takeaway was getting passers-by to get involved into art. People who had never stepped into a gallery, or never paused to think while rushing to their jobs about beautifying the city, stopped, appreciated and got involved. It was a truly moving experience, to hear from passers by, on how much they appreciated the volunteering artists, and how much they had enjoyed doing their bit!

Monday, February 22, 2016

A visual history of time

Cosmologists study the birth and evolution of the universe, and the ultimate fate of the universe. The questions and answers as varied and dynamic as those dealing with the creation of man:
Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going?

The artist in Kavita Jaiswal explores the process of creation without all the analytics: enjoying the flow, the colours and forms.

In this composition, the artist explores the space within the womb, where human life is created: exploring the various configurations, waves and harmonies created. So many complex interactions coming together and moving apart.

All the dynamics ultimately evolves towards a unique synthesis of dependent and interdependent processes and forms.

An intense exploration into these forms forces the artist to focus in some of the compositions, on the here and now, the present. In some others, there is an exploration of the dynamics over time. and in some, the two are juxtaposed.

 This composition, titled: "No beginning, no end" is one such. It captures one such moment in the evolution of the earth, as mountains, rivers, valleys, seas and plains form and re-form.

Indeed we could be exploring the birth of man, the earth or the universe. The churning, flowing, appearing and disappearing is all too similar.

All art, and all science, is finally, nothing but an exploration into time and space!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A kaleidoscope of paintings

Winter in Delhi normally gets less severe after the festival of "Makar Sankranti". This is the day when the Sun stops moving southwards at the Topic of Capricorn (this southward journey is called "Dakshinayana"), and starts its northwards journey (or "Uttarayana") towards the Tropic of Cancer.

The international art symposium planned at Karma Lakelands, Gurgaon, was obviously to take advantage of the sunny weather post Makar Sankranti, and have an open-air live painting event.

A visit to the venue was like a kaleidoscope of colours and styles of art.

There was a variety of styles on display. There were compositions with bright colours and bold strokes. And there were some that almost blended with the patterns of nature, and seemed to celebrate them.

Artists came from different countries. Each had their own unique thinking, and things to say. And I had a good time chatting up with them.

I do think we need to have more of these events. Just like music has an orchestra, we do need artists with different things to say, to do their bit independently, and share their thoughts and experiences with each other.

The art works are on display beyond the event, and visitors can interpret the art works afterwards in any which way they want.

The Delhi weather allows outdoor painting only for a few months each year. So it would be great to have more of such events.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A picture worth a thousand words and a film

The district of Morigaon in Assam is known for the place of occult, Mayang, the Pobitora wild life sanctuary, and the ferocity of its floods.

Ritu Raj Konwar, the Guwahati based special news photographer, was covering the floods in 2014, and clicked this photograph for "The Hindu". It showed a little boy carrying his goats to safety in a raft made of banana trunks, using the thin branch of a tree for steering through the flood waters.

While the Morigaon region sees frequent downpours, the 2014 floods were specially severe, with more than 2,00,000 people landing in relief camps. Even the rhinos of Kaziranga National Park were affected and several got electrocuted, and as in the picture alongside, the dead rhino had to be dragged away with the help of elephants. Unfortunately, the remote areas of the north-eastern states of India, do not get sufficient national media attention.

However, the photograph of the little boy carrying his goats, caught the attention of well known Malayalam film maker, Jayaraj, known for his art house films, as well as mainstream ones. He was inspired to make a movie about a little boy, and his grandfather, called "Ottaal", which he based on the Russian story by Chekhov, "Vanka".

Ottaal went on to win the "Golden Gateway of India Award" at the Mumbai Film Festival, 2015.
And Jayaraj recently went on to do what he was planning ever since he first saw the photograph. He tracked down the little boy, Ashadul Islam at his village Kuchani in Morigaon,Assam.

Jayaraj has announced he is going to look after little Ashadul's upkeep, health and education. Ashadul's parents are daily-wage labourers in a brick factory, and this help will go a long way for the family.

Jayaraj's visit also helped draw some attention to the small village of Kuchani, and its desperately poor people. Jayaraj's charity foundation has said it would look after the health needs of the village.