Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Mandana art

The Meena tribes of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, India, trace their ancestry to the Matsya tribe of the Matsya kingdom (both "Meena" and "Matsya" mean fish in the Sanskrit language) that flourished in the 6th century, B.C. The women of the tribe decorate the walls and floors of their house with motifs drawn with a paste of ground rice and milk, or with a mix of lime and chalk powder. The floor and walls are first prepared by applying a paste of cowdung, a local clay and red ochre. This form of art, known as "Mandana" art, draws upon the surroundings of the village women, like birds, animals, leaf and flower motifs.

Madan Meena, an independent visual artist, recently held an exhibition of his paintings at The Triveny Gallery, New Delhi.  Using his personal association and research in the region and the Meena tribe, he has evolved his own language, using the traditional Mandana forms and a contemporary interpretation.

Three characteristics of the Mandana Art are:
the use of simple geometric forms: triangles, rectangles, circles; the community method of working, with groups of women painting together, each adding their own creations and embellishments; and the use of small motifs drawn from their surrounding objects, specially natural flora and fauna.

Madan Meena used similar techniques, presenting a "Bara-Masi" (or twelve-month) representation of Mandana art. He made clever use of the plant motifs and birds, specific to a season. For example, the peacock motifs in this composition represented the spring season.

The Ranthambore national park area in Rajasthan once served as the hunting grounds for the Maharajas of Jaipur. Now they serve as a major wildlife tourist attraction, abounding in tigers, leopards, hyenas, sambar deer, nilgai, bears and jackals, besides a large number of smaller animals, birds and plants.

The artist has used the wild forest setting with a similar Mandana treatment in this composition called "Ranthambore Dreams".

Elsewhere figures of kings, queens, and figures from folk tales and legends have been used, in interesting ways. The compositions have used the "Bundi" method of miniature painting, prevalent in Rajasthan, in the Bundi and Kotah districts.

It is interesting to think of more such possibilities: a marriage of various traditional drawing techniques in India, and themes drawn from urban, modern lives.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Black and White, and Red

The colour black is traditionally a negative colour, the colour of gloom. Just like white is the colour of purity, the colour of bliss. Black, white and all the shades of grey can together convey a whole gamut of emotions.
Add a swirl of red, and it creates drama in the visual. Red conveys warmth, aggression and life.

Anup Kumar Singh restricts his palette to these colours, black, white, red, and some shades in between. His recent exhibition at the Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi, was about men, women, animals and the environment, and the way these mingled. Red was used effectively to create the right sense of dramatic action, and highlighting.

Most of the works were on paper, and used watercolour, pencils and acrylics, He did add some times a few shades of other basic colours like yellow and green here, but they were rather muted, and only accentuated the shades of grey, or black and white, and of course red. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Shekhawati Havelis

Doors signify a transition. They create spaces and differentiate one space from another. As a child, one is always curious about closed doors. Like Alice in Wonderland, one never knows what awaits behind a closed door. In India, doors have been made with fine craftsmanship, and probably the most famous type is that found in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan.

These doors are part of large "havelis". The doors leading into the outer courtyard are large and heavy, and could sometimes let an elephant in. The outer courtyard would have places for visitors to lounge around, fountains and recessed corners, with decorative "jali" or woven work done on doors and windows.

Motifs were drawn from battles and tales of bravery, legends about lovers, nature, plants and animals, and typical things around the household. Yellow ochre provided the major colour in the palette, with some some brick red, yellow and green pigments.

The doors to the inner courtyard were generally smaller, and more intricately carved. The merchants of Shekhawati who patronized the unknown craftsmen, are to be thanked for not only having got these beautifully carved doors made, but also for taking pride in their "havelis", and preserving these painstakingly.

One also finds similar rich complex motifs painted on the walls and ceilings of these "havelis".

As the merchants of Shekhawati have moved all over the world, some of the "havelis" and the richly crafted doors have fallen into disrepair. Some have found unlikely champions. Artist Nadine Le Prince who traces her ancestry to Jean-Baptiste Le Prince bought one of these, and has restored all the old fresco work, so that the place now looks more like an art gallery!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Immersive Art

The latest Samsung's virtual reality or VR headset allows viewers to have a three dimensional visual experience, even "seeing" beyond the periphery. Now a new project created to show off the headset has put together some of Van Gogh's paintings for an immersive experience into his works.

Some of the works included are: "The starry night", "Cafe terrace at night", "The night cafe", "Vase with twelve sunflowers", "The bedroom", and of course his self portraits.

They are put together separately, or combined, to let the viewer "walk through" the paintings, see them from different angles, up close or from far, examine the brushwork in detail, or just take in the impressions.

It is an interesting beginning. There could be of course more projects with different artists, and different works. But it also throws the field wide open with a whole lot of new ideas.

 Would one go beyond the paintings in these VR experiences? For example, for a painting like "The bedroom", could one show beyond the room and into other rooms? What about entering "The yellow house", or sitting at the night cafe?

There can be interesting combinations from the artist's own paintings. Could one look out of widows and doors of adjoining doors of Van Gogh's room, and find oneself looking out on "The view of Arles" or "Doctor Gachet's garden in Auvers"?!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The mystery of Ginkgo

The ginkgo is called a living fossil, and is recognizable to similar fossils dating back to 270 million years! There are some ginkgo trees 2500 years old. The tenacity of the ginkgo tree is best described by the fact that six ginkgo trees that were in the 1-2 km range from the 1945 Hiroshima atom bomb area were some of the few things to survive! Though somewhat charred, they revived to tell the tale.

Artist Sundeepa is understandably enamored by the ginkgo tree, and most of all, its unique fan shaped leaf.

The leaves of the ginkgo are unique: they do not have the usual network we are familiar with.

Two veins start at the vein, and keep forking out, and spreading out into the fan shape of the leaf.

Sundeepa uses her huge collection of ginkgo leaves to add an interesting colored and textured background to her compositions, and sometimes in the main composition itself.

She has a wide variety of colours to choose from. The ginkgo leaves turn a lovely gold in autumn and fall in a heap on the ground. Sometimes all the leaves fall within a few days!

Sundeepa's compositions are usually woven around the central theme of the Buddha, and some of them are purely to celebrate the colours and shape of the ginkgo leaf.

While the ginkgo has been with us right since Jurassic times, several variants are now found across the world, with slight differences in shades of the leaf. So they provide sufficient material for Sundeepa's palette.

Ginkgo trees are large and majestic, and it is easy to see why there are so many stories around them.

It was good to see them being presented with an artist's perspective. The exhibition is on at the Habitat Center, Delhi.

The viewer gets to see a different style of paintings. And also, comes away with a heightened sense of the mystery about the ancient ginkgo.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Stardust in your eyes

"We are all made of stardust," says Sabyasachi Gosh. His works take you to the beginning of time, which the artist interprets as a fluidity and formlessness. He depicts this formlessness in vibrant bold colours, with a technique of his own, using acrylics and oils on canvas.

 The colours mix and flow into one another in wondrous ways, creating mysterious images.

The exhibition of Sabyasachi's works at the Habitat Centre, Delhi, has three distinct areas. One area contains abstracts inspired by the cosmos, and the process of creation of the universe.

The other area focuses on types of "terrain". Apart from several interesting textures, this section has many interesting compositions, like this one:

You can see two figures- one young and one old, trying to rip into this huge green textured area, and of course, the rest is up to the viewer's vivid imagination.

The third area has all sorts of interesting portraits, like this old man with his thick glasses.

There are quite a few such unique characters in this section.

The artist is based at Agra, and the exhibition showed his huge range and mastery over the medium. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The colour of envy

The Panchatantra tales tell about a jackal who fell into a vat of indigo-blue dye being used by a washerman. When the jackal managed to struggle out of the vat, he had turned a uniform blue! All the animals were wary of this blue jackal, and assumed he was a mysterious powerful animal. The jackal too realized the opportunity this situation presented, and pretended he had divine powers. He managed to convince all the other animals of the kingdom, including the lion who was king of the jungle, that he would protect them from all evil forces. In return all that he asked was that the animals would by turns take care to feed him, and look after him, and pay daily obeisances.

The jackal was really enjoying himself, till one day, he let his guard down. He heard some of his fellow jackals howling in the distance, and forgetting himself, sat up and howled away loudly along with them. Of course all the animals realized they had been fooled, and rushed upon him in anger. And that was the end of the blue jackal.

A different kind of story is playing out on the streets of Varna, Bulgaria. This cat has been sleeping on a pile of synthetic turquoise green paint in an abandoned garage. It is a mystery how as a result of it, he has turned so completely, and uniformly green. Nor does he seem to be shedding any of the paint off!


He is a friendly cat, and the other animals are not getting put off, or at all getting scared by his appearance. However, the other cats do seem to be rather envious of all the attention this cat has been getting, and probably wondering how they could turn a shade of green themselves!