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.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Calvendo: A publishing house for artists

Calvendo was one of the first publishing platforms to enable creative artists to share their paintings, illustrations, digital art or photographs and self-publish them.

You can design calendars and poster books as print-on-order products.

I have to report a very happy experience doing my first calendar with them:

Calvendo uses state-of-the-art machinery to take out multi-coated high-quality prints on order.

I recommend them highly to all artists!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Lending a voice to deaf artists. By design.

Smriti Nagpal learnt to use sign language at home, while communicating with her two older siblings who were hearing impaired. She would often help out with her special ability, her friends and at the National Association of the Deaf, while pursuing her studies in business administration, and then later at work. Apart from her ability in sign language however, she combined rare sensitivity as well as business sense.

So when she met a hearing impaired artist, who was not able to reach out to the art community with his work, because of his disability, she decided to help. The result is an organization called "Atulyakala", quite simply: Art Unparalleled. It bridges this physical gap, and gets the artists to communicate with others in the field, and of course also with clients, customers, employers and suppliers.

Atulyakala sells from its website fine art prints like the one shown here, and also lifestyle products like mugs, bags and wallets. They work with artists and designers who can hear, and with customers of all types. They also hold workshops and events to create awareness about their work, and also because all of us who can hear need to be able to work with those who can't.

The amazing thing is Smriti, now 25, got all this going by age 23! She has got a lot of recognition now, specially with the under-30 young entrepreneurs' award as part of BBC's 100 inspirational women for 2015. She was chosen to interpret the Republic Day parade for the deaf community, on national television early this year.

Well, she has a lot to do. She does have her heart and head in the right place for it. For when asked by the BBC correspondent, on what advice she would give the viewers wanting to follow in her footsteps, she answered: "See few dreams, and follow them with all your heart, and the world will be right there, all yours!"

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A heart warming Children's Day Doodle

India celebrates 14th November as the birth anniversary of its first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and as an annual celebration of all the talent and potential in its children, the nation's future. This year's Google doodle was a great reminder of this talent, and our responsibility to nurture it.

The doodle was drawn by a nine year old boy, Karthik, a class III student. Karthik and his sister Ramya, a class IV student, had both taken part in a national level Google Doodle competition on the theme "If I could create something for India, it would be..". Karthik had envisioned "a machine to recycle all the plastic waste from our country and turn it into a material which helps the growth of mother nature..."

Both the children made it to the short list in their own age groups, and then into the final list of twelve doodles being considered.

Karthik's doodle was the final one chosen for the Google page. When the children got a phone call at home with the news, both of them got ready as fast as possible and ran to the school.

They didn't nave a computer at home, and the first thing they did was to put on the computer in the school lab, and check the Goggle search page. and there it was! It was true!

Karthik and his sister study at Sri Prakash Niketan, in Vizag, Andhra Pradesh. Their father drives one of the school buses in the same school. He was beaming with pride and happiness. He said he       couldn't help the children with their homework, but supported them as much as he could.

The school has now decided to reward the children's school by taking care of their educational expenses till Class X.

I had loved the Children's Day Doodle. It was even more heartwarming to read the story about the children behind the doodle. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The second Avatar of Vishnu

After the "Matsya (or Fish) Avatar" of Lord Vishnu which was the first, he next descended on earth in the "Kurma (or the giant turtle) Avatar". What I find most interesting about the Hindu stories of the Avatars of Vishnu is: They seem to be following a natural progression of the species, starting from water, proceeding slowly to land, and evolving towards more human forms (Narasimha, the half-man half-lion; Vamana, the dwarf) to the super-human or godly Avatars (Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Lord Buddha).

Also, each of the Avatars follows a major turning point and crisis on earth, and results in a total transformation of the earth and life on it. The last of the ten Avatars or "Dashavatars", yet to come, is Kalki, who is supposed to descend on earth at the end of the present age, "Kali Yuga". All the Avatars have been interpreted and celebrated by artists through the ages.

 Contemporary artist Sangeeta  Murthy finds the turtle a symbol of  stability and calm. In the story of  the "Kurma Avatar", the great turtle  helps in an epic battle between the  good (Devas) and evil forces  (Asuras), by bearing the weight of  the great mountain "Mandara".

 Sangeeta Murthy believes the  message is about the strength in  slowing down, in forbearance,  patience and strength, as opposed to  constant speed, intolerance and aggression.

She says she finds a lot of calm just doodling black and white images of "the great turtle". The acrylics and oils depict more complex tales and interpretations of Lord Vishnu, and the "Samudra Manthan", or churning of the great ocean.

It is as a result of the churning of the oceans, that Goddess Lakshmi is born. While all the icons and the events of the story have their own interpretations, the artist is at liberty to interpret them in many ways, to combine them, superpose them with other tales and symbols, giving rise to literally several more twists and tales. Sangeeta has used several techniques used in the tribal Gond Art, Tibetan Mandala art as well as Mithila art in her works.

In fact, it is amazing how turtles have found space in some of these traditional art forms, and the uniformity with which they have been perceived across the world as a symbol of longevity, wisdom and stability. Probability as a result of their long lifespan, wrinkled appearance and hard shells, no doubt!

Some turtles migrate large distances across the ocean, adding to the mystery surrounding them. They have even been found in ancient rock art, like this piece from the Baku Museum, where they symbolize creation, fertility and long life.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Street Art to "Make the politicians work"?

Well, that is what happened in the city of Yekaterinburg, the fourth largest city in Russia, named after Yekaterina, the wife of Tsar Peter the Great. The city is the industrial and cultural center of the Ural Federal District, and public transportation in the city includes the metro, trams, buses and "trolley-buses".

The citizens in Yekaterinburg were not very happy with the state of the city roads, particularly the size of the pot-holes and made use of street-art in a novel way. Almost overnight, some of the larger potholes on the roads were used for remarkable street graffiti. Caricatures of prominent politicians in charge of and accountable for road repair were drawn cleverly around the potholes.

     The faces were those of recognizable prominent politicians like the governor, mayor and deputy-mayor of the city. The portraits were also captioned with quotes from past speeches of the politicians promising to fix the roads.

Needless to say, the faces drew a huge response from the general public and the politicians alike. Action was swift, and the potholes with portraits around them were quickly painted over.

The vigilante artists were ready, and had filmed the entire process. Their response, equally swift, was to paint captions saying "Painting is not fixing it".

The artists seemed to have won the day, as the next lot of workmen who came, repaired the potholes. Taking no chances, they also repaired all the other major potholes in the city.

 The advertising agency that ran the street campaign got their share of recognition, winning awards in four different categories at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, 2013. The citizens benefitted too as a special project called "Ura.Ru Roads" was launched, where citizens could upload details of roads that needed repair, and action was now more prompt!

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.