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The Mystery of the Infinite

The Mystery of the Infinite - Geeta Chandran
Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran’s new dance autobiography speaks of how she tackled the pandemic as an artist and inspires all to emerge out of darkness
Clad in a gorgeous green saree, noted Bharatanatyam danseuse and Padma Shri awardee Geeta Chandran set the Stein Auditorium stage on fire with the rhythmic sounds of her ghunghroos as she presented her new works entitled “In Search of Infinity” strung together by five poignant dance sequences on Saturday, May 21, 2022, at the India Habitat Centre, Lodi Estate, New Delhi.

The auditorium reverberated with live musicians playing for her as she performed a 90-minute piece reflecting her internal dance journey through the Covid pandemic. “I believe the other side of infinity is insanity. It is a tough choice during the pandemic that we had to make about whether we were going down the slope towards insanity or whether we were able to rescue ourselves towards infinity,” she said. The pandemic that the world has witnessed in the past two years has greatly impacted every person on the planet. To portray that era of darkness that everyone needs to put aside while treading the path forward with caution, Chandran deployed ‘Beeti Vibhavari Jaag Ri’ by Hindi poet Jai Shankar Prasad Ji as a potent metaphor that also promises a better tomorrow. Using images of rejuvenation and of finding renewed strength within, the opening piece set the pace and tone for the evening. The pandemic had seen each of us experience different emotions ranging from anger, compassion, fear and restlessness. Mirroring this, the episode of Lord Krishna lifting the Govardhan Mountain to protect humanity offered an opportunity for Chandran to explore various nava-rasas in her dance spiralling into the deepest recesses of her core to understand feelings of sorrow, wonder, disgust, and love. Verses in Sanskrit from the Sri Krishna Karna-amrita shlokam of Bilvamangala Swami become the libretto for this exploration in music and abhinaya. The performance then approached transcendence in the danseuse serenading the Goddess in Amba Nilambari, who drapes the sky as her garment.

Chandran said that she specially chose this Goddess who rules the skies as her object of devotion since Covid too came to us air-borne. This grand Carnatic music composition of vaggyekara Shri Muthuswami Dikshithar was presented in a mature vilambit fashion. Chandran’s abhinaya of the Goddess, Neelambari who blesses devotees with eyes full of compassion, became a dance of hope and post pandemic sustenance. In Search of Infinity also brought out Chandran’s maternal feelings which were invoked watching her grandson toddle around during the pandemic year. This experience informed a beautiful lullaby wherein Ma Yashoda narrates the story of Rama while putting little Krishna to sleep. In an epiphanic moment in the story, when Sita isabducted by Ravana, the baby Krishna, transcending time and space, calls out to Lakshmana (his brother in his previous incarnation as Ram) to get his bow readied, since he wants to call out Ravana. This wonderful literary piece by Poet Surdas, presented the concept of a grand Sanatan philosophy were avatars are linked in cyclical memory. Finally, Chandran concluded her performance with a call for social tolerance of differences. In a piece written by Swami Annamacharya of the Tirupati Balaji temple, the poet called for samdrishti to human beings who may follow different sets of beliefs. All of humanity is one, says the poet, even as all the Gods are one! Images of devotees worshipping Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, Tantra practices and Vedanta all showed the multiple ways of reaching the single Parabhramam. Chandran said: “The pandemic affected all performing artists deeply. I was no exception. My dance studio, which was, until then, daily humming with hyper creative activity and the bustle of students, went eerily silent. After a brief hiatus of about two weeks, I shook off my ennui and started reassessing my blessings.

I recognised that my art was replete and capable of feeding my soul and saving me from the downward spirals that so many around me were sliding down into! And I also realised that my internal landscape was robust enough to keep me busy, creatively occupied, feeling fulfilled and happy. I reached the blissful Point Zero within myself, and I thank the pandemic for that. I truly tasted eternity.”

She further added, “In Search of Infinity showcases compositions I worked on during those 30 null months. With the support of stellar musicians K. Venkateswaran and Manohar Balatchandirane who were my pandemic co-travelers, I survived the pandemic and two Covid infection cycles with hope, and positivity.” Calm, quiet and Nirvana can be achieved if one wills it and this is what Chandran tried to bring out through her performances as she took a housefull audience through this fascinating autobiographical journey of how she emerged from the pandemic quick sands that engulfed so many. There is a reason why performing arts have been esteemed so high as they and other creative fields are the most potential ways at hand for anyone to find balm for battered souls. Through In Search of Infinity, Chandran inspired everyone to find their happiness and calm within themselves and quench their creative thirst. The outburst of an impromptu standing ovation was proof that the audience heartily endorsed Chandran’s path. Chandran started dancing at the age of five. She has spent the last 55 years teaching and performing the classical dance, which has proved her as ‘dynamic’ and ‘magnificent’. Even after giving many best performances, she is always eager to learn something.

“The 30 months of
the pandemic underlined
limits of everything; we were
all boxed in both physically
and metaphorically. In that
state of despair, my dance
led me to deeper spaces
within myself.”

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Lalit Kala Akademi Awards for 20 artists

The 62nd National Exhibition of Art covering artworks from a broad range of mediums exhibits artistic brilliance, innovative use of materials and aesthetic appeal of the selected artists

After the difficult phase of the Corona period, there is some good news for the artists. Lalit Kala Akademi organised its 62nd National Exhibition of Art in the Capital from April 9 and also honoured 20 artists on the same day. Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu presented these honours to the outstanding artists working in other mediums, including painting, sculpture, graphic, and photography in a grand ceremony at Vigyan Bhawan. Speaking at the award function, the Vice President called upon schools and parents to encourage children to learn any art form of their choice as part of the efforts to preserve and promote India’s rich cultural heritage. Stressing the need to go back to our roots, he called for a cultural renaissance in Indian society. He also said that our rich traditional folk-art forms such as puppetry are disappearing due to the craze for western culture. They have to be revived with active involvement of not just the governments but society at large. Observing that exposure to creativity and art at an early age will help children become more aware of their surroundings and help them lead a more meaningful life, Shri Naidu wanted educational institutions to give equal importance to art subjects in their curriculum. Lauding the contributions of artists in “strengthening the thread of continuity connecting our rich past to the present and future”, Shri Naidu observed that art unites people across cultures, influences and inspires them, thus “becoming a powerful agent of change in the process”. “It is the duty of each one of us to preserve and promote our grand cultural traditions and various art forms”, he said. The awardees were presented with a copper plate and a shawl, along with Rs.2 lakh in cash.

The artists, who were honoured for the Lalit Kala Akademi award this time are Anand Narayan Dabli, Bhola Kumar, Devesh Upadhyay, Digvijay Khatua, Ghanshyam Kahar, Jagan Mohan Penuganti, Jintu Mohan Kalita, Kusum Pandey, Lakshmipriya Panigrahi, Manjunath. Honnapura, Mohan Bhoya, Nema Ram Jangid, Nisha Chadda, Prabhu Harsoor, Prem Kumar Singh, Pritam Maiti, Rishi Raj Tomar, S.A. Vimalanathan, Shivanand Shagoti and Sunil Kumar Singh Kushwaha. These artists have been selected for these awards by a jury of art connoisseurs who have studied the work of the artists closely. This jury was also constituted by the Lalit Kala Akademi and its members were Dattatreya Apte, Vipul Prajapati, Vasudev Kamat, Yogendra Tripathi, Mithun Kumar Dutta, Deepak Ponnikar and Shivkumar Kesarmadu. Artefacts and artistic expression of these artists have been displayed at the National Art Exhibition, which was inaugurated on April 9, by the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Development of North- East Region, G. Kishan Reddy, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Culture Arjun Ram Meghwal and Minister of State for External Affairs and Culture Meenakshi Lekhi. The selection of the artworks were done on the basis of the quality of execution, freshness of images, innovative use of materials, novel application of colour and originality of stylistic markers in the works. Chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi Uma Nanduri said that “After a long period of Covid-19 pandemic, this exhibition on national level will encourage the artist. This year the number of awards has been increased from 15 to 20. I congratulate all the award winners.” Akademi received 5450 entries from 2351 artists, out of which the 1st tier Jury (Selection Jury) selected more than 300 exhibits for display in the exhibition. IInd Tier Jury (Award Jury) selected 20 artworks for award for 62 nd National Akademi Awards.

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All That Glitters

Kanhai’s painting with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in the background and PM Modi in the foreground may find a place at the Statue of Unity

Padmshri awardee painter Krishn Kanhai got his latest art work unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The life-size potrait of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel impressed PM Modi so much that he suggested that there should be a special place for the painting. “When PM Modi saw the painting, he said that he wanted it to be kept at the Statue of Unity (at Kewadia, Gujarat). This is the biggest compliment that I could get. Lakhs of people visit the Statue of Unity, it will be a big thing for me,” Kanhai says. The painting has Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in the background and PM Modi in the foreground. “When the lockdown was announced in March 2020, I thought of making a painting of PM Modi as he is one of the most popular leaders of the world. First, I thought I would make PM’s painting with Mahatma Gandhi, then I decided that I should go ahead with Sardar Patel,” Kanhai says, explaining how he decided to pick Modi and Patel as,the subject of his painting.

Always prepared to draw things that take his fancy, Vrindavan-based Kanhai, was 15 when his classmates started asking him to show his drawing prowess in school. “It all began after seeing my father Kanhai Chitrakar. And as the son of a renowned artist, my friends at school used to push me to draw something on the blackboard,” he says. “So initially just with chalk, I used to draw peacocks, flowers, and sometimes Radha-Krishan on the blackboard. After completing my high school education, I completely focused on painting,” he informs. Notably, Krishn Kanhai’s father, also a Padma Shri awardee, was also an acclaimed artist and a painter who pioneered an art form known as Kanhai gold painting, which is somewhat like the well-loved Tanjore art, but the Kanhai’s are proportionate, unlike the Tanjores, which feature short, stout figures. In addition, the Kanhai paintings use only 24-carat pure gold, which is applied more liberally than the fine-touch gold typically used in other Indian paintings. Pertinent to mention, Krishn Kanhai, throughout his artistic career spanning over four decades, has painted thousands of portraits on the now perishing theme of Radha- Krishna and their tales. He has, however, not confined himself to the traditional style, but has also introduced certain significant techniques of his own that make the canvas aesthetically appealing and spiritually rich. In a way, he can be called a fusion artist for making beautiful use of enchanting Radha-Krishna postures and turning them into contemporary modern art that is eye-catching and unforgettable. So, following the footsteps of his father and mentor Kanhai Chitrakar, young Kanhai was encouraged to carve out his own niche in the artistic world. His son, Arjun Kanhai, a BFA from University of Southampton, UK, is also an expert in traditional and portrait painting. It is seldom that a father and a son have been honoured with a National award like Padma Shri. The Kanhai Family and the Bachchan Family are the only two families in India where both father and son have won the Padma Shri. “What I learned from my father at the age of 15 gave me recognition after 25 year of struggle into the painting world”, underlines the dexterous artist. Kanhai’s first work was a portrait of Swami Haridas, which he sold for Rs 4 in 1975. “This Rs 4 was my first earning through a painting and it gave me a sense of satisfaction that my paintings are being liked by the people,” he says.

Initially I used to draw peacocks, flowers, and sometimes Radha-Krishan on the blackboard with a chalk After completing my high school education, I completely focused on painting Narrating the three-decade-old experience of working alongside his father, Kanhai says he was 27-year-old when he decided to create his own art form, It is after this realisation that he started working on folk themes to revive the Brij and Yamuna Bank Culture into his artwork and gradually came to evolve a style of his own, which bore his personal stamp. It did not take much time for him to get known, as the precursor of the Yamuna Ghat Painting School.

Since then Kanhai’s paintings have received great acclaim due to their improved artistic composition, use of oil paints and embossing material, realistic style of large canvases, excellent gem-setting work, and an opulent 24-carat gold foiling. Yes he often uses pure gold and precious gems as raw materials for his paintings. “Painting using pure gold was done a long time ago, but this form of art had become extinct in North India in recent times. Thinking of creative ways to make a painting more beautiful, I revived this form,” says Kanhai.

He brought a new dimension to the art arena by creating paintings that recited visually mesmerising stories. Groomed under the expert guidance of his father he earned international recognition and the epithet of the artist with the Midas touch. But it is not just the Radha-Krishna paintings or the portraits that depicted folk culture for what he is known for. He kept experimenting with his artistic work.

He is also known to the political elite of the world, with several Presidents and Prime Ministers among his clients whose portraits were done by him. The list includes names, like former Prime minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani, former US President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton, former US President Barack Obama and his family, besides eminent industrialists like Adiya Birla and his wife Rajshri Birla, and veteran Bollywood actor-turnedpolitician Hema Malini. In 2016, on a special request from the Uttar Pradesh Government, Kanhai painted a life-size portrait of 22 Chief Ministers of UP – past and present along with 19 past and present Speakers of the UP Assembly, besides two life-size portraits of Mahatma Gandhi. “I feel that I am fortunate to be the only artist whose 40 portraits are on the walls of Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha,” he says.

“Sheer hard work is the only key to success. You have to give everything to achieve something in your life,” he speaks. In the future, the veteran artist plans to open a “Kanhai Art Academy” in Vrindavan and share his four decades of skills with the young generation.

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The Crypto Rush

As NFTs become much more mainstream, reputed artists and art collectors are thrilled about the immense prospects and exploring the latest craze
Text: Team Art Soul Life

Paresh Maity, one of India’s most distinguished and admired artists, who is always open to new ideas and thoughts, says he finds NFT art very interesting and he will soon try out this medium in a big way. “I have a few ideas in my head. You will soon see me coming up with the same,” says the painter, thrilled about the immense prospects that the pandemic has opened up for artists in terms of online or digital exhibitions and shows. The artist duo Thukral and Tagra, who work with a wide range of media, including interactive games and videos, are currently researching the medium. Last year, 84-year-old Lalu Prasad Shaw’s new show landed on a blockchain powered platform. Conceptualised as part of the first edition of what the organisers called the ‘Masters’ series, the online show presented a selection of 27 of Shaw’s recent paintings. With this unique exhibition, the Bengal born Shaw became arguably the first Indian modern artist to trade his pieces with registered non-fungible tokens. Reacting to the development, Shaw says, “Changes are always welcome. I am hoping that this kind of beginning can take art to another level.” Shaw, who is based in Kolkata, explains, “I had been preparing for this exhibition for a few months. All these new paintings were made especially for the show. Simplicity is the key to my art. I like to depict the happiness in my surroundings through each of my paintings.” The 27 works bear a similar style, showcasing a bright palette and a joyous celebration of womanhood. If India’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange in terms of trading volume, Wazir-X, is to be believed, it sold 166 pieces of digital art in the first month of the launch of its platform for NFTs or non-fungible tokens, as more and more Indians try to ride the latest craze in the crypto world. The highest amount for an NFT on Wazir-X was paid for an art depicting an abstract rendition of the fourth avatar of Vishnu by Ishita Banerjee. The art was sold for 3,112 WRX or `2,66,616, as per today’s exchange rate for rupee. Banerjee is an Indian origin artist based out of Montréal, Canada. Intestinally, the next two highest paid NFTs — Kali and Phoenix — also were by Banerjee that went for `2,49,743.36 and `2,42,019.34, respectively. The amount and the worth of digital art sold so far is significant as NFTs are entirely a new concept for Indians. Pune-bsed mural artist Sneha Chakraborty tried her hand with NFTs last year, and she hasn’t turned back. “Traditional art gave me a lot, and I was doing good. It was fun and games, and everything until the whole talk of NFT started happening in the world. And then being an artist, of course, I was quite intrigued, but I was in a very comfortable space,” Sneha said, describing her plunge away from traditional art. “That time when WazirX got in touch with me, they were looking for a traditional artist, liked my profile and wanted me like a spotlight artist. Once I got into it, and once I started learning about NFT, it started coming from a very honest space.” Sneha discussed the real point that drew her more and more into the NFT space, “It is such an open space. As a traditional artist, I had to rely on other people to sell my canvas; I had to rely on a middleman or curators to showcase my artwork. Here, NFT is providing a space where there is no middleman anymore. There’s just the buyer and the seller; the buyer likes your work and collects it. And when you get to mint, you’re getting a free space.

Since the beginning, artists have needed to have a name or some work done, but NFT is a 100% merit-based platform.” Mumbai-based visual artist Santanu Hazarika, who’s having his first solo show at a Mumbai gallery as we write this, thinks blockchain technology dismantles the culture of gatekeeping in a bid to empower artists. “It’s important to remember that digital art was never considered fine art and was always sidelined. But because of the NFT boom, there’s a huge shift in focus towards digital artists. It’s empowering, and it’s giving them a lot more attention,” says Hazarika. The doodle artist made an artwork for electronic producer and frequent collaborator Ritviz to accompany his album announcement. The NFT, released on WazirX NFT Marketplace for 300 WRX ($388.5), was sold just 37 seconds after going live, making it one of the world’s fastest NFT sales. Hazarika says he’s very optimistic as the possibilities are endless. “We have this huge crypto boom in this digital age because of which we have so many people investing in crypto. NFTs are commodities that are a huge part of this new decentralised world and in this digital age, NFTs have a huge allure. As artists, this is a massive development, since art is being made so much more accessible. The marketplace opens up the doors to an endless number of collectors who want to buy from the artists directly,” he explains. Historically, digital art has been almost impossible to monetize. Blockchain technology can solve that problem. When a digital asset made by an artist is added to a digital gallery, a token is generated by a smart contract and deposited in the artist’s wallet. The token is permanently linked to the artwork, and is a unique, one-of-a-kind asset that represents ownership and authenticity of the underlying artwork. Once created, the artwork starts its life on the given blockchain, where a fan or collector can purchase it, and where it can be subsequently exchanged, traded or held by collectors like any other rare artefact. But if you want to be an NFT artist, just uploading an artwork won’t help. Says Sneha: “It is in trend right now, and everyone wants to get into it. If someone is interested, they have to join the community because they have collectors and sellers. You have to talk to them; you have to talk about your artwork to connect with many collectors on the NFT platform. So if someone wants to maintain NFT, it’s better to get into a community.” following this up with her tips to newcomers in the space. She says you must do your research. “NFT sounds intimidating, also, being an artist, we are very comfortable in the space that we are in. But I would suggest this space for you, this is good for you and will only give you many possibilities in the future. Find a platform that you connect with, and then start minting. Fail once in a while because that is important for success.” Traditionally, the barrier of entry to the art marketplace, for both artists who wish to sell their works and buyers who wish to collect and/or invest in those works, has been extremely high. Artists face a catch-22 situation where they have to achieve a certain level of fame and renown before their pieces can reach high-profile marketplaces, but talented artists without connections may lack the exposure to ascend. Buyers, likewise, must have a certain high level of wealth to purchase works from such marketplaces. This has the effect of excluding a vast majority of the art creating and purchasing population from the very marketplaces that are supposed to serve them. What is needed is an open, decentralized marketplace with no such barriers to entry where buyers and artists from around the world can trade freely without relying on an auction house as a middleman. Rarible, for instance, is a simple platform for the creation and sale of digital art and collectables. OpenSea operates as a sort of decentralized eBay for digital collectables and items. NFTs are particularly useful for artists working in purely digital form, many artists may not be sure how it fits into their practice if they are working in physical mediums like painting, sculpture, etc.

Surely enough, obstacles remain. Persuading mainstream artists to use NFTs, an esoteric technology, could be a challenge, arguably. The biggest barrier to growth is that people have difficulty understanding what an NFT is. It’s a counterintuitive concept that people have trouble getting their minds around, but. Once people understand what an NFT is and why the concept is so powerful, they quickly become obsessed. In brief, digital art generally, and blockchain-based art specifically, have surely gained traction. But for digital art to burst forth over the long term, it has to find a way to reward artists, gallerists and others. They need to make money from their toil. This is where blockchain technology and NFTs change the game: They furnish enduring proof of an artwork’s uniqueness, enabling it to be sold and resold again and again. And each time that happens, the artist profits. It’s written in the code. Already, people are talking about how digital art is the Next Big Bet.

Similar to how Bitcoin is superior to gold in almost every way, digital art is superior to traditional art in almost every way also. A traditional piece of art is static and sits on a wall. There is no motion. The art does not change unless someone takes the art off the wall and hangs a different piece. Physical art is hard to move around the world, it can be easily damaged, and there is difficulty in proving what is authentic and what is not. Digital art is the next evolution of art. Each piece can incorporate complex movement and motion into the art. A single screen on a wall can periodically cycle through different pieces of art at the predetermined direction of the homeowner or art collector. The digital art can be sent to anyone in the world with a few clicks of a button, it is immune from damage, and authenticity and provenance is transparently available for anyone to verify. Quite literally, digital art has significant advantages over traditional art in the same way that digital news has advantages over physical newspapers. Right now, as more and more artists see how the blockchain elegantly solves digital art’s provenance problem, NFTs are exploding across the internet. At the same time, as all the possibilities of the metaverse continue to come into view, pioneering collectors are diving in and setting the tone for what it means to collect and invest in the cultural assets of the future. A key concept of NFTs is their ability to give tamper-proof provenance (a record of ownership) to digital goods—and be portable across the internet. Now that NFTs have solved digital art’s provenance problem, more collectors and investors are getting on board. This influx of investment is enabling a broader audience to develop, and setting the stage for a larger community to enter the space. While we can’t predict exactly how the future will look, NFT technology will play an important role—so while the technology’s still unfolding, it’s an exciting time to get involved.

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History unravels in Ahmedabad-based collector Shrikant Parikh’s hobby as he speaks to N. Kalyani about his passion and how his kitty has grown over the years…
As we celebrate the 75th year of India’s Independence, we can take note of the freedom movement by way of personalities and events portrayed on stamps and coins.

Postage stamps are pieces of miniature art. Besides serving the purpose of postage, stamps are also a source of knowledge. Referred to as ambassadors of a nation, they showcase a nation’s history, politics, economy, geography, society, culture, traditions, art, architecture, flora and fauna. These themes are portrayed in aesthetically pleasing and attractive ways on a postage stamp. Stamps, therefore, also make for collectibles. So is the case with currency notes and coins minted by nations. They serve the purpose of money, but additionally, coins and notes are also collected as beautiful pieces of art, and for the wealth of information they carry. Now as we celebrate the 75th year of India’s Independence, we can, for instance, take note of the freedom movement, by way of personalities and events, portrayed on stamps and coins. Likewise, in this festive season, we take a look at Diwali depicted in Indian and foreign stamps. For Shrikant Parikh, it is the collecting of postage stamps and postcards, as also currency notes and coins that is a passion. Besides his interest in philately and numismatics, he also has a fetish for collecting souvenir spoons and shot glasses. In an interview with Art Soul Life Magazine, the Ahmedabad-based collector speaks of his hobbies, and how his kitty of collectibles has grown over the years.

Please tell us what makes up your collection – the philatelic and numismatic collection, and other collectibles.

My philatelic collection consists of postage stamps in mint condition issued by the Indian postal department from 1947 to date. Regular and commemorative coins issued by India in denominations from 1 paisa to Rs 1000 are also of interest to me. Currency notes issued by the Reserve Bank of India since Independence in all denominations, carrying the signatures of different RBI governors (except withdrawn notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 denomination) are also part of my numismatic collection. I also collect foreign coins.

My collection also includes picture postcards from 90 countries. And the 5000-plus picture postcards are on many interesting themes: flowers, animals, birds, paintings, butterflies, flags, costumes, dances, UNESCO sites, mountains, Blue Cats by Irina Zeinuk, shaped cards, sunset and dolls. I also collect souvenir spoons and shot glasses from countries around the world. Souvenir spoons are spoons, marketed at tourist places, with attractive designs of the place or the country’s popular monuments, flag or coats of arm. And shot glasses are mini versions of normal glasses with tourist symbols, and make for attractive souvenirs.

When did your interest in such collectibles take root?

Right from my childhood I had an inclination to collect items such as quality marbles and match-box labels. During high school days, the collection of stamps was prompted by my teachers, and through the help of family members and friends I could manage a handsome collection which was displayed at my school too. In 1974, I became a member of a philatelic society. With the enhancement of my interest and knowledge in philately I was attracted to numismatics. During my frequent overseas trips over the years, I have also collected souvenir spoons and shot glasses. I also joined the international platform of Post crossing in 2012.

Please tell us what Postcrossing is.

The platform of Postcrossing helps a registered member exchange handwritten picture postcards with people from around the world. How does it work? You get addresses from Postcrossing, and after a postcard you send is received by the person to whom you send it, you will get one postcard from another member. The cycle goes on thus.

How do you source such collectibles?

There are established dealers, and persons of similar interest with whom one can exchange items. New postage stamps can be purchased from the philatelic bureau at post offices across the country, and new coins and banknotes from the Reserve Bank of India. One can build one’s souvenir spoon and shot glass collection by getting such items during one’s travels, and through international contacts. I found nice spoons and shot glasses during my trips in India and overseas. And my family, and the many friends I have, contribute in widening my collection.

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Art and the bliss within

He gained early national and international recognition and appreciation; his work deals in a liberal, almost cheerful way with transcendental bearings, along with an intensive abstraction. Abandon and gaiety mark Hem Raj’s work style, which is reminiscent of Sufism. Colours are kept to the bare minimum, and different shades of the same colour have been used to the maximum effort.

A familiar name in Delhi’s art world, renowned artist Hem Raj who has experimented with a variety of mediums.has produced a remarkable body of oil paintings over the years. Top Indian art galleries have been dealing in his works and their assessment is that he is one of the most saleable Indian painters in the abstract vein. A graduate of Delhi College of Art, the 53-year-old artist, however, does not like to label his form with any fixed epithet because he thinks it leads to a sort of brink of closure. He chooses colour and its tone carefully and with intention; most of the time the major areas of his canvases are monotones. Hem Raj says to him all art is abstract irrespective of its general categories such as figurative, surrealistic or realistic. “Of course, my sense of ‘abstract’ art is a bit different from what is generally considered as abstract art. I use the term abstract in terms of essence and not at all mean what can generally be described as nonfigurative,” he explains. His work style is reminiscent of Sufism, the same abandon and gaiety in reference to the divine who is the lover and the teacher, the giver and the keeper. Colours are kept to the bare minimum, subdued shades – monochromatic colours – where different shades of the same colour have been used to the maximum effort. No stark colours for Hem Raj, which is where he perhaps differs from the tribal artists who have a penchant for using bright shades. Indigo blues, olive greens, dusty pinks, murky browns, rusty oranges, pale yellows – he is indeed different from them.” My art evokes a different feeling because it is close to nature. It tends to provide a view with the intention of evoking a feeling which one gets when one roams about in an inviting landscape. I can therefore say that I provide my audience a scape that is engaging enough to compel them to peep and survey, to implore and explore and then return to a stake of enlightened equilibrium,” says the artist. He explores the landscape feeling with one colour and its countless tones. Each of his paintings has its own rivers, hills, waterfalls, smell and vegetation and its own independent entity. In his paintings, melody, rhyme, rhythm and soul coalesce into a single whole. His artistic technique is as innovative and interesting as his works are. For instance, he adds layer and layer of paint while building up the essence of the work. The light and effervescent images that confront us are just like a piece of music. They have a beginning, a middle and an end and this process may be repeated over and over again as Hemraj takes off almost more paint than he applies. His is a technique of minimalism. He keeps reducing the colours, the lines and the forms until we are left with the bare essence, just enough to consume the work with the meditations and genius of the artist. During the recent years, Hem Raj has somewhat moved away from the stern, highly defined construction of his paintings. They are very colourful and gained more freedom in configuration. Very large, often radiating monochrome spaces are arranged in daring combination.

He says nobody in his family could think of sending him to an art college. Art – painting, music or dance – was not considered as a profession. But when he expressed his desire to enter College of Art (Delhi), instant support came from his father. Says the artist, “Because he alone knew how deeply involved I was with painting and could make a professional career out of it. However, the saving grace was, that nobody opposed such a course for myself. That open and silent support for my desire has been my strength all along.” Though Hem Raj remembers his first year at the College as “very unsatisfactory”, he went on to win the award for best student for both BFA and MFA courses. “In the College, some of the teachers appreciated my abstract renderings and some were indifferent. But, I respected all of them, unreservedly, though liking those who were encouraging in their behaviour more than others,” he recounts. “Over all, things went in my favour all along. This was really a big gain. I am still very thankful to the late Sidheshwar Dayal, who ran a gallery at Mandi House, New Delhi, for hosting my first solo show while I was still a student at College of Art. And I am still deeply thankful to the then College Principal, Sh. O.P. Sharma, who suggested my name to Mr. Dayal.” A National Award winner in 2000, he counts V Gaitonde and K. S Kulkarni among those who inspire him.

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Staying Creative Through Pandemic

Covid-19 has definitely given a hard time to all, but the flip side remains that there have been many people taking refuge in art, be it creating or collecting it

Art is an integral part of the social, civic, and economic wellbeing of any nation and to imagine a life devoid of the pleasures of art is unthinkable till the time Covid-19 hit the world and the world literally stood still for a while. The pandemic unfolded a global health crisis, which brought about a drastic change in the global business model. The arts sector across the globe had to stop exhibitions, events and other visual performances for an indefinite period. As a result, arts, institutions and museums drastically lost their revenue.

Surprisingly, however, the art market sales graph kept climbing and the financial year 2020-21 witnessed the strongest sales year in the history of Indian art auctions, according to Art Market Report 2021, produced by art research and advisory firm Artery India. According to the annual report created by one of India’s leading art markets watchers, the year 2020-21 has been the strongest (Roughly tabulated since 1987 when the first Indian art auction was conducted). In terms of market performance and turnover, it achieved sales figures to the tune of Rs 880.9 crore from April 20 to March 21, despite depressed market sentiments and ample volatility. The numbers for FY 2019-20 were around Rs 560 crore; hence the pandemic year sales recorded a jump of almost 57 per cent.

The Indian art market, maturing with years, has faced several ups and downs in the last few years but the lockdown brought an unexpected and unprecedented challenge to the art world. Institutions and galleries around the world moved to online exhibitions, webinars, talks and view rooms and started using social media to even offer online therapy using paintings. The professional artists, institutions and allied organisations followed suit to reach out to their target audience through the internet.

Vikash Joshi, who teaches art at Nagpur University, points out, “Even as Covid- 19 engulfed a major chunk of economic, social, scientific growth globally, the educational and cultural sectors embraced this radical change of shifting online in a short span of one-and-a-half years. It was all about existence and relevance. Work from home changed all the prevalent concepts. The need for basic necessities remained the same but for an artist to resolve daily issues was like solving an economic puzzle. Then the concept of online exhibitions came into existence. And during the epidemic, ‘art according to time’ started taking shape.” Covid-19 has definitely given a hard time to all but the flip side remains that there have been many people taking refuge in art, be it creating art or collecting it. Talking about creating, the most unexpected faces have emerged as new artists. To name a few like Archana Sinha, Tannu Jain, Ruchi Jain and Sonia Kapoor are all homemakers who practised art to be away from depression. Several art enthusiasts dived headlong into artistic pursuits to seek solace in the trying times.

Pune-based Milind Deshpande, who has been mentoring art students since 2005 under the banner of Chitrangan, says, “Initially, everyone enjoyed the compulsory holiday. They engaged in getting them homes in shape, discovered the joy of cooking and experienced several other things. But gradually as the pandemic soared, people began seeking ways to relax in meaningful ways and a lot of people selected art as the medium to experience solace. They rediscovered their hobbies. This was and still is a period were people could disengage from the rough and tumble of a fast-moving world and enjoy art. Now, they do not have to carve out time for such things the way they had to do in earlier days. People could endure these depressing times by indulging in painting, craft, cooking, singing and writing. They came closer to art and that is when online classes started.”

On a new path to learning art with deeper insight into their works and new series of works, artists held their brushes tight and unbridled the horses of imagination to overcome the melancholy that spread around. “I think after Covid-19 there will be more people taking to arts and it will become more competitive. The quality of art is about to rise, and the bar will be set higher. It is more of a discovery of the artist in one’s personality than an invention,” says Anamika, a promising young artist, who shifted from Greater Noida to her hometown Muzaffarpur during the pandemic. Anamika is upbeat about the cultural sector as artists turned to online activities—from social media to virtual reality —as a way to continue fulfilling their organisational mission and obtain or retain an audience. Anamika, herself participated in a couple of global online art shows including one organised by a New York-based gallery.

The pandemic forced people to seek refuge in the internet but learning art over the internet threw up a lot of challenges. People tried to overcome them obstacles in innovative ways and continued learning. Several artists in different fields began offering online coaching. Since the markets were closed, people tried to paint with whatever material was available in their homes. As Deshpande says, “We have realised online teaching has its own limitations. Yet, despite the challenges, people have been trying to adapt to this new mode and seem to be surprisingly very successful at it.” According to Suhani Jain, another young abstract artist hailing from Gwalior, who now lives in Nagpur, says, “After Covid-19, my work changed a lot. I developed a deep insight for my art practice. I saw interviews and read art books and enhanced knowledge of the art world. I applied new ideas in my works. Covid was indeed a difficult time but art helped me sail through and helped me keep a positive attitude.”

She says, “The impact of Covid-19 has been bad on every field, including art and culture. Many families were destroyed, many children were orphaned. But where there is a will, there is a way. People found new ways. The times have been bad. But I continued on my own quest. Over the years, many works were not being done due to lack of time. This was the time I utilised to the hilt.” Meanwhile, sculptor Vernika Singh from Delhi accepts that the market for her improved. “Since people have been home and finally had ample time to think about redecorating and about putting up art, the affordable art scene has improved for artists like me,” she says. “One thing which helped us stay in the market and actually do well is ‘online sales. It was both exciting and challenging. I got the time and stillness which I require to create. I started working on a new series of sculptures – Sun salutation in Yoga and have been working on it on and off since last year. This is something that I picked up during Covid as I got to spend time with my mother who has been practicing Yoga for almost 17 years.” Ravinder Chauhan, is another amateur artist who was born and brought up in Delhi-NCR and is living near the bank of river Yamuna in Noida. “The Covid-19 pandemic brought an unexpected change in the global business model. The arts sector had to stop exhibitions, events and other visual performances indefinitely across the world. As a result, the arts, institutions and museums drastically lost their revenue but we survived by being innovative”.

It is a collective opinion that the ride in the art world remained enjoyable and challenging. As Vikas Joshi stresses, “There were many challenges in this long period. Some artists took a break. Some enjoyed the creation with new surfaces, new mediums and experimented with new ways. But the artist maintained his identity. Continuity, in search of something new, artists find the seeds of innovation. Full-time professional artists, for example, painted smaller canvases rather than large ones. The joy of expression for daily life was maintained during the pandemic. Instead of painting with the available tools, I drew with charcoal, pen and black ink and searched for another dimension. We are all aware that the true identity of the artist is to be expressed through art. That is his religion.”

New challenges throw up new opportunities and that is what happened with the artists and their creative instinct. Due to lockdown and restricted movement of non-essential goods, artists explored new mediums. “Under the lockdown there was material and movement limitation which made it challenging to fulfil the orders. I became much more dependent on myself and it gave rise to a lot of new ways of doing things,” says Vernika.

Ravinder Chauhan also agrees and adds, “Like others, I was struggling too. The pandemic hit the global supply chain sector also. The lack of arts material forced me to try the homemade materials. Being a computer-savvy person, I used online social media services. Since I teach visual arts with an online educational portal for school students at national and international level, Covid -19 taught me to learn every minute concept to help me enhance my career.” In the face of the challenges, arts organizations and artists adapted and innovated in an effort to survive until conditions more conducive to in-person engagement returns. Some of those changes have included reconfiguring seating and performance spaces to align with social distancing requirements, hand sanitizer stations, Covid-19 testing protocols for artists and securing outdoor spaces for events. As all the artists would agree, art, will survive every calamity and so will people along with it. The energy of creation will never run out, and this is what helps balance the ball at times of destruction.

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No river is as beautiful and historical as the Ganga. Successive civilizations have been built around this iconic river which is a source of wonder across the globe. Classical accounts depict her in reverential tones in countries across the globe, including Italy, Greece, Ceylon, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia. So much so that the Fountain of the Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona in Rome built in 1651 includes River Ganges as one of the four greatest rivers in the world, but extraordinarily, the Italians chose to depict her as a bearded male similar to the famous frescoes depicting God in the Sistine Chapel painted by Michaelangelo. While the Ganga may have a male physiognomy in the western hemisphere, in India and the Far East, she is depicted as a sensuous and playful woman, a consort of gods and a distributor of wealth. One of the most beautiful idols on display at the National Museum where this exhibition titled Ganga: River of Life & Eternity is being held, is a life-size image of Ganga taken from a Shaivite temple in Ahichchhetra in Uttar Pradesh. She is shown as a bejewelled goddess standing on her vahana (vehicle), which is the Makara (crocodile) representing untamed energy. This exhibition curated by the Boston-based Shakeel Hossain, shows the river through her many histories, traditions, arts and cultures right up to the modern age. This collection becomes all the more significant because Ganga was recently declared a living entity by the National Green Tribunal with, all the fundamental rights that an individual is entitled to. But the fact that the river is a living entity is something our elders understood much before us. The importance they imbued to her can be gauged from the fact that she is seen to a celestial being whose waters were prized nectar for the gods many of whom fought pitched battles for the ownership of this nectar. Hossain, whose passion for the river can be seen from the care and patience taken to collect this variety of rare artefacts and paintings, correctly points out that this exhibition on the Ganga provided an opportunity to present Indian creative expression through one icon. No wonder the viewer on entering the gallery is introduced to 1,000 names of Ganga woven around different mythological stories. There is Vishnupadi, originating from the belief that Ganga emanated from the lotus feet of Vishnu. Another story highlights the mythical cosmic egg, which is the source of all creation. The Ganga remains very much part of this cosmic creation, integral to Hindu mythology from the time of the very inception of the universe. The tale of the golden egg (Hiranyagarbha Sukta) goes back to the Rig Veda, which describes the origin of the earth from a cosmic egg with water significantly being the source of wellbeing for all mankind. A quote from the Rig Veda highlights the significance of the Ganga followed by a large panel depicting how the Warli tribals see the river in association with all five elements. This large Warli painting is stunning in its sheer exuberance. It shows a tribal man dancing with joy. He is wearing a long scarf with the Ganga River forming a sheet of water in the backdrop, sea gulls fly around him with the sliver of a silvery moon forming the backdrop. The man is surrounded by an ocean of water in which fish are seen riding these waters. The painting is done in silver against a navy-blue backdrop which allows it to make a spectacular statement of how intrinsically mankind is linked to his environment. The importance of water can be gauged from another apocryphal tale on how the capture of the celestial rivers resulted in a drought on heaven and earth. Indra was forced to capture Vitra in order to allow the rivers to descend from the heavens in order to flow back to earth. The gallery has a number of artefacts woven around Ganga’s descent from heaven and also how she is closely linked to the three divinities of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. There is a beautiful miniature on display where Krishna is shown mollifying Radha who is jealous of his closeness to Ganga. Even as he is mollifying her, Ganga can be seen hiding under the foot of Krishna. A Jain Cosmo gram projects the river as sacred, even as her very birth remains a subject of debate. She is shown coming out of Vishnu. Others insist Ganga is the daughter of Himavat and Mena, and the sister of Parvati. Another belief highlights how her descent to earth is linked to Vishnu in the Trivikrama form, when he crossed the three worlds and burst the heaven in his second step, causing Ganga to fall into this universe. The most popular belief is of course how Shiva brought her down to earth with his locks helping to slow down the force of her flow. Hossain has used many artefacts from the collection of the National Museum. There is one gem emphasising the Trivakarma avatar of Vishnu in a sculpture, and another of Brahma holding a kamandal with Ganga water. According to Indian cosmology, the Ganga flows in heaven, earth and the underworld. Ganga has also been shown to be the consort of Shiva, the foster mother of Kartikeya, and the wife of King Shantanu and mother of their son Bhishma, who is shown dying on a bed of arrows in a miniature from the National Museum collection.The miniature depicts how Bhishma is lying on a bed of arrows waiting for the sun to enter its northern equinox so he can take his leave from the earth. When Bhishma is thirsty, Arjun shoots an arrow into the ground and the Ganga comes gushing forth from the earth at the exact spot where the arrow has entered the earth. This is another form of mother Ganga who has come to quench the thirst of her dying son. The Ganga has been depicted through the ages in the Stone age, the Harappan Age, the Vedic Age, the Buddhist Age, the Gupta period and then in the reign of the Chalukyas, Cholas and Palas, the Slave Dynasty, the Khaljis and Tughlaqs, the Lodhis and then through the Mughal dynasty. In fact, some of the most elegant works on the Ganga have been depictions in the miniature style. Some of these works have been shown at the exhibition. Works in the Gupta period show her as the goddess of purity, an account in the Ain-i-Akbari describes Akbar’s love for Ganga Jal, which was carried with him wherever he went. Ganga remains equally important in contemporary times. There are panels showing her importance during the Kumbh Mela, other panels depict Ganga aarti at the ghats of Banaras. There is another rare gem on display of a pilgrimage map of Banaras from the 17th century, when the Varuna and Assi rivers flowed into the ghats while the Ganga continued her northward journey past the ghats culminating into the Bay of Bengal. The artefacts on the Ganga belong to the syncretic tradition of India. One section has been devoted to how tazias made by Muslim artisans who were followers of Imam Hasan-al-Ansari. These are immersed in the waters of the Ganga.

The Nawabs in Mushidabad followed a tradition of building rafts or beras. These rafts were shaped like crocodiles, the vehicle of the Ganga, which were used to make offerings to the river. There are a number of maps on display along with film posters from Hindi cinema. There is a lovely poster of Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai and Gangaajal. Hossain quite rightly believes the river has been appropriated by Bollywood with great commercial success. The last part of the exhibition is the most poignant because there is no doubt that the Ganga is facing impending death with thousands of tonnes of pollutants and sewage being dumped into her through her long journey from Gaumukh to the Bay of Bengal. It is now up to the people of India to save this precious heritage. Whether they will is another issue completely.

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Natural Born Artist

Calling his art experimental, acclaimed artist Niladri Paul says he loves mystery and uncertainty in his work and weaving a visual poetry of beguiling pigments

My first encounter with Niladri Paul, who is undoubtedly one of our finest artists today, was not planned per se. Both of us attended the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Kolkata, and would occasionally bump into each other. Niladri was my junior and we soaked in the same artistic environment and learnt similar techniques. Guided by stellar artists like Bikash Bhattacharya, Ashesh Mitra, Niranjan Pradhan, Isha Mahammad and also seniors like Chitravanu Mazumder and Subrata Gangopadhhaya, art was the binding force for us. However, I got acquainted with Niladri’s art later on when both of us settled in Delhi and I would frequent his studio every now and then. Born and brought up in Jamshedpur, Niladri had been painting for as long as he remembers, even before he knew it was called “art’’. From the moment he could hold a pencil, Niladri started doodling on anything he could lay his hands on, right from paper to walls, much to the dismay of his parents. He recalls, “While in the bathroom, I used to enjoy drawing on walls. Eventually, my father started taking interest in my art and encouraged me to participate in various art competitions. Winning awards as a kid inspired me to pursue art vigorously. Pictures of comic books fascinated me and I would copy pictures for practise.” Recalling his earliest brush with an artist, he says, “There used to be Sengupta Sir near our home in Jamshedpur. The pipe smoking, hat-wearing Sengupta Sir’s studio was a storehouse of European style paintings,” Niladri recollects. “I used to be awestruck watching the artworks and would grill him on various aspects of the paintings. The wonderland that his studio was, it motivated and convinced me to spur onward on my journey into the world of art,” admits Niladri, drifting into the times gone by. Encouraged, he joined art classes at Rabindra Bhawan at Jamshedpur, where he learnt painting and clay modelling. But this was of little use since only the basics were taught and poster colours were the order of the day. This was the time Niladri decided to embark on a journey to explore the art world independently. But as luck would have it, 15-year-old Niladri had to accompany his mother to Kolkata as she was seriously ill and admitted to PG Hospital near Victoria Memorial. One day, while exploring the city, he visited Indian Museum where he found many youngsters practising pencil drawings of the ancient sculptures displayed in the museum galleries. “I felt curious and luckily, I chanced upon one of my friends there. Apparently, they were preparing for the entrance test to the Government. College of Art and Craft, which is there in the building adjacent to the museum,” shares Niladri. He went to enquire about the admission process and happened to meet artist Ashesh Mitra, who advised him to appear for the admission test and make arrangements for living in the city if he qualified for the five years course. He qualified and in 1981, got admission in the prestigious college but unfortunately, Niladri lost his mother. However, his pursuit of academics in fine art took off and he started living in the college boys’ hostel at Pathuriaghata. “With no fans and proper toilets, hostel life was gruelling,” says Niladri. “I would spend most of my time sketching and painting outdoors. My favourite jaunt was Nimtala Ghat. But for night sketches, I would trundle to Sonagachi with friends. This was the red light area and I loved to capture the colourful night environment there.” In fact, in his later works, this influence is very dominant and women have been a constant muse to Niladri. His fascination for the myriad colours and mystery of women has been almost perpetual in his works. His love for the female form is evident in his portraiture and their complex emotional expression. As a student, he explored the city walking alone and evolving his expression. Like most of us, Niladri, too, was fascinated by the British style – watercolour legacy of our college. However, he would experiment and explore varied techniques gradually mastering most possibilities. He spent initial years honing his skill as an abstract figurative artist with an urge to search for his own distinctive style and medium. Early in college, Niladri started freelancing for advertising agencies. At the same time, he participated in the Calcutta Art fair where two of his watercolours were sold – a night sketch of Sonagachi and Durga Bhasaan (immersion of goddess durga). After completing the Bachelor’s course in 1988, Niladri headed back to Jamshedpur and bagged an assignment from Tata Steel to design inhouse journals. Though well-paid, the job and life in Jamshedpur was lacklustre. “After living in Kolkata for almost seven years, I felt Jamshedpur was not meant for me,” reveals the artist. Later, while he was travelling to Bali via Delhi on an assignment for Tata Steel, the visa for his travel got delayed and he decided to stay back and explore the city. Within two days, he found a job with a local advertising agency as a commercial artist. “Around 1989, I finally decided to settle down in Delhi,” recalls Niladri. While working for prestigious ad agencies, like Ogilvy and Mathers, Clarion etc., he used lunch breaks and after office hours to continue his artistic pursuits. It was during this time that he approached Aurobindo Art Gallery near Hauz Khas with his watercolour paintings. The gallerists agreed to keep a few works, which were sold out. This encouraged him to work independently and he quit his job. “Though it was a huge risk at that point of time, I just picked the gauntlet and went for full time art practice,” he adds.

As a child, Niladri loved to doodle on everything, much to the dismay of his parents. His love for art pushed him to pursue this as his profession.

During the mid-90s when “acrylic” colours hit the market, Niladri was thrilled by its similarity to watercolours. He was never too interested in oil on canvas though he did some oil works mostly in Alla Prima technique. He wanted to explore possibilities with acrylic, but handling acrylic was tough and he spent a lot of time trying out styles, colours, papers and canvases. That was a year of struggle and self-search with wasted materials and hours of learning process and continuous practise. “I used to buy long canvas rolls, made small pieces and continued my experiment day after day to achieve a style of my own,” reveals Niladri. He tasted success with one of his first solo shows of acrylic works. The entire lot of 25 works was lapped up. Though selling boosted his confidence, for him bliss was communicating his ideas to the viewers who liked his works. Early success led him to have a show of portraits in oil and watercolour at World Trade Centre, Singapore in 1994, followed by a string of solo shows in Delhi and Mumbai. In 1996, he participated in the Coconut Grove show held in Miami, Florida. He has held shows across the globe right from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai to the USA, London, Lagos, South Africa and several other places. His works are in proud collections of big corporate offices and avid art collectors. He was awarded a Senior Fellowship by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India in 2015-16.

Talking about his art, he loves mystery and uncertainty and weaving a visual poetry of beguiling pigments. He likes to call his art experimental, for it is an ongoing evolution of his sensibilities that he endeavours to translate onto his canvases. His love for abstract figurative expressionism though realism is visible in his work. He was inspired by the works of Bikash Bhattacharya and loves Tyeb Mehta’s work. A fan of Paul Klee and Gustav Klimt, he has been inspired by masters like Rembrandt, Van Dyke, Sir Henry Raeburn, Ingres, J.L.David, Dali, William McGregor Paxton and William Adolphe Bouguereau. He has merged acrylic with a hint of drawing, leaving white spaces just like the watercolour method. In fact, he loves to express through colour perspective more than drawing perspective with perfect visual calculation. Niladri believes he has his own style and identity that is evident in all his works. He admits, “I can see my impression, my temperament in my every creation”. He believes any new work gently shapes up on its own “almost effortlessly”.

It is hardly surprising that the artist is equally at ease with his abstract as well as figurative fluid compositions. Freedom and spontaneity have always been important for him, be it personal space or work. This aspect reflects abundantly in cheerful optimism, sheer vibrance and raw energy in his body of work. He does not believe to be a social critique of his times and believes an artist’s language should be simple and forthright, easily understood and relatable. He loves to be rhythmic in conversation, a language that is spontaneous, not a planned layout.

Delhi’s rich cultural life and Niladri’s love for performing arts reflect on the large canvases in enigmatic portraits and dynamic abstracts. Bright blue and orange dominate the palette as he paints with bold strokes and finishing touches of black and white. The audience is drawn to his work because his works are easy to read. The luminescent forms make him mould his very own language of colours, lines, motifs, textures and strokes. A language that is not overtly intellectual or pretentious, but earthy, identifiable, rooted and yet fanciful. It is his positive energy, youthfulness and effervescence that creates the poetic sensibility on the canvas with great ease and yet does not lose the virtuosity of the classic grounding, unique synthesis of control evolving dramatic narrative through extravagant brush strokes.

A non-conformist, maverick, free spirited and bohemian, Niladri, is so like his paintings. Just when a particular series gets a standing ovation, he starts experimenting with something entirely different, least bothered about pandering to the marketing diktats. He comes up with a brand-new series of paintings every now and then with a distinctive palette. He is also a sculptor, photographer, experimenting with interiors and fashion as well – not leaving these mediums unexplored! Photography comes as a useful reference for him sometimes for his paintings.

Niladri mostly confines himself to his studio but sometimes he can be found in the kitchen, where he rustles up spectacular gourmet meals for friends and family. Perfectionism is his forte in whatever he does and compassion is his driving force in life. He invokes spirituality through the resurrection of colours and huesthat magnetically draw one’s attention to the mesmerising nature of his art. Especially the semi realistic human form and the luminosity that have been enthralling. This allows the viewers to experience oneness with the presence of awareness and their being, appreciating peace, love and happiness all melting into a beautiful melody.

“I try to embrace the tangible force into an equally forceful energy in pigments and forms as the ever broadening and growing idiom add to my very own unconstrained palette, thus translating the concentric energy of rhythm, sound and expression into a euphoria on canvas,” Niladri explains. The central premise of his paintings being a celebration of the eternal, ethereal ideals on a metaphysical level in the current urban milieu corresponds to the larger-than-life philosophy of all of us living our lives in complex and mysterious layers. Niladri has studiously refused to let any societal darkness, enter his exclusive world of happy colours. He captures the mood and spirit of his subject’s drawing inspiration from everyday life and the fleeting thought of the moment. And yes, he refuses to write reams of theory about his work.

“My art is not a social critique of our times, as I strongly feel that I am an artist and my language ought to be simple and forthright enough for everybody to understand and relate to.”

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Old Doors, New Décor

Don’t rush to resign your old doors and windows to the scrap heap as Mumbaikar Pooja Bansal breathes new life into tired, time-worn pieces turning them into exquisite works of art

When one door closes, another exciting opportunity opens. As old doors and windows get discarded and replaced with modern day wood, glass and metal, Mumbaikar Pooja Bansal has taken it upon herself to restore them with her art. “My signature work is on old doors and windows which come from old have lies, palaces and houses of Rajasthan and South India to Mumbai’s chawls., mills, slums etc,” says Bansal. “The purpose of my work is to restore them with my art and make them a part of the modern day environment again for patrons of art and old vintage wood.” While she picks old pieces for her artwork, Bansal commissions art on new wood – doors, windows, panels, furniture as well. A self-taught artist, she specialises in mixed media art, which she has evolved using a fusion of distress art and various mediums like glass, gold foils, metal and wood to create her own style varying from contemporary to ethnic. “The idea is to bring art outside of canvases to something more functional and real,” says Bansal, who left her corporate job to pursue her passion fulltime. “I was always inclined towards art, but I could only get time to paint over rare weekends with my corporate life,” she says. “I loved my corporate work and was always excited to take up new projects. But then there was kind of a realisation in 2017 that I wanted to explore my art before it was too late.” By then she had painted three windows and wanted to do more. “So out of the blue in late December 2017, I sent my paintings on windows to the Kala Ghoda Festival team for showcasing in 2018, and interestingly there was a very good response and that gave me confidence to leave work and start painting,” informs Bansal. She says painting on doors and windows came naturally to her… it was kind of an attraction to old architecture and their doors and windows, the fascination of the life people lived before the high rises that intrigued and fascinated her to use them as her art base. Growing up, it never occurred to Bansal that being an artist was something she could explore. “I did try for fashion designing and even cleared the All-India NIFT exam, but my family did not show interest in my pursuing a vocation after 12th grade. Coming from a family of highly educated doctors, lawyers, businessmen and corporate professionals, there was a charted path of higher studies for me. So, I just kept moving on that path with my creative side coming out only while making business plans, excel models and presentations,” she explains. Since there was a pre-defined path of MBA for her, she never challenged that and ended up studying Business Administration. “Restoration and repurposing happened because of my love for old things, old life, old era… my inquisitiveness of life in those days,” Bansal informs. She says an art degree would have given her a very different and a much deeper perspective of things, of art, of approaching elements and subjects, and of expressing herself. “I do miss it for the sake of helping me express myself better,” she says, adding, “But I feel without the degree I am open to exploring from scratch, learning every bit of it with maturity to understand and with every step challenging me to do more without inhibitions.” She started her venture by putting in her savings from the corporate profession, and converting one of the rooms in her house into a part-time studio. It had to be from scratch so she had to find her identity in a whole new world with no experience whatsoever from either family or friends. Did it ever occur to her as to how she was going to survive as an artist? “Oh yes!! But the thought did not come to me naturally since I was bubbling with excitement to explore my art. It came more from the art world – from other artists, buyers and sellers of art, from social media people, etc,” Bansal recalls. “The only one advise common from all was that there is immense competition, loads of artists, and few takers unless you are unique. Also, that artists have a life of struggle and no money. So, I may not be able to survive,” she adds. Bansal says her art journey was chaotic to start with. “Since it was a new field in my family, I had enough questions being raised on leaving a well-paying job. There were established artists and social media people who gave me lots of ideas to paint, which kind of clouded my mind. So, the first year was a mess with me doing things which others told me to do. Painting doors and windows took a back seat. In fact, I was dissuaded from painting them because according to them it was a form of art which had already been explored and done and d,” she remembers. Starting second year, however, she paused herself, went back to basics and started painting doors and windows again. “I focused on learning about the wood types, wood grains, meeting interior designers and architects, networking, tying with stores, and gauging interest. And it was only then that I started getting orders and a lot of queries,” she says. Another challenge was that she was using a very heavy base – hardwood, compared with light weight paper or canvas. But the conviction of restoration, the uniqueness of wood grains, along with the idea of sustainability and repurposing, everything helped her move ahead with it despite the mindset that she was in a wrong market like Mumbai with small houses and with a wrong product which was way too heavy. Talking of the process, Bansal explains she mostly works on old / vintage wood for her portfolio, while the interiors projects involve new wood. “For old pieces, my process involves sanding the pieces to a level where their old paints are retained in some places. I treat some pieces, especially raw barks for infestations like termites, cleaning, putting them to dry completely in the sun, and then starting to paint on them. In case of new wood, a large part of this process is skipped and I mostly just sand my pieces and start painting,” she informs. Bansal relies on dealers who source these doors and windows for her, and she has carpenters and painters on contract basis to help her with base work. “The research has so far been handled by me,” she says. What inspires her is that anything and everything can be made into art. “There are thousands of Indian and international artists who transform just anything into an art piece so beautifully. Their perspective, their approach, their colour palette, everything inspires me,” Bansal avers. “I am greatly influenced by the various Indian art forms, which are so intricate, depicting a story with every detail and with a rich cultural heritage. I would love to paint them in a way that can revive them in a different way,” she adds.