Posted on Leave a comment

The City is My Muse

Urbanisation and cityscapes interest Digbijayee Khatua, who likes to facilitate a dialogue with the urban features of fragile relationships and the awkwardness of coexistence
Text: Team Art Soul Life

As Marco Polo entertains the Great Khan in Invisible Cities: “Cities are like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is a secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful and everything conceals something else.” (Calvino 1972, p 44). Our built environment contains meaning, in the course of human history; our fears and desires, our dreams and nightmares have all been given urban form. It is not only architects and city planners, who help shape a city, but also those creative minds with ideas and visions for what a city should be like and how it should function. Delhibased artist Digbijayee Khatua is one such talented soul for whom every aspect of it – from a city’s landscape and architecture, to its infrastructure and sewage system, to its people and their activities- is a muse. If it was left to Khatua, whose practice is vastly influenced and marked by his shift from Odisha to Delhi and personal encounter with the ever-changing cityscape, evident in his recording of minute details, both real and imagined, designing cities will always be more of an art than science. Khatua says he has always been interested in urbanisation and cityscapes as a subject matter. “I came to Delhi in 2012 for my Master’s from Delhi College of Art and would go around wide-eyed exploring and absorbing the art scene here.,” he says. “I believe I stayed back not only for the exposure, but also for the intriguing challenges this city throws up every now and then. This fascination allows me to paint real and imaginary details of the ever-changing cityscape.”

Subjects such as time, isolation, and transition stir him and he likes to facilitate a dialogue with them long with the urban features of fragile relationships, and the awkwardness of coexistence. “To that end, I reate miniature-like details in the narrative paintings,” says Khatua, who fuses the stylistic elements of iniature paintings and traditional Patta paintings in a contemporary context. “My latest series of paintings traces a trajectory in a diorama of a fictitious rural land, gradually developing into farmland and then into a town. Beginning with a square of Styrofoam, I carved mountains, valleys, rivers and ponds, and propagated a verdant landscape with wire and foam trees.” Khatua, whose artistic oeuvre is primarily inspired by the traditional Patta paintings of Odisha, says his recent works see some experimentation with a meticulous rendition of the wash technique on multiple layers of paper which gives the works a pronounced effect of relief. “This implies a metaphor of the layered realities in the city life,” he explains. “Watercolours are an important part of my expression, which enables me to juxtapose translucency and depth in the paintings. The process can take months to realise once the basic idea and concept is in place.”

“I stayed back in Delhi not only for the exposure, but also for the intriguing challenges this city throws up every now and then. This fascination allows me to paint real and imaginary details of the everchanging cityscape.”

From painting uncanny semblances of landscapes and the still life around him in Orissa, to following a ore conceptually strong practice in Delhi, he sees a maturity seep in his works and his sensibility as an artist. He says: “Living in the cultural capital comes with challenges of its own and in stark contrast with my hometown, the city is constantly affected by unnatural elements of pollution, corruption, etc., while on the face of it, everyone is quite taken in by its (artificial) magnificence.” Khatua says his rural background, an appeal of the urban lifestyle and the metropolitan has instigated in him the desire to see the city architecture, its view, history, design, culture, and the mundane day to day life. “I’m mostly influenced by the complex systems for sanitation, utilities, land usage, housing, and transportation. A big city or metropolis usually has associated suburbs and exurbs and the interwoven relationship and juxtaposition of differences overlapping one another to form a throbbing metropolitan life that fascinates me,” he says.

Ask him how he first began to develop his unique style and he says, “I have been observing how the city life grows with a departure from natural elements and everyone feels lively with man-made beauty which comes with its complications. The visuals in my works gain various perspectives and layers while rowsing through compartmentalised renditions of the city.” Explaining the process, Khatua says he explores a iversity of details in naturalist, man-made objects. “The subject is articulated in abstract and stylised forms to embellish the surface of the paper as threedimensional spaces with metal work, papermaking, watercolour and found objects,” informs the artist, who besides watercolours, has broadly worked with burnt paper, matchstick wood, and found objects as a medium. “These works deal with objects and landscapes within the city, and I often include small detailed drawings which elevate the work from being just one of many elements within a landscape. Over time, the structure of buildings become more isolated. I can trace the movement from drawing to painting to paper-cutting and forming layers to make for a three-dimensional form.”

Posted on Leave a comment

Multiple Realities

For someone who’s always interested in mastering new skills, Anjali Khosa Kaul says the exploration of new mediums is fuelled by her desire to further her artistic expression and delight her audience
Text: Team Art Soul Life

They say that visual language gets embedded in you when you grow up with artists. It’s true in the case of New Delhi-based Anjali Khosa Kaul whose father, Kashmiri Khosa, is an artist of repute and so was her grandfather Somnath Khosa. “Yes, it is true in my case as my grandfather was a realistic painter and an art director, who spent many years of his life painting the life of Mahatma Gandhi,” she informs. “My father is a contemporary artist, who has been working in both oil and acrylic on varied topics. I have seen and observed both of them working in their own styles and this helped me in understanding the nuances of colour and composition early in my life.” She says both have influenced and inspired her artistic techniques. “I would also like to even my mother Lakshmi Khosa, though not an artist by profession, has a very strong visual language.” She says her mother is responsible for not only instilling strong values, but also inspiring Kaul with her artistic work, which were usually then in the form of designing and sewing her clothes. “She has also dabbled in drawing and used to earlier do some pencil sketching,” Kaul tells us. Ask her about her earliest memories of art, Kaul says she was fortunate to have grown up in the company of artists, poets, dancers and theatre actors. “All such individuals frequented our place during those days and that played a major role in broadening my horizons and understanding of art as a child,” she says. “When I was in school, I accompanied my father to an art camp in Ganderbal, Kashmir, which was attended by many eminent artists of that time. I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to observe them working in their varied styles.” To name a few who inspired her, there was Dhanraj Bhagatji, Biman Das and V.R. Khajuria. “Dhanraj Bhagatji was working at that time in wood and that is where I got fascinated with wood as a medium for sculptures and later in life did an extensive series of sculptures in wood,” she says. Though she was into sculpture, whenever she played with colour and canvas, her father provided her an insight of the medium. Kaul says growing up to be an artist came naturally to her as she was brought up in an environment where everyone in my family was into art and aesthetics and they used to have a lot of creative discussions at home. “Also, as I said earlier, the frequent gatherings of eclectic groups of artists at our house further ensured that my mind was always occupied with various forms of creation and expression,” she says. “Even though I daresay my father never wanted his children to become artists as he considered art as a means to achieve livelihood to be a constant struggle. So say that beyond my grandfather and father, like every good parent, he also wanted his kids to have a much more comfortable life. But like they say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and the rest is history,” she chuckles. Talking about the various mediums she has worked with, Kaul says her first series of sculptures were in bronze titled “Along the Waves”. This series depicted the human forms, their moods and postures. The second series of sculptures were in terracotta again with human mood and posture. “For the next series, I tried my hand with wood titled ‘Growth’ in which I explored nature in its various moods. Thereafter, I worked in mixed media for some time keeping on Indian religious motifs as the central theme,” she informs. “Even though I specialised in sculpture, I was always interested in sketching and so my next show was charcoal, pen and pencil drawings. Thereafter I ventured into painting and participated in various group shows with my abstract compositions in acrylic on canvas.” At present, Kaul is working in ceramics and also keeping herself engaged by formulating a series of pen drawings. “So, to sum it up, I enjoy working in varied mediums and I am always interested in mastering new skills. My exploration of new mediums is fuelled by my desire to further my artistic expression and delight my audience,” she avers. Spiritual by nature, Kaul practices meditation, which helps her achieve a sense of calm and peace. “I believe meditation is a prerequisite for better understanding of your own self, which then translates into more meaningful work,” she says, adding, “Also, I believe being in and enjoying nature in itself is a spiritual pursuit. So my work derives a lot of inspiration from the same.” When asked to describe her art, Kaul says she doesn’t preconceive her work. “I work with my intuition and gut. Essentially, I do what I feel like doing in that particular time, space and my state of mind. It is only later when I have a body of work of that time that I start relating and connecting my work with each other,” she explains. Kaul says she feels happy when the viewer perceives her work closer to her thought process. “But I feel art, or any other creative work, should be open to interpretation. Art in my opinion is subjective, and thus open to the human mind’s imaginative amplitude and dictated by the viewer’s mind and aesthetic,” she tells her opinion candidly. Kaul says she works for her own happiness and artistic satisfaction and does not worry about its financial aspect, or a scheduled targeted mission. “In the process, I hope to experience and seek delight, introspection, surprise, fear, sadness and the entire range of human emotions and hopefully take my audience on that rollercoaster ride as well,” she adds. Originally a Kashmiri, Kaul says since she was born and brought up in Delhi, she did not experience the turmoil, unrest and disturbances of the valley. “So my work has largely remained unaffected by these happenings. But for the artists who were in Kashmir and migrated in the 90s during turbulence have expressed the feeling of suffering pain and sorrow in their work,” she says. Currently, the artist is engaged with pen drawings and glazed ceramic sculptures. “Ceramic is a totally new medium for me to experiment and I am trying to grasp the nitty gritty of this new material and understand how to achieve desired colours through various glazing techniques,” she says. “I am working in figurative ceramic sculptures and have a collection of unfired work, which could not be fired because of the pandemic situation. Once I will have these works fired and glazed, I will think about a show.” Kaul intends continuing with this medium for at least next two years as she feels this media will consume a lot of time and energy because of the technicalities involved. “I hope to create something unique, novel and innovative,” says the artist. Here’s wishing her the best!

Posted on Leave a comment

Mural Of The Story

Thiruvananthapuram-based Simi Rajan, who creates enchanting works of art in attractive colours and amazing details, shares her art journey with N. Kalyani, and what goes into making her stunning works

You were teaching at a school. What were the subjects you taught? How was the experience?

started my teaching career at the Rai School in Delhi in the year 2000. I taught science for classes 6, 7 and 8, and biology for 9 and 10. I always tried to go beyond the textbook and to help my students understand the fundamentals of biology better through experiments and diagrams. One of my favourites teaching preferences was drawing diagrams across the blackboards and watching the kids interact. Through my teaching years, I explored different methods and activities to help students understand the subject better. This helped them think outside the box. My classes were always appreciated for creative and innovative thinking. I thoroughly enjoyed my teaching years and connecting with young minds. I’ve always believed that we have so much to learn from youngsters!

You moved from teaching to pursuing art. When did you make the move? And what prompted you to do so?

Teaching helped me earn some money without taking away attention from my growing daughters and made those years very memorable for me. Both my daughters are creative, being into sketching and painting. And they made me realize my deep interest in art. Once they left for higher studies, I was ready to give wings to my passion. In 2014, I gave up teaching, and my art journey began in Trivandrum. I started exploring different art styles to know which resonated with me.

You are into mural painting. Please tell us more about the art form.

Mural paintings are the oldest human art form, as cave paintings at numerous ancient human settlements suggest, and can be found all over the globe. The mural paintings I got attracted to are old traditional paintings depicting Hindu mythologies painted across temple walls and palaces in Kerala. They point to an abounding tradition of mural paintings mostly dating back to the period between the 9th and 12th centuries when the form of art enjoyed royal patronage. Sanskrit texts also discuss in detail the style and effectiveness of the five dominant colours in mural paintings: scarlet red, Prussian blue, sap green, yellow ochre and black.

What attracted you to mural art? And how did you train to be a mural painter?

I shifted to the beautiful state of Kerala after my marriage. Here I was introduced to this special traditional art that inspired me deeply. I was a regular visitor to Guruvayoor temple. and the murals of Guruvayoor and Padmanabha Swamy temples are fascinating. I started learning the depths of mural art at Guruvayur Mural Art Institute in 2915 under the guidance of K.U. Krishnakumar. Subsequently, I also got trained by Prince Thonnakal, near Trivandrum, who helped me add an x-factor to my work. Learning from different artists and at different places enabled me to get a holistic understanding of the art and find my own space in the world of mural art.

How do you execute the murals? What are the paints amenable to making murals? How do you create details in the murals?

I first draw the intended picture on canvas with an HB pencil, and then use acrylic paints. And long hair brushes are used for painting. In the Kerala style of mural painting, it is basically five colours that are used. If we want any other colour, we can mix 2 to 3 colours out of the 5 basic colours. Black ink is used for lining the painting after it is done. I feel that the detailing in a painting happens on its own as I get involved in the theme of the painting. The day I have to do a difficult part of a painting and contemplate how I will do it, I pray during my pooja time and seek blessings to paint in the best way, and surprisingly it happens. I am really thankful to God. While painting, I enjoy listening to spiritual music. In murals, at first, we always make the ornaments, then comes the apparel, after which comes the surroundings and, in the end, the face and the figure. Lastly, black lining is given for impact.

What other art forms do you engage in?

For me, art is a way to add color and fun to life. I like to explore different art forms, ranging from Madbubani folk art to fabric painting to modern art. I also like to express my creativity through gardening, dancing and even cooking!

Going back in time, when did your interest in art take root?

I was born in Patna, Bihar, and brought up in Ranchi, Jharkhand. I always participated in cultural programmes. I remember bunking classes to paint props for school events. That’s the only time bunking a class resulted in praises! In college, I was able to explore different painting styles. It was here that I was introduced to the world of art and design. My father still has the first painting I ever made displayed in his living room!

Coming back to your murals, which places are adorned by your works?

I have created a series of mural paintings for different spaces. These places include the Chitragupta School of Management at Patna, and the Bhopal museum. It takes time to create a mural painting. By the time it is over, there is a taker. I just completed a 15’x3’ Dashavatar (the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu) acrylic painting on canvas based on request. And I am currently creating a 15’x3’ mural painting based on Sundarkand (from the Ramayana). I hope this beautiful art form gets more recognition.

Posted on Leave a comment

Ancient Art in Modern Times

Bharti Dayal’s Madhubani paintings have abstract elements and themes that appeal to the new generation alongside figurative motifs with Radha-Krishna and other deities as focal protagonists

Born at Samastipur and growing up in the Darbhanga district of Bihar’s Mithila region, National Award-winning artist Bharti Dayal is among those who have helped transform the once dying Madhubani into its contemporary art form. She has played a significant role in the re-emergence and propagation of this art form and is credited with contemporising the art form through the use of modern media (acrylic and canvas); and for bringing Madhubani art recognition within the world of fine art..She has represented India at various global platforms and through fusion of ancient Madhubani and modern times, Dayal in her 40-year-long art journey has not only revived it, but ensured that it gets a significant recognition and distinct positioning among leading art forms of India. Dayal’s art has been a token of national pride, especially that her work has been displayed by various presidents and prime ministers all over the globe. While being an advocate of the Madhubani style of painting, she’s also been supporting and mentoring up-and-coming Madhubani artists to create unique works of art. Talking about the history and origin of Madhubani painting, Dayal says the art form traces its origin to “Ramayana” where it is believed that King Janaka of Mithila commissioned local artists to paint murals and decorate the town with this art form for the wedding of his daughter Sita. “Gradually, Madhubani art came to symbolise women’s empowerment, as the women began to paint pictures of gods and goddesses. Women have transmitted the beauty, love, care, environmental consciousness, traditions and faith incorporated in this art form for generations,” Dayal informs. The art started transforming in 1934 when there was an earthquake in the region and most of the walls crumbled. “It was William G. Archer, who was the British colonial officer of Madhubani district in the 1930s, while inspecting the damage noticed these paintings on the walls and photographed them,” she says, adding, “He wrote about them in an article and after a few decades, between 1966 and 1968 a drought crippled the agricultural economy of the region. Bhashkar Kulkarni, who was then the director of the Handicrafts Board, based in Mumbai, encouraged the women to replicate their mural paintings on paper and facilitated sales, as a source of income to ensure their survival.” Beginning from a young age, Dayal also learnt Madhubani painting from her mother and grandmother. A Master’s in Science, she continued her passion drawing alpana on the floor and sketching epic scenes on the walls to celebrate auspicious occasions. Using natural vegetable dyes and crushed rice paste on handmade paper, cotton and silk fabric and canvases, she continued to practice in her spare time and refined her skills. Her works are essentially an amalgamation of the ancient Madhubani art form and modern times, without deviating from the core features of the Mithila tradition. Marked for its rich colours and dense form, in Madhubani style, her art has a refreshing feel, given its assimilation of newer imagery with folk imprints and philosophical underpinnings. The focal protagonists in her works are Radha-Krishna and other deities worshiped in the region. “My paintings have abstract elements alongside figurative motifs.

They are a combination of tattoo motifs, lines, concentric circle motifs of flora and fauna, figures from the spirit world and elements from animistic traditions. Care is taken to encompass elements and themes that appeal to the new generation besides divine icons,” she tells. Dayal says the art form is known for its five distinctive styles: Bharni, Kachni, Tantrik, Gobar and Godna (tattooing). Each style was practiced by a particular social group although all styles retained a uniformity in their focus on the depiction of divinity, rituals, natural elements and daily life.

Talking about the significance of Madhubani, Dayal says the philosophy of this art form, which is a living tradition, is essentially based on the principle of dualism. She explains: “Opposites run parallel to each other: life and death, day and night, joy and sorrow, body and soul etc. They are featured in the imagery to represent a holistic universe. For example, the fish is an auspicious sign for growth and prosperity, the parrot signifies love and sexuality and the peacock suggests romance and devotion. There are also bamboo trees and lotus leave symbolising fertility and the continuation of human life.” Geometric patterns and sacred enclosures, within the composition, drawn in multiple lines are inspired by the tantric traditions of the region. “The elaborate kohbar, or paintings on the walls of the nuptial chamber during weddings, always comprised the moon, sun, tortoise, snake, lotus and bamboo trees as symbols of the female and male genitalia,” she explains further. “Navgraha or the nine planets – the sign of the cosmos, bestows love, prosperity and fertility on the newlyweds. Turquoise blue, which is mostly used in the paintings, symbolises the water and sky. Red signifies auspiciousness and also suggests aggression and passion. Green is associated with greed as well as nature and blue stands for peace.” Showing professionally since 1991, Dayal says to keep the art form alive, we must have a museum with proper documentation of the history of this art form to protect this heritage. “At the same time we need to train children to paint and also give them the opportunity to imbibe, appreciate and preserve this art form for the future generations,” she avers. Commercialisation has also been affecting this art form in a negative way. “Duplication and replication are rampant, which is bad for the art form,” says Dayal. “It is losing its glory, essence and originality. The most important aspect of this art form is its feminine expression, but with the changing scenario, that has been lost. We need to create and think of new and contemporary subjects to bring back the glory of this ancient art.” The artist, whose work has been exhibited in numerous shows across India and internationally and in documentary films made by French Television and Discovery Channel, says she sought to redress a deplorable practice that had seeped into the work of Madhubani painters. Dayal informs, “Most of them, scarcely educated, only replicated earlier works even if the original piece was stricken with egregious flaws. While remaining true to our traditional roots, I sought to induce an intellectual edge into my paintings, thus lending them a more contemporary look. Today, I have several associate Madhubani artists in Bihar with whom I work in unison to create unique works of art. No time frame can be given for the completion of a painting. It can be a whole day under the effect of inspiration, while others can linger on for months.”

Posted on Leave a comment

A Cut Above the Rest

Using nothing but a pencil and an x-acto knife, Delhi-based kirigami artist Vanshika Rathi turns plain pieces of paper into extraordinarily complex works of art TEXT: TEAM ART SOUL LIFE

“Having perfected her paper-cutting technique over a period spanning a few years, she is now widely known for her intricately detailed designs, which capture her skillful approach, steady hand, and unwavering patience.”

When you think of Japanese paper crafts, origami is likely the first art form to come to mind. If you’re familiar with this age-old practice, you know that a work of origami art is created by manipulating a single sheet of paper with nothing but a series of strategic folds. While this is the most well-known approach to the ancient art form, there are also adaptations. Kirigami, a variation of origami, offers a bit more creative freedom by allowing artists to cut, clip, and snip their paper creations. “Kirigami is the Japanese name for the art of cutting paper,” informs Delhibased Vanshika Rathi. “Originating in China, this art form has evolved uniquely all over the world to adapt to different cultural styles.” Rathi says it’s a traditional art often depicting folk tales and religious stories from across the world. “One traditional distinction most styles share in common is that the designs are cut from a single sheet of paper. Usually thin tissue-like papers and washi papers are used, which are cut with a small pair of scissors, although I prefer to use an x-acto knife,” she says.

Ever since she was a child, art was always just a hobby for her. “I’d spend most of my time at school doodling on the edges of my books. But I was a good student and it never really occurred to me to pursue art seriously,” she says, adding, “I studied economics at the University of Warwick, followed by a masters’ at the London School of Economics. Whilst at university, I came across some beautiful paper cuttings by Danish artist Karen Bit Vejle. I had never seen anything like it before, and I was so taken with the idea that I immediately went and bought myself some paper and tools, and I haven’t stopped doing it since.” Explaining the process, Rathi says she draws her work on a single, large sheet of paper and then carves it with an x-acto knife. “The key is to make sure while drawing that every single element is connected. Cutting the paper is a therapeutic process where I simply follow the drawing. Once that’s done, I flip it over so that the pencil lines do not show, so I always have to remember to draw a mirror image of whatever I have in mind,” she says. A self-taught artist, Rathi says ever since she started practicing kirigami, she has learnt mostly through trial and error. “While I didn’t learn this art from anyone specifically, I have taken a lot of advice from other artists, tried out several types of papers and knives, and over the years created a technique that is entirely my own. There are several paper artists around

the world and each time I contact anyone asking for advice, they are always ready to help and each time I find that I have learned something new,” she says. After completing her education, she had a corporate job for a while. During this time, she would get back home every evening and spend several hours working on small pieces for herself, exploring different tools, techniques and topics, and this was always the best part of her day.

“I would often post pictures of my work on Instagram and many were intrigued by it. It took about two years – and several inquiries from people who wanted to buy my works – for me to realise that this was worth quitting my job for, and I began doing this full time in 2017,” she says. For Rathi, her art started out as an extension of her doodles and it is inspired by everyday objects, travel and architecture. She loves adding whimsical, fairytale-like, and unexpected floral elements to her work. “I especially like to approach it with a bit of light-heartedness and humour. Paper cutting is a slow art, and a large piece typically takes two to three months to make,” she reveals. Rathi says paper art is typically seen as a traditional craft. “However, there are some incredible paper artists in India and people are slowly warming up to the idea of seeing paper as a contemporary art form. Through my works, I often reimagine everyday things, bringing beauty and a touch of whimsy into mundane everyday life,” she adds. Currently she’s working on a series that explores a physical depiction of the movement of time. “This is my most abstract theme yet so I’m excited to see how it turns out,” she says.