Secret garden of memories
A visual idea rises from the liminal zone of the conscious mind where memory, imagination, experience and emotion are constantly in an inchoate churn. The nucleus of the idea relentlessly drives the artist to give it shape. Professor K. G. Subramanyan had once stated in an interview, “An artist has a world within himself he cannot easily step out of. It is built with the experiences of his growth years and their offshoots. All the rest has to come to terms with this, it intercepts what you see, it gives a twist to what you do.” Human interaction with nature from the earliest years of an individual’ life becomes the most significant driver in the creation of this interior world.
A. Ramachandran had once written how his boyhood memories of growing up in the lap of nature among the green rice fields and lush lotus ponds in Kerala shaped his artistic vision and imagination. It is not surprising therefore that so many artists have their individual way of expressing their images of natural forms and landscapes.
Verdant Memory, curated by Tunty Chauhan, showcases watercolours, pastels and drawings by twenty artists, who have experimented with diverse aspects of the vegetal world. Equally arresting are the variations in language and mood of the works mostly representational and abstract.
Representations of nature have had a long history in Indian art from the murals of Ajanta and other caves to the Mughal and other schools of miniatures. During the early colonial period, botanical studies became an important genre. In the pre-Independence decades from the late 1920s onwards the Santiniketan masters – Rabindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Benode Behari Mukherjee and Ramkinkar Baij – brought a new energy to the representation of nature.
While patrons played a considerable role in the production of art in the ancient, medieval and early modern times, in the art practices of the 20th century both pre- and post- Independence, the images of nature became imbued with a personal vision as well as psychological expression. The landscapes of Tagore are a case in point.
Most of the artists on view here belong to the same lineage. The range of forms, moods, language is wonderfully varied. The mystical, meditative works of Paramjit Singh and Chameli Ramachandrran contrast startlingly with the playful curiosity in Ramachandran’s coloured drawings where he has painted himself in as an insect examining alien flowers like daffodils and hyacinths. Atul Dodiya’s watercolours evoke a sense of melancholy contrasted by the nostalgia for the village landscape in V. Ramesh’s images. The spontaneous excitement felt in encounter with colour and form seen in Mala Marwah’s work is set off by the stylised renderings by Manisha Gera Baswani done with gold paint on Japanese Shikishi paper. Gargi Raina’s vivid, hallucinogenic paintings of exotic flowers are countered by the sensitive texturisation of unusual fruits and flowers done by Sebastian Verghese. There is a certain lyricism in the works of Anindita Bhattacharya, Poushali Das and Shantiswaroopini Roy.
Strong texturisation is also observed in the abstract images of Neha Lavingia and of Priya Ravish Mehra. Mehra’s images evoke not only the tensile strength of a coarsely woven fabric but also the rugged durability of the source material. The animal forms seen in the works of Jagannath Panda and Seema Kohli evoke a different mood.
But, not all the creative impulses are directly generated by memories of nature. Memories of architectural forms and built habitat, whose concepts are rooted in forms from nature, may also inspire powerful images. In an exquisite small watercolour called Monk Praying Arpita Singh shows the kneeling figure of a Buddhist monk praying in the midst of a scene of devastation of a fallen, arched door and shards of green glass. Singh’s other watercolour reflects the interface between man and nature in the rendering of a flowering shrub and the seated figure of a man.