Artists: Notes on Art Making

Kanwal Krishna’s career as a painter and graphic artist spans more than 50 years. He was born in 1910. He finished his studies at Calcutta Government School of Arts in 1939. A good bit of his life as a young artist he spent in a gypsy fashion - trekking in the Himalayas and Trans-Himalayan countries - Sikkim, Nepal, Tibet; climbed mountain peaks to a height of 20,000 ft. and above the painted numerous paintings of life and landscapes and monasteries in these remote regions. This rich and intense experience was further re-informed by travels in the North Western Regions of India - Ladakh, Kashmir and also Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia.

He lived in these regions as nature demanded and as the local people lived it - painting their life and landscapes with that special quality of play of light in those regions. This pre-occupation with light and its mystery got further accentuated when he spent a full winter in Northern Norway during the darkest period of the year. There he learnt what night can give and what darkness can contribute towards human enlightenment.

“My first contact”, he says, with the ‘Northern Lights’ beyond the frozen islands of Lofooten was a fantastic experience. Nobody could tell me what this light was and where it came from. Mystery however, is the greatest educator. All these mysterious phenomena of light, darkness and space, which Nature revealed to me during my travels, had engraved deep impressions in my sub-conscious mind. Perhaps this was the basis from which my experiments in graphics started. I have only tried to engrave and etch the lines of my thought and patterns of my feeling as vividly as they are engraved within me. The theme of Nature and its mysteries has been a constant obsession with me all my life.’

It has left its stamp on his face and figure too; the look of an eagle and the figure and bearings of a stocky man of the mountains.

Casting his eye over the panorama of his half century of paintings --- water colours, oils and graphics he says “I have been thinking of Sun, first of all, and the magic of light. The Sun shines differently in different regions and Light reveals itself in innumerable shades, colours and forms. But wherever I went and whatever I saw, to understand my own visions and spiritual realizations, my dictionary was always to be the ‘Himalayas’.

In the course of his reflections and meditations which went with his later graphic experiments, he noted down some of his ideas and thoughts which was made concrete in visual concepts and realizations. They provide an excellent clue to what his lifelong preoccupation with light and its mystery was meant to him. A few extracts are reproduced:

· “Light reveals the secret darkness….”

· “Shadows give form to light; otherwise Light is all blankness….Light is nothingness in the same sense as Darkness is nothingness without light.

· “…In Art Forms, Light creates shadows and not shadows create light…”

· “…Light reveals to us; Darkness makes us conscious…”

· “We can reach Light only through our shadow; otherwise the source of Light we can never trace. The realization of our own weakness is the true source of our new energy…”

· “..Light and Darkness both shine on humanity, (hand in hand...)”

· “Darkness, I feel, is the other side of Light -- the unseen one. Homage to Darkness is homage to ‘Light Unseen’….”

· “New art Forms are born and not created….”

· “…Light relaxes in the lap of Darkness...”

Kishori Kaul is a painter of the succeeding generation firmly anchored today in painting sunlight. The temperament, the approach and the techniques are quite different from those of Kanwal Krishna.

She was born in the Kashmir valley and as a sensitive talented child began to imbibe and paint the beauty of the varied seasonal moods and of the lovely valley quite early - at the age of 13. Her family heritage included painters (Narayan Muratgar) and musicians who had earned a name for themselves in their day.

Kishori later joined the Baroda College of Fine arts in 1958 and during her 4 years’ stay there produced a sizeable crop of paintings. This was followed by a post-graduate research study under Prof. N.S. Bendre. Technical competence and control of harmony and contrast of colours was no problem. She largely painted studies. These paintings sold well at numerous one- person shows and won her a number of prizes and awards.

From this stage she has moved towards a preoccupation with sunlight during the last few years. Part of the reason being her intense need for solace after the trauma of a family tragedy. She lost her husband. The need to re-charge her batteries with fresh life force meant drawing on all available resources that go with her lyrical temperament, conscious and sub-conscious - her childhood experience with nature, the beauty of Kashmir valley in different seasons, the warmth and richness of Kashmir shawls and colourful and delicate embroideries and wood inlay work -her early enthusiasm for French impressionists and their delight in painting light in all its different emanations.

The result was a fresh series of paintings all centred on Golden sunlight - felt an inner need and an uplifting experience - expressed in terms of golden and subtle touches of colours. Some of the titles of these paintings indicate her preoccupation:

· The sprinkling fragrance of dawn

· Summer silence

· Lilies in the sun

· Gift of nature

· Solitary flower in a sunlit pond

· Autumn spirit - Autumn sun

and so on.

Are these paintings ‘stream of consciousness’ kind of emanations or are they in imagination, clearly conceived images?

Kishori is quite firm in her view that every worthwhile painting has to be a clearly conceived image before you put the paint-loaded brush on the canvas. She places particular value on a work’s inner lyricism and uses a concise artistic vocabulary fitting her temperament, to paint evocative paintings in homage to and delight in the golden sunlight. She believes that the work of a true artist must have an individual style and must use an original artistic language to his or her realise her own inner experience and thought.

Kishori’s new paintings breathe a certain air of freshness and spontaneity. One could go even further and say that at their best they make you feel the resonance of the quality that the Taoists called ‘Chi-Yun’. Rendered in English it could be called spiritual vitality.


Published in Roopa Lekha in 1985
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