June 2002 Contents
Super Achievers & Success
at Every Alien Door'
Indu Gupta, new to the art world, gained almost instant recognition for her work. She has created some of the most striking Tanjore paintings - not in their traditional south Indian style but using distinctly north Indian forms. Her work of the North Indian Raas Lila done in Tanjore style challenges the customary Vindhyachal barrier by her fusion of the two art forms.
Born and brought-up in north India, Indu developed a fascination for the Tanjore temple paintings after her south India sojourn in 1990. Travelling with her husband across the southern part of the subcontinent, she found herself spellbound by these ageless temple paintings.
Indu had, so far, been painting in oil, acrylic and water colours. She was gripped with the urge to translate some of the Tanjore paintings into her north Indian mould. But, Tanjore paintings were mostly done in temples and revered as objects of worship. How did one transform these into pieces of art for connoisseurs?
Indu decided to learn the art form that was conventionally done in temples by expert artisans, demanding years of hard work and patience. Bit by bit, this form of art has been picked up by artists who have replaced the original masons, and put this art on canvas. . The art and artists however, were mostly confined to Southern India.
Complex Art Form
Indu was unsuccessful in her hunt for an accomplished Tanjore style art teacher. The art form was far too complex to be taught hurriedly. "My obligations with my family forced me to leave my pursuit of learning this art and return to Delhi," says Indu Gupta.
Her yearning to learn the art form was strong. And one day, six years later, when she saw an advertisement in the newspaper about Tanjore painting classes sponsored by FICCI women’s organisation, she got herself registered.
"I joined the classes just to get a feel for this art and never had the slightest inclination that it would become a lifetime passion," declared Indu Gupta.
When she started doing Tanjore paintings most forms were in the shape of Gods and Goddesses, slightly rounded with a distinctly Southern flavour. Art lovers in North India had a hard time connecting themselves to an art that was deeply rooted in religion.
" People living in the north thought that Tanjore paintings were meant only for worshipping and moreover could not relate to such an authentic and typically South Indian form of art," feels Indu Gupta.
That was when she decided to cross the frontiers and fuse styles. She was aware that it would take a long time for critics to accept her as a serious artist. But Indu Gupta persisted and today is the only artist in India to do Tanjore paintings in Northern style.
Indu started drawing her inspirations from the more North Indian forms in her works. The round-shaped Krishna became leaner. She experimented with portraits of Mughal kings and queens.
No other artist, prior to Indu, had dared to experiment with this very reverent art form. She began producing beautiful figures in Tanjore style with a strong North Indian accent.
"Personally even I was not very confident whether I would be able to accomplish such an unusual blend," confesses Indu. It took her years of relentless struggle to finally master her art. Her recent, and very first solo exhibition of Tanjore paintings, in Delhi received wide acclaim, laying tribute to her painstaking endeavour.
For Indu Gupta, this exhibition has been the fruit of years of hard labour, especially work that is done with 24-carat gold. "In Tanjore painting, the most difficult part is gold plating, where only 22-carat gold can be used," she says. From borders of dresses, to door and window edgings, and even small details like flower petals, gold plating is typical Tanjore style for adorning the canvas.
Tanjore art is a very demanding task. Each Tanjore painting requires days of hard work and labour. First the cloth is fixed over a ply board and coated with a layer of clay. An image is traced on the wet clay after which begins the real grind, when fine pieces of gold jewellery are to be embedded in the image. The painting part comes later, and is relatively easy in comparison.
"A typical Tanjore work of art can easily cost lakhs of rupees with one tenth of the money usually spent on gold plating. Which is why these paintings are so very costly," says Indu.
Original Tanjore paintings used glass, wood, silk and ivory as the base. Some of these are however, no longer made use of, due mostly to lack of time. Most artists depend only on glass and wood surfaces.
Having mastered the art, Indu feels that the impression of Tanjore paintings being one of the most difficult forms of painting is unfounded. "Tanjore paintings are no doubt very time consuming, but they are not at all difficult. In fact, once you get the feel of things, making a Tanjore painting is really easy," says Indu Gupta.
The challenge in adapting the Tanjore style is that, except for figures, no other form can be made as only the human form and its dresses can be decorated with gold ornamentation. Also because these paintings use mainly motifs of Gods and Goddesses with heavy gold plating in the ornaments, people tend to associate them with worship and religion.
But, with the entry of artists like Indu Gupta, Tanjore paintings have come out of the traditional spiritual mould that has found favour with art lovers. Her works stand out for their expertise as well as innovative thought and design.
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