I find neoclassical architecture fascinating. I remember being entranced by the squares in Madrid, particularly the Fountain of Cibeles. The attention to detail and the representation of profound grace and confidence as the goddess of fertility rides the chariot; even the relatively new age statue of a man carrying a donkey in Gouda, The Netherlands (Jack Ass by Gijs Assmann), for its powerful imagery of the inverted world we all live in; a painting of The Clothed Maja by Goya at Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid; frescoes in the Royal Palace of Spain. Some art is timeless.
Most of us admire creativity, isn’t it? I remember being told that we can all benefit by using our imagination. Expressions of the imagination have, in fact, preceded major inventions and scientific developments. Leonardo da Vinci came up with the concept of a flying machine much before the Wright Brothers did.
Art has a calming effect, no matter what medium one chooses. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just dabbling helps, I was told by my grandmother.
She was an artist in her own right, deftly recycling thin sheets of plastic bags into colourful mats using her crochet needles. There were yarns of wool of different colours in her closet that made their magical presence felt in winter and she knitted into scarves, sweaters and caps for us.
For her, art was a refuge of sorts. Colours, threads, yarn put a smile on her face. I don’t remember her mentioning any favoured artists. I am not even sure if she knew any. Her designs were her own, or perhaps inspired by paintings seen in temples and holy scriptures.
She introduced me to colours and nudged me to explore different media and develop an interest in art. On my 10th birthday, she lovingly bequeathed her trove of oil paints, brushes and a mid-sized canvas to me, suggesting that I make good use of it that summer. I made a scenery, nothing fancy, but I used every paint and tried all the brushstrokes I knew. It was duly framed and put above her bed.
Long after we lost her to a brain tumour, I discovered an unfinished aluminium painting in her room. She was trying to make one for my room, a vertical gold coloured aluminium plate embossed with flowering vines, four petals each. She was painting it with black ink. On the sheet, strokes moved from the centre to the edges. I wanted to complete it. That’s when I became more absorbed with art. It was hard work. Instead of just learning to complete her unfinished magnum opus, I embarked on a fresh project.
I’m no MF Husain or Jacques-Louis David). My painting was of two horses flanked by trees with the sun in the background. It seemed like a lovely design, but the intricacies were too challenging. For days, I laboured with a tool that looked like a pizza cutter with grooves to get the right impressions on the trunk of the tree. It took hours before I learnt to apply appropriate pressure on the wooden stick, which was used to create embossed patterns on the horses. After a month of working on it, not only did I finish my first painting, but my grandma’s unfinished work, too. It has a prime spot in our home in Delhi.
The experience was truly satisfying and joyful.
I did not, however, prioritise art above everything else, didn’t consider art school, did not even flirt with the idea of making it a full-time profession. But even so, it became a part of my life.
Since then, I have started seeing works of art in a different light. They have inspired me to toy with various media: fabric painting, block painting, pottery making.
After moving to Dubai, my experiments with art have flourished and taken on a new meaning. Instead of canvas paintings, I experiment with bento lunch boxes for my son. It’s almost meditative to transform everyday foods into some of his favourite characters and watch him polish them off. We also paint together and his hand and foot impressions are currently the most coveted pieces of art in my house.
I’m not sure if these spells with colours and imagery will pique his interest or give wings to his imagination, but it will certainly help him relax and inculcate a deeper appreciation in art.