A year after India’s COVID-19 lockdowns, these artists chat about cancelled art shows, new perspectives and evolved techniques
Emerge, evolve and thrive have been the significant words from the last year’s pandemic. The art world too is learning to adapt and survive, creating a narrative based on personal and collective memories. Four artists explain how their practice and ideals have been shaped by the pandemic.Togetherness in crisis
In the beginning, Hyderabad-based Deepa Nath treated the first lockdown of 2020 as a break. “There were no obligations to attend events or visit galleries. I was patiently attending to every piece of my work, adding more details and taking more time to finish paintings,” she recollects. When she began to depict migrants and their travails on canvas, the experience became overwhelming. “I was at peace at home but we were also watching displaced families, the images of men, women, children, livestock and pets and listening to their harrowing stories. It was hard not to react,” she shares.The artist withdrew from the image of a migrant walking home and introduced new elements in every canvas. Her imagery titled Collective Conscience in acrylics is a visual reminder of that phase. However, her narrative, done in vibrant colours, focusses on the unity displayed during a crisis. “The ‘protection’ displayed by a family walking back, in taking care of their belongings, children and their pets. Humanity stands together to face the challenge. The migrants’ issue is universal.”Deepa calls it “Catharsis art’; painting is a journey in itself with all the ups and downs, like in life.” With 15 works, big and small, she continues to create more in the series. Ethereal imagery
“Life is an illusion. You don’t know what happens next,” says Kolkata-based artist Avijit Dutta. When the artist tested positive for Coronavirus in June 2020, it was a time to pause and reflect. “I was always busy travelling and was suddenly stuck at home and realised that it is not easy to stay with the family 24×7,” he shares honestly.
His fantasy painting showcases a deer in an abandoned house searching for something. The artist also used the lockdown time to explore new dimensions in ethereal art. He has been working on a monochromatic palette for 20 years but has experimented with pink and gold colours. “I realised life is romantic and beautiful. I have never experienced this feeling of contentment.” The other images in series portray female form with different expressions. “Indians are conservative and do not like to express bold emotions,” he adds.The artist is now preparing a new series called ‘White on White’ “The idea is to have a huge exhibition space with minimal art. It will be a work in white colour on a white canvas and will be displayed in a white room with white ceiling and white floor.” Outpouring of emotions
The one thing that struck Kolkata-based artist Pratap Chandra Chakraborty during the pandemic was fear. “With masks, social distancing and now vaccination, we can somehow tackle the novel Coronavirus, but how does one deal with the anxiety and fear that this pandemic has created,” he wonders, adding, “Now with cases rising, we are again scared of another lockdown.”The contemporary artist is known to blend the past and present in his art and often paints vintage elements like a sewing machine, charcoal iron or a gramophone record. “The lockdown showed us that we humans are also machines created by Nature and regardless of what happens, Nature doesn’t stop. Similarly, life goes on,” he says.Over the past year, the artist found time to reflect on evolution, how the “world was created without any plan”, he has channelised those emotions in his new series titled Lava. “The erupting emotions in my mind were like lava flow during a volcanic eruption; I am trying to imprint those emotions on canvas. The series is influenced by life experiences that began during the pandemic but is relevant for the future,” he says. Pratap is using oil on canvas for the series because the layers on an acrylic dry fast but oil on canvas though slow, is a steady process.Portrait mode
Artist Sujith SN was disappointed when his solo show in Delhi had to stop during the 2020 lockdown. “It was not anybody’s mistake but we all had to be at home and no place in the world seemed safe,” says the Mumbai-based artist. His impression of watching the city that never sleeps from his balcony was scary. “The scale of humanity shook me; the first thing that strikes anyone in Mumbai is teeming humanity and suddenly the roads were empty,” he recallsHe began to capture different emotions with watercolour portraits. The 6×8 small bust canvases were a spontaneous reaction to the disconnect people were experiencing.
“One has a tendency to meet and talk to people but at the same time one was also scared and didn’t want to meet anyone,” he shares. Describing himself as a ‘slow artist’, Sujith says, “This pandemic showed us how fragile and vulnerable we are and reminded us of our mortality.”Sujith who created more than 40 small portraits finds joy in portrait making. In many, the figures have a powerful gaze. “It brings out the personality and makes us want to meet the person,” he says. Sujith will continue with his portraits before moving on to landscapes for a show that got postponed to December this year.