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Earthly delights

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on March 01, 2019 Published on March 01, 2019

“They’re YOUR friends,” Bins says to me. “You’ve GOT to go.” He’s talking about an art show to which I’ve been invited. It looks wonderful and I have no doubt that I would enjoy going because the three artists were all friends from the ’90s. We were all freelancers with the children’s magazine called Target, edited by the incomparable Rosalind Wilson.

“But it’s at six o’clock,” I whine. “I don’t want to be out on the roads at that time.” Even though I don’t drive, sitting in the back seat in rush-hour traffic is, in my opinion, like hitching a ride on the saddle of a mounted warrior, through a battlefield. Terrifying. “Scaredy-cat!” roars Bins. “Go at once!”

So of course, I do. The show is on at Delhi’s India International Centre, at the Kamaladevi Complex. And it is wonderful. The artists are Suddhasattwa Basu, Sujata Singh and Mala Marwah, presenting drawings, watercolours and paintings. The title for the show is Terrain. All the work is connected to the Earth, plants and creatures, but each artist has chosen a slightly different point of view.

While Suddha is an acknowledged master of watercolour, Mala and Sujata have matched the pure beauty of his artwork with superb line-work and intriguing mixed-media pieces respectively. Mala’s trees and plants sing with life, swaying exuberantly as if caught in a current of fresh, fragrant air. Hundreds of tiny leaves are picked out with an embroiderer’s precision against the creamy white of her paper. Her branches snap with energy and delight. She paints with a poet’s brush, dipped in an ink-well full of sweet memories.

Sujata’s work is rich with layers, suggesting stories, thoughts and hidden messages. She is an accomplished and inventive illustrator whose work I know well from our days at the Target office, in Connaught Place. In these paintings, I remember her fondness for design, her interest in history and her exposure to many different cultures manifested through collage and texture. And her humour too: That dimple of laughter caught in the eye of a fish, the dangling keys, the wooden chair, the locked door.

Suddha’s work is formally, exquisitely beautiful. There is no other word for it. It was always so, even when we were meeting deadlines together under Rosalind’s critical eye, struggling to bring life to a page that would otherwise have been dense with text. But the addition of 20 years since those days has gilded his abilities. He paints today with abandonment: A thick bank of cheeky nasturtiums, a chrysanthemum tossing up its head of writhing petals like a rock star, gloriously blue lotus leaves and pink lotuses posing alongside a shy little kingfisher. There are no longer any deadlines, no narrow page-margins or inept colour-separations at the press. He paints what his heart desires, soaring like a bird across a limitless canvas.

The show is on till the March 8, 11 am to 7 pm, through Saturday, Sunday and holidays.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

 

Published on March 01, 2019
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