Layers of meanings

Rohini Iyengar | Updated on November 24, 2020

Artist Nandini Bagla Chirimar

Artist Nandini Bagla Chirimar combines drawing and painting methods with printmaking techniques to create imprints that resonate with issues close to her heart and beyond

Nandini Bagla Chirimar’s art draws inspiration from personal experiences and social observations as well as from the vast Indian cultural treasure trove. Working with various kinds of media, her techniques range from simple pencil drawings to experimental printmaking techniques. Her works have found their way to several prestigious public and private collections, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She has been living, teaching and practising in the US for many years now.

‘Family Portrait’ by Nandini Bagla Chirimar   -  IMAGES COURTESY: NANDINI BAGLA CHIRIMAR


Excerpts from an interview:

How did you begin your journey into the art world?

Although I was born in Kanpur, it was Jaipur, where I grew up, that endowed a distinct aesthetic environment. Plus, my parents took keen interest in art and literature. All these further boosted my inclination toward drawing and painting right from childhood, which took its logical turn with my enrolment in the Delhi College of Art in 1985.

When and why did you move to the US?

At Delhi College of Art I had the opportunity to train under many inspiring artists. Dhiraj Choudhury (1936-2018), a well-known artist and professor, encouraged me to apply to Cornell University [New York] in the US. I got selected to continue my graduation in drawing and painting there, on a full scholarship, in 1987.

How did the shift from regular drawing and painting to unconventional printmaking techniques happen?

Following my BFA [bachelor of fine arts], I was awarded a residency at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture [in Madison, Maine] for about nine weeks in 1991. I completed my MFA in painting in 1993 with Grace Hartigan at the Hoffberger School of Painting, Maryland Institute College of Art. This whole period I was exploring various art media; however, a deep fascination for printmaking started when I learnt viscosity printing from Arun Bose (1934-2007), who was then teaching at the Lehman College of City University of New York. My urge to learn and experiment with this media was furthered in Japan, where I spent four years studying Japanese woodblock printing (moku hanga) with [contemporary print artist] Taika Kinoshita. Upon returning to New York, I continued to study printmaking with Vijay Kumar, a well-known printmaker. Even though I began to work on prints, drawing and painting continued to be an integral part of my works.

What makes your approach to art different?

Due to my training in various media and different drawing, painting methods as well as printmaking techniques, I wanted to find ways in which I could incorporate a combination of these in my art works. In Japan I came across kozo paper, which comes in varying degrees of translucency and, therefore, facilitates the application of several layers in an art work. So, I could use this paper in combination with various gluing and experimental printmaking techniques, and then work on it with pencil, paint etc, to create unique mixed-media pieces of art.

Apart from these, I have prepared my own handmade paper pulp relief pieces and other three-dimensional works, works on textiles with thread and embroidery.

Could you elaborate upon the thematic focus in your works?

Much like their physical appearance that is composed of several layers, my works convey layers of meanings. They relate to various aspects of me that stem from my experiences and, therefore, are often autobiographical. In this regard, I draw from my own daily life and thoughts. I explore things that become significant in our lives and how they begin to define our identity. Also, these subjective elements are used to touch upon larger phenomena including globalisation, relationships, death and time, as in our current busy lives. I draw inspiration from letters received, photographs, homes, maps, etc. Other works on paper showcase mundane, yet essential objects that surround interior living spaces ranging from garments in dressers, books on shelves etc.

Could you tell us about your major art exhibitions and achievements so far?

A major solo exhibition of my works, titled Unwritten Wills, was held at Twelve Gates Arts in Philadelphia in 2017. These art works were an emotional response to the passing of my father and my nanny in close succession, and what I felt as their unwritten will, something that is more significant and intense than a legal will, often conveyed through intellectual and emotive heirlooms that transform into relics. These works include installations of objects associated with their personalities, such as fabrics, books and other small things loaded with long reminiscences, apart from mixed-media works with prints, pencil drawings and paint.

Plans, Dreams and Destiny is the title for a series of work that was exhibited in 2018 at Gallery Espace, New Delhi, as part of a two-person show with another well-known artist, Paula Sengupta. Thematically, it is a continuation of the Unwritten Wills series with a specific focus on my childhood home in the city of Jaipur. I have worked with a whole range of images to include drawings of textiles, books, plants, floor plans and more. All of it relates to the imprints that this house has created on my persona and my aesthetic sensibility.

I was awarded the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant in 2016. Last year I participated in the Wave Hill Winter Workspace Program (Bronx, NY) in January-February and my works were featured at the India Art Fair 2019.

What are the future prospects?

I am currently working for a solo exhibition to be held in April 2021 at the Pulp Gallery, Holyoke, Massachusetts, US, as well as on other art projects. Also, I would continue to keep myself engaged with in-studio and online teaching of various experimental printmaking techniques.

Rohini Iyengar is an art historian based in New Jersey, US

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Published on November 24, 2020