'Swapna Yaatra' with J.P.Singhal

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Published: 27th June 2008
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J.P.Singhal (b.1934) is one of the most respected artists in the Indian art world. He began painting at the tender age of 16 in a culture and society where painting was not considered a valid profession. Being greatly gifted, he persevered against all odds and at 18 he founded an art school in his village. As time passed, life brought him to the City of Dreams, Mumbai and hard work helped establish him as one of the most sought after artists of the time.

Despite his growing age and beginnings as a small town boy from rural India, Singhal instinctively understood what Contemporary art was all about and was drawn to it. Contemporary art should be capable of giving the viewer indescribable feelings that give them pleasure from the work. In Singhal's words, the hunger, the effort to see what you cannot see is at the base of his contemporary work.

However, contemporary art is not for everyone and Singhal honestly feels that in today's microwave world of ours, a lot of work turns out half-baked. In Indian mythology there is a story that Lord Shiva had a third eye that he rarely opened. When he did, he saw the world in a different way. In the same manner, Singhal feels that each artist is gifted with a third eye that allows him to see things that may be unfathomable even to himself but that give him the power to execute those impressions on a canvas and see a shape emerging as he moves his brush in an effort to capture that thought.

As an artist himself, he has always had a deep love of stone, engravings, etchings and textures. When the British ruled India, they commissioned artists to record their rule and their glories in terms of monuments, buildings, construction etc. through ink drawings. Singhal is surprised and amazed at these works and thinks of this as an art form in itself. During recent years, he has visited the Ajanta and Ellora Caves in Maharashtra, India often and has been deeply influenced by these 2000-year-old caves. In these caves, Hindu and Buddhist monks have painted and carved on the stone walls for decorative as well as record purposes. Most of these caves have not been maintained well and the passage of time is clearly marked on the beautiful art.

This influence of Ajanta and Ellora is manifested in his contemporary work where he uses old walls and textures in the background of all his works. He feels old walls, dirtied, ruined, broken down, scratched and weather-beaten form the fabric of time, the background of our life and each texture has a story to tell. What its been through and what its seen and where its coming from. These neglected, unseen, forgotten walls are a testament to the fact that change is the only constant and time stops for nobody. They are the survivors of time and the witnesses to our lives. Singhal honours them and just like in real life, he uses them as the backdrop to tell his contemporary stories.

He feels the caves themselves are living examples of the history of art. The paintings and sculptures are created in a realistic style. Neat and clean with appropriate colours and many fine details. They are not portraits but stories, with real characters, real forms and real tales to tell. Over the course of 2000 years, nobody has paid any attention to them and they have got chipped, broken, faded, deformed and these neglected realistic works have been converted to forms and blocks and textures. Singhal feels that these are just as beautiful if not more than what they were originally and if one takes any square inch and blows it up one gets modern, contemporary art.

Time and the elements and society have damaged and distorted the realism and decorativeness of the work but the essence is the same and what remains can now be termed contemporary art. Singhal feels this is in a way similar to art history where time and the elements and society have damaged and distorted realistic art until the present day contemporary version but the essence of expression is still the same. He finds beauty in this scattered, broken, incomplete work and wants to show it as it is for what it is without glossing over the rough edged bits. He feels the stability and durability is a beauty in itself that must be celebrated.

It is a commentary on today's world where nothing is ideal and utopic and untouched but even so, it is all beautiful. It is our world and the fabric of our time, the backdrop to our life and we must cherish it. Like the chunks and strokes that time has created on the damaged walls, the contemporary artist in him also uses strong, bold strokes to cut and break a regular form into different pieces. The trick is to break it into as many pieces and forms possible while maintaining the rhythm and flow of the work. Give realism a new face and new dimensions in this world of virtual reality and use the third eye to see what is not there to see but can be felt.

His painting "Swapna Yaatra" acrylic on canvas is one of the turning point for his career. It was one of his first works in a contemporary style. Literally translated it means 'Dream Journey' and he portrays life as a dream journey in it. He has used the wall texture for inspiration and from that fabric he has created a figure. The work is done in mostly oranges and reds, bright, vibrant colours. It is an image of a side profile of a tribal village woman. She is not well adorned which means that she is not rich but she is young. She has innocence and youth on her face. On her head she is wearing a turban and there are a few folk toys coming out of that turban. There is a musician doll, a mash and an animal statue. The strokes around her are strong, bold and chunky.

In this work, Singhal is portraying a young, girl who leads a harsh life. She has a lot of things in her life, a lot of issues and problems like a burden on her head. Yet, with that burden, she is carrying a basket of her emotions, feelings and dreams on her head. The toys symbolize her want for motherhood. It is a picture of a young woman yearning for a happy future. Wanting to be a woman. The strokes around her symbolize the turmoil, distractions, issues and obstacles that are strewn in her path and in fact all our paths as we maneuver through life. It is done in red and orange which are both festive and happy colours in Indian culture and this is to show that despite her hardships she has a happy dream for her life, something to look forward to. The contradiction between her soft face and the rough wall is in fact a depiction of life and the constant pitting of dreams versus reality.

This is one of J.P.Singhal's most important and beautiful contemporary works.


Noopur Singhal is a multi-talented, multi-faceted individual, very well accomplished in the fields of Professional Photography, Management and the Arts.

Visit her website at http://www.noopursinghal.com or contact her at noopur@noopursinghal.com

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