Kunal’s ode to the Himalayas

-Sharing a verbatim monologue of Kunal Batra- the artist, who puts his art into perspective for novices like me.

My childhood was heavily influenced by my father’s fascination for the outdoors. Besides the usual squiggles and scratches, my first serious attempts at drawing and painting came to life when I was bedridden for almost 7 months after a trekking accident, at a tender age of 12.

The initial drawings were passionately replicated from photographs of animals and landscapes, indicating my yearning to enjoy the vastness of our land.

Back in school (The Lawrence School, Sanawar) after this long break, my talent caught the art teacher’s eye. From then on there was no looking back, as I began discovering my innate ability to work dexterously with other mediums like clay, wood and paper (now also experimented with ceramics).

By the end of schooling in 1985, I had topped my class and won various trophies and certificates for art (by then had started conceptualizing my artworks through imagination).

The next logical step was to go to an art college after qualifying for some better known creative institutes of the country. Instead, I chose to study Philosophy from St. Stephen’s College thinking it would help in understanding the world better, but with a clear intention of returning to art sometime in the future.

With this in mind, I started a travel business which fortunately steered towards my second love, nature. The love for art did not diminish as through the years I visited various art museums around the world. Even took to photography in order to capture details as a hobby, which eventually led me to become became a part of NDTV charity exhibition for Ladakh, in 2010.

I suppose life would have it no other way, so five years ago I began realizing my dream of pursuing art, full-time. Was fortunate to find a fine teacher in Mohan Singh, who understood my seriousness for the subject. After learning under his guidance for a year, the next three years were spent in my studio; atleast 8-12 hours a day. And all this while I attended almost every art event in the city (New Delhi) – literally eating, sleeping and breathing art!

I learnt here that drawing is a skill. It calls for patience and diligence. But for me it was more about observation and less about drawing a straight line.

I delved deeper into the different schools and streams of art, and their history. It was revival of Indian art, post-Independence which for me was particularly captivating. Slowly began understanding the logic and balance of composition and the relevance of colour. My artistic sensibility was greatly affected by the writings and works of artists like Paul Klee and Wasily Kandinsky. There was a spiritual quality to the creation of a visual image and it required tapping into one’s own subconscious. While the writings of Klee, Kandinsky & Co. seemed very relate-able visually to the cerebral narrative, the works of the early impressionists and expressionists on the other hand were a pure visual delight. Each emitted joy and celebration of life without trying hard to stick to the details of realism and yet managing to evoke a distinct identity. It’s this area of art that really fascinates me!!

But with the introduction of camera, started a rapid movement of exploring new boundaries and a push for “something different”. I believe this new dimension (the ability to replicate reality) ushered in a high point of impressionism, like an evolution of some sort in the art world. Unfortunately, the need for a novel idea did not allow impressionism and expressionism to hold the world’s attention long enough for a movement, as geniuses like CezanneMatisse and Picasso were successful in drawing it towards their talent. With this our thoughts gained prominence over visual appeal, ushering in the present Post-Modernist phase where everything passes off as art.

I believe that anything can be art but everything is not! It is a very difficult position to define and defend. Any work of art must have some visual appeal and should connect with the viewer’s subconscious. For this one requires a basic understanding of the medium.

Raja Ravi Verma is the first artist that comes to my mind (from the revivalist period of Indian Art). His work though absolutely amazing in its representation of realism and technique, was a page from the great tradition of portraiture of England and Europe, and a continuation of the Company School (Indo-European style). Post-Independence, the Indian artists began exploring the place and Indian-ness for an art movement. That’s when The Bengal School and Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, moved towards forming an identity for Indian Art. It was then, that individual art (as opposed to Art guild) was born. Of this period Ram Kumar, Francis SouzaA.Ramachandran are my favourites.

I have been a great admirer of the simplicity of lines and imaginative use of colour in the works of Nicholas Roerich. Infact, my current series on the Himalayas, through which I traveled extensively over the last twenty years, has me  patronizing his colour theory.

My effort while drawing inspiration is always to find ‘that something special’ while maintaining uniqueness of Indian traditions, and synthesizing with various other aspects of western art.

Kunal Batra +91 9811125644

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