Mysticism to lotuses, what defines the art of Poushali Das and Sunayana Malhotra

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Mysticism to lotuses, what defines the art of Poushali Das and Sunayana Malhotra
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Saptarishi, painting by Poushali Das, showcased at Kalakriti
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Poushali Das’ art, like her, cannot be boxed in. Her showcase at Kalakriti art gallery, Hyderabad, is titled Leaving the Further Journey Towards Infinity, to the Imagination. When she speaks about growing up in Kolkata and learning art at Santiniketan followed by the fine-tuning of her skills in Vadodara and intermittently in Japan, it is intertwined with memories of experimenting with art and incorporating her observations on people, and life in general.

An artwork titled Saptarishi, where miniature-inspired forms of sages appear on a mystical-looking green and black-hued lustrous Muga silk surface, took her a year and a half to make. Her love for Nature and the forests is evident in the work that also stems from her interpretation of the traditional Japanese style of Nihonga art. 

Poushali began experimenting with tempera painting, first on paper and wood, and later Muga silk, which she admits is a tough surface. The several washes of tempera give her paintings a multilayered look. 

Artist Poushali Das

Artist Poushali Das
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

“I was always interested in textiles,” she mentions, while discussing why some of her paintings have brocade and other textile patterns. As a young bride, when she began to learn cooking, she also learnt to make glue from all-purpose flour, which in turn contributed to her experiments with tempera. In simple terms, tempera technique can be described as dry pigments being tempered with an adhesive or binding medium.

Elaborating on the title of the current series, the artist says her engagement with mysticism began from a song penned by Rabindranath Tagore, in which he describes himself as a traveller who has lost his way. “I spent several evenings at Santiniketan listening to Sufi and Baul singers and their music inspired me to pursue art and focus on creating a world that is mystical.” 

In this series, the mystic wanderers she portrays are on a journey without a beginning and an end. Human forms, birds and the Buddha journey along starlit skies, forests, mountains and plains in her paintings swathed in pastel hues on silks, sometimes accentuated with gold dust or gold leaf. 

Poushali’s art is a mix of traditional and contemporary aesthetics. Her inspiration from Indian miniatures finds representation through tiny birds and flowers. Her visits to Japan have contributed to her style. One of her paintings resembles a collection of visiting cards, depicting flora, fauna and people of Japan.

Lotuses and a Zen mode

A painting from Sunayana Malhotra’s The Sarovar Stories

A painting from Sunayana Malhotra’s The Sarovar Stories
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Art was her recourse during the pandemic. During the uncertain times, Delhi-based artist Sunayana Malhotra often retreated to her studio and painted while listening to chants and hymns. “I would spend 15 to 16 hours a day at my studio and go into a Zen-like mode,” she recalls. The manifestation of some of that work is The Sarovar Stories series. Lotuses in Nature — identical hues of pinks, whites, yellows and purples, are the mainstay of these paintings that have a calming effect on the viewers. 

The rich pigments and the artist’s use of the palette knife technique give the paintings a distinctive texture; the pop of colours that envelop the lotuses, almost like a filter, is the artist’s interpretation of the water body and the flowers at different times of the day. Pointing at a fuschia-tinted painting, the artist explains that she imagined the lotuses and the water thus reflecting the orange-red tint of the setting sun.

Sunayana Malhotra

Sunayana Malhotra
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

A few paintings have smaller forms of the Buddha and several birds. Sunayana says she felt a spiritual connection with the lotuses while working on the series. “The lotus grows from slush and yet is so pure. We need to take inspiration from them and live true to ourselves, despite the madness around us.”

Lotuses were a part of some of Sunayana’s earlier artworks that focussed on the female form. “My emphasis was on the innocence on the faces of the women and a few paintings featured lotuses. The transition, to let the lotuses be the centre of attention, happened easily.” She describes her painting process as spontaneous and her preference for a weathered look has often made her use palette knives.  

Growing up in a household of doctors and engineers, Sunayana says there was always room for art and culture. Her parents’ residence in Central Delhi also gave her a window into the National School of Drama, Mandi House and Triveni Kala Sangam among other centres of art and culture. “Sketching and painting came naturally to me,” says Sunayana, who has been a practising artist since 2005, having showcased her work in New Delhi, Switzerland, Antwerp, Vienna and Luxembourg. 

(Poushali Das and Sunayana Malhotra’s paintings are on view at Kalakriti, Hyderabad, till December 7)



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