Concerned for environment

by Shilpa Raina
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At a time when forest fires and uncontrolled felling is fast leading to the depletion of trees in our country, an art show by Delhi-based artist Renuka Varma brings to notice the pertinent issue of environmental degradation. It is her passion for the subject that has led to this debut solo show at the age of 63. As she says, “It’s never too late and one is never too old to talk about what one feels strongly about.”
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Four years ago, she lost all her paintings to water-logging and it took her nearly three years, after that distressing experience, to pick up the paint and brush again. Renuka, a self-taught artist, is now readying to exhibit paintings done over the last year and half in her debut solo show in the capital. Titled Shakhein: Another Tree, Another Sky, the show has been curated by Dr Alka Pande and depicts a refreshing perspective on nature and environment, especially trees and is mounted at Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, till March 6.
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Renuka’s paintings not only reflect her passion as an artist but also a deep concern for the fast depleting forest cover in our country. Naturally so, as she spent her childhood in the lush green forests of Mussoorie where every summer and winter holiday meant endless hours spent amidst picturesque landscapes.
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“I grew up in the foothills of the Himalayas,” she says.  “The mountains were lush green, there was ample snow in winter, and the valleys were full of flowers in summer. I spent most of my spare time sitting outdoors, watching the changing moods of the forest, and listening to the sounds of nature.  I often go to Mussoorie even now and I’m pained to see how the landscape has changed. These forests have almost disappeared as the hills have been vandalized by all of us.”
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“I still live in those forests, and relive those monsoon sunsets, the green hills turning pink, purple and gold. In my mind, I touch again those mountain slopes, sway again with the trees, and walk amidst the lush undergrowth of the forest.  I have tried to paint some of these memories that refuse to leave the recesses of my mind. The forests are disappearing and this is true for the entire country. Through my work, I want to not only revisit my childhood but also bring back focus on why environment and its protection are important,” she adds.
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Renuka is a law graduate from Delhi University and after getting married to Pavan K. Varma, whose foreign postings as an Indian Foreign Service diplomat took her to various countries, she continued to paint what inspired her.
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As Dr Alka Pande, curator of the show, puts it succinctly, “Nature has been a recurring leitmotif in art and literature from the ancient Indian tradition when the Kalpavriksha or wish fulfilling tree came out of the Samundramanthan/churning of the ocean. Thus, through her works, emerges a novel approach to an age old visual language that goes back to the earliest examples of Roman frescoes and the rich murals at Ajanta and Ellora in India. To this she is adding a new dimension with her mastery for portraying movement through her brushstrokes, demonstrating an astonishing eye for dynamism. Amidst cottony clouds and chirping birds, trees in different stages of movement are depicted with vigour and skill.”
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Speaking of Shakhein, Renuka reveals that she has painted trees in her more recent works while also painting majestic mountains and flower-laden fields.  Interestingly, she uses a bottle and nozzle as her instrument to create a flowing, swaying movement of the trees, while brush and knife also come handy when creating the textural effect on her canvases. Her colour palette ranges from the bright red of a work titled ‘Poppies’ and tangerine yellow of ‘Genda Phool (the largest work in the show at 10 feet by 6.5 feet) to misty whites of Himalayan ranges and verdant green of the forest cover.

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