A beautifully curated show, Verdant Memory, at Gallery Threshold not just commemorates Tunty Chauhan’s 20-year-old journey into the world of art, it also enlivens special memories of childhood that we spent in the lap of the green nature and wonderful flora and fauna…
While growing up in Delhi, artist V Ramesh expectantly waited for the family trips to his ancestral village in southern India. Those that came every two years but filled his impressionable mind with fond memories. Memories of the simple rural life, the happy banter of his near and dear ones and the sights, sounds and smells of all the surroundings.
“At weddings, the sweet smell of the champa flower perfumed the air. Young girls and women adorned their hairdos with delicate garlands of the white flower. It was one of prominent visuals I have carried back from those years,” says the artist, explaining the life-like painting of the pretty flowers wrapped in a banana leaf that hangs on one of the walls of Threshold Gallery. More such memories abound in ‘Verdant Memory’ a show that Tunty Chauhan, the gallery owner, has envisioned to pay a tribute to the beautiful journeys we all have had and how nature cast its wonderful spell during those sojourns.
Commemorating the gallery’s 20th year in the world of art and aesthetics, this show has brought together a batch of breath-taking works of 20 artists including G R Iranna, V Ramesh, Manisha Gera Baswani, Atul Dodiya, Gargi Raina, Jagannath Panda, Paramjit Singh, Anindita Bhattacharya, Mala Marwah, Manjunath Kamath, Nirmaljit Paintal, Arpita Singh, A Ramachandran and Seema Kohli, Says Tunty, “We are looking at beauty again, through the lens of nostalgia this time, through our memories based on our association with plants. This is also a satellite event to the upcoming India Art Fair.”
On a dank January day as I spent time talking to Tunty at her gallery, I kept reiterating how unique the exercise is. Because in those concise frames (it is a small format show featuring a handful of canvases created by these luminaries) it’s as if the artists have poured their heart out. I wish I had a magnifying glass to scrutinise every brushstroke and display of colour. For instance, Paramjit Singh, in the four works using oil pastels, have actually permeated into the expanse and depth of a forest. As you walk away from the works you almost feel the forest calling out to you through its layers. In the mixed media works of Seema Kohli (she has used colours, etching and zinc plates) one gets to witness a totally different side of Kohli, who has usually delved into large figurative paintings with myriad colours.
In the four works that Gargi Raina has created, she has drawn similarities between certain life stages (childhood, teens, youth and motherhood) and a flower. G R Iranna invokes memories of his childhood growing up in a farmer’s family through sketches with an ink pen and gold dust. It’s remarkable how intimate the works are and how beautifully they project the passion of the artist. Anindita Bhattacharya conjures up nostalgia through her paintings using gouache and natural pigments. “I grew up in a small town in Ajmer with trees all around. My parents were plant fanatics and it was a duty as a child to water about 400-500 plants everyday as I was growing up. A lot of trees I have painted exist in my parental home,” says Bhattacharya.
But some memories are tinged by pathos as well. Like when I mention his intricate water colour work of the Mehndi plant to V Ramesh, he muses with, “This plant used to hang before my balcony and just after I finished the painting, the civic officials hewed it down. It’s as if they were waiting for me to wrap up the work.” I also mention to him that this happens to be my favourite from the entire show not just because of the thought behind it but also because I cannot stop getting lost in the details of the flora that he has so immaculately captured with his brushstrokes.
Over a cup of steaming chai Tunty tells me about why she picked this unique subject for her 20th anniversary show, “Many of the artists in this show are known for their large works. But I guess it’s the passion and love for their art that they have unleashed in these works. Every piece is a stellar and in-depth document of their thoughts. Our memories of childhood are defined by not only smells and sounds but also frequently by flora and fauna. We recall the taste of green mangoes stolen from a neighbourhood garden, the scent of champa and raatkirani that speak of fragrant nights on open terraces, and how marigold and jasmine evoke the fervour of rituals.Verdant Memory attempts to capture in so many images this sense of nostalgia as well as an innocent delight and joy experienced with nature.”
Many of the images, I discover, have a strong resemblance to the miniature style of painting, executed flawlessly using a one-hair brush or squirrel hair brush. Like in Manisha Gera Baswani’s works with water colour and gouache on the Japanese Shikishi board, Manisha has deftly brought to life the childhood memories of smells and fragrances that are akin to leafing through old bedtime storybooks that comforted us to sleep. “Through these we are reminded of the warm embrace of our parents as we nestled in quilts. These keep alive in us our inner child allowing us the luxury to dip into their sweet nector and balm our souls from the humdrum of our current stressful lives,” says the artist.
The launch of Gallery Threshold in 1997 was Tunty’s natural progression of her passion and appreciation for the arts. The gallery, she says, has never been a transactional space but the kernel of a quiet, safe sanctum where one can linger, reflect and absorb visual ideas manifested through the alchemy of the creative process from the artists’ memories, emotions, experiences and imaginations. She had always watched her mother Nirmaljit Paintal paint as a hobby and interestingly some of her works have found space in Verdant Memory as well. “She isn’t a trained hand but the strokes, colours and balance are poised perfectly. Her works involving Botanicals happen to be one of my favourites at this show,” says the loving daughter.
Memories. Fragrances. What a redolent way to celebrate 20 years in the realm of art… That afternoon, braving the cold blast entering the gallery every time a visitor walked in, Tunty and I couldn’t help but smile at how the lush and radiant beauties around us spread the warmth with their delicate allure…
The show is on till the end of February at Gallery Threshold in Sarvodaya Enclave, New Delhi.