Conversating paintings of Jyotika Sehgal

Art and artists are a living reminder of a nation’s cultural significance. Yet, in India, performing arts such as dance, music, theatre and even literature enjoy a much more respectable place in nation’s cultural psyche than visual arts, such as paintings and sculptures, says a well-known painter.

These latter arts face an uphill task to invoke a similar response from the public. And that too in a country whose aesthetic sense is nurtured on the ancient philosophy of Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram.

It is true, both modern art and art galleries are a colonial transplant, but then cricket and films are that too and attract astronomic number of masses as compared to the indigenous ventures, such as hockey, natya, or kho-kho.

In the backdrop of this struggle, aggravated recently by the Covid-19 shutdowns, Shridharani Gallery at Triveni Kala Sangam in New Delhi is holding a solo show of the works of Chandigarh-origin painter Jyotika Sehgal, who has also done solo and group shows in Oxford, Derby and Berlin, from April 5.

An alumni of Jamia Milia Islamia, as well as of Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) of Baroda, and having years long training in Britain while doing her Ph.D. there, national Akademi award winning painter, Jyotika has taught painting both at the Government College of Art in Chandigarh as well as at the College of Art in Delhi, where she is currently Professor and Head of the Painting Department.

The depth of her works and her teaching is such that the course she wrote more than 20 years ago for the foundation-level students, when she was in-charge of foundation level, is still being taught by her successors, and form the sole basis of the curriculum.

A Triumvirate of Arts

In Jyotika Sehgal, who told IANS, “Art is life in abundance, consequently an artist’s is an abundanced life”, a triumvirate of a teacher, a painter, and a writer, is flourishing without halt. Whereas teaching art is her fervent profession, painting and writing are her soulful passions.

The constant outpourings of her themes, what she calls “a kind of excavations of the self”, have been a continuing phenomenon.

The present show incorporates a three-tier assortment of Sehgal’s paintings, exhibiting older as well as newer works, in the medium of both oil and egg-tempera. The latter is a technique developed by the old Masters in Europe. Though it has been her preferred medium in the last two decades, but she has recently returned to oil paintings as well.

A Return to Oil Painting

The body of her work, intimately accommodating both her visual passion as well as, more recently, the lingual one, aims, as she says, “to prolong the moment where the spiritual and the material meet”.

The spirituality of a growing child, based upon her experiences with the emotional world of her growing daughter, and the way it enhances her child’s aesthetic sensibility, is the dominant theme of her oil paintings.

She says: “We all know, aesthetic pleasure tends to raise our mental power.” True, Jyotika’s paintings certainly do it.

Eyes as mirrors of souls

Her signature style contains her ultra-personal motifs depicting, what she calls, ‘the stilled life of moments’. In that, her visual vocabulary has been eyes as mirror of soul in which she has always tried to capture the constituting persona of her human subjects, thereby searching souls to depict the aura at work through the elements.

These stilled moments of her visual figures contain in them minutely elaborate movements of their impulsions as well as expulsions. As a poignant observer of these characteristic details that make up a person, she depicts them in her works almost like a novelistic storyteller.

Such that the writer in her ceases to envy the painter that she primarily is. Oh yes, she has in the meantime published two books as well.

Rendering of Jap ji Sahib into paintings

In her paintings, Jyotika has pursued a constant exploration into the patterns of human existence. In 2019, to mark the 550th birth anniversary of the first Sikh Guru, she mounted on her project of poetic rendering of the holy text of Jap ji Sahib of Sri Guru Nanak Dev.

In these egg-tempera paintings, she tries to lay open the spiritual, social, and psychological tenets of being human, as were visualized by the Guru, the founder of Sikhism.

To supplement these paintings, she also made her own translation into English of the text of the Jap ji Sahib, which she published as a book. As one would expect from the pen of a painter, her renderings are terse versatile, inventive, and laced with analytical clarity.

Ghalib’s ghazals as Paintings

The curiosity towards the relationship between the lingual and the visual arts seems to have emerged from her doctoral thesis, which is on the visual translation of poetic texts of Ghalib’s ghazals.

A set of 16 paintings based on four couplets each of four ghazals of Ghalib has been a much-admired venture. The first set of four has bagged Jyotika also the national award. These and other paintings of this venture are shown in this show for the first time.

After her thesis, the relationship between her pen and paint has been growing further. In the meantime, she has published two books closely connected with her painting, further transcribing her visual experiences.

The second book about Ghalib’s Ghazals and about the process of visual translation has been published in Bulgaria. It remains to be seen which of her side would influence in the future the other more.