Maturity of concept and expression in Fine Art is not an easily-achievable construct. Quite the opposite --- it is an infinitely difficult Sadhana, one that involves a lifetime of introspection, and a deliberate shedding-away of outworn beliefs. To demonstrate this, the current art season is blessed with a major Retrospective of one of India's leading painters, who works in her Gurgaon studio as well as in Delhi -- Shobha Broota, who completed her 70th year in January 2013. Celebrating five decades of this Abstractionist's contemplative and mystical visions on canvas and paper, a large collection of her artworks, covering every phase of her development, has been arranged at the India International Centre until 17 March. This is the largest body of artworks ever put together by Shobha Broota in a single space. In a current art-scenario that is too often ruled by facile fads and gimmicks, such a significant painterly Retrospective, so carefully put-together, provides viewers an authentic and rare opportunity to study the evolution of a major idiom.
This major artist has always been a reticent and gentle presence, never wasting too much time and energy in self-promotion or 'image-building'. It is within such reticence and discretion that we observe authenticity and genuine artistry. The presence of two senior thespians at the book-release on Shobha Broota—the art-theoretician Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, and her brother the noted poet Keshav Malik —underlined the impact of the soft-spoken, benign Shobha ji's lifetime of artistry.
This book on the artist—poetically titled Vesture Of Being, by Keshav Malik—contains works selected by Malik, with colour plates and finely-honed commentaries by the senior poet and Shobha Broota. The term Vestures refers to 'outer garb or clothing' --- in this case, perhaps the 'Cosmic garb of Being Itself '. The subtly-designed 124-page Art Book, released on the occasion by noted Indian art-scholar Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, reveals an aesthetic temperament that is drawn to 'editing' rather than 'elaboration', retaining only those essential images and thoughts that are vital. The Exhibition, well-documented in this discreet volume, presents 51 artworks by Shobha Broota, beginning with her early Figurative and experimental works from the artist's years at the Delhi College of Art; proceeding to nascent works of the 1970s to 1990s; and culminating in the largest body of her most evolved recent Tantric visualisations, painted over the Millennium.
The entire oeuvre is marked by elegance, dignity and an intense understanding of the ancient Indian Abstract idiom. Looming colour-fields concentrate intensely on specific tones of the mystic spectrum: from luminous grass-green to contemplative lapis-lazuli and transcendent saffron. Life's subtler undercurrents of grey, sepia and white are not left out. All these silent fields are held-together by the ripples of a centrifugal focal-point – a cosmic force.
The overwhelming feeling is of Silence and Minimalism. The artist weaves her Minimalist spell in various mediums, including thread, pencil, as well as paint – often literally 'weaving' her forms by hand, with actual skeins, and stretching them painstakingly onto the canvas-format.
Shobhaji began as an accomplished Realist artist, as her wonderful 'Self-Portrait' of 1968 reveals, painted in a classical oil on canvas-mode when she was 25. Smilingly, she describes this classical painting to me—that is skillfully wrought in sepia and green impasto—as "My own Mona Lisa". It unflinchingly portrays her brooding inner self, sans all sentimentalism, even at a very early stage in her development. From such extreme Realism, the artist has moved towards heightened Abstraction,
via a laboriously-disciplined route.
Some excerpts from the Book:
There is dignity in her compositions, for she is by nature considerate and courteous. There is speech, but it is to the point. Her work is primarily a communion of self with soul. ~ Keshav Malik
I try my best to shed all that is unnecessary and come to the minimum in expression. ~ Shobha Broota
Her rapport is with the tens and millions of galaxies that inhabit space-time. ~ Keshav Malik
Just a flicker can reveal mysteries. ~ Shobha Broota
I asked the artist a few questions in a personal interview:
SL: What is your feeling on having arrived at this point: on having achieved your own idiom ?
SB: It is the result of complete devotion and passion; one must devote all that one IS to one's work. There is no satisfaction in comparing oneself to others --- the only satisfaction in life lies in the awareness that one has given one's best efforts.
And, looking at all my work, I only know that my journey continues. Silence speaks much more than sound.
SL: Do you have any favourite 'emblematic' works that best sum-up your Cumulative vision ?
SB: I do not either 'prefer' or 'favour' any individual works: they are all equal in my eyes. From 1965 to 1980 to 1995, every moment bears its own revelation. The basis for all my work is Love. One must love deeply whatever one is doing.
SL: The format and size of your book is startlingly discreet; at 9" x 6", it is easily held in one's hand, as opposed to typically heavy, showy 'coffee-table' books. Also, its text is cryptic and concentrated, not verbose --- exactly like your Art. Is that why you chose this format ?
SB: Yes. That is exactly the reason. I wanted the reader's experience to be intimate. One must connect closely to the Art.
Also, I am a petite person, not a looming figure; and I wanted my book to be likewise – reflecting the real me, in a sense.