Pictorial mythology

Pictorial mythology

Pictorial mythology

Artist A S Chitrak converses with Preeti Verma Lal, sharing his experiences as a painter who recreates myths on canvases with a unique colour palette.

On the way to artist A S Chitrak’s studio in Gurgaon, Haryana, the traffic was crawling, the honks deafening, the crowd hurrying in the mid-afternoon melee.

My mind, however, was pulsating with deities. Of mighty gods from the Hindu mythology.

Rudra Shiva. Shiva Parvati. Devi. Krishna.

The whirling dervishes of Mevlana Sufis in white robes and conical hats. The Sikh gurus with piety in their mien.

As the car swerved bends and veered off lanes, my eye caught the purple of petunias, the pink of the phlox and the black dog that lazed at the Chitrak gate.

‘Beware of dogs’ — a sign on the iron gate warned. But those black dogs looked benevolent. Not Chitrak’s dogs.

I walk into Chitrak’s house. He is at the door. Off-white trousers, olive-green ribbed sweater.

A pair of spectacles and brown Birkenstock.

The lilt of Sanjeev Abhyankar singing Raga Bhagyashree lingers in the background.

If I hadn’t known he were a painter, the artist could have passed off as a genteel neighbour who laughs loudly and narrates stories.

He does narrate fascinating stories.

That I learnt soon.

First, I am struck by the sparseness of his space. A low red table, sofa, white curtains.

As if to trounce the minimalism of lived space, there’s the magnitude of colours within canvases framed in gold.

Ochre, orange, yellow, red, brown, and cobalt blue.

Dainty oil strokes melding into images of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh Guru.

Large canvases that Chitrak has painted for his upcoming MeraGobind exhibition in New Delhi.

I am not surprised by the piety overload.

This is not the first time Chitrak has picked a god for his collection theme.

He did a Hindu mythology series in 1996, Devi in 1998, Rudra Shiva and Krishna in 2002 , Laxmi Ganesha in 2004, among countless others.

Chitrak denies he is in the mould of a typical ‘religious’ painter. Mythology fascinates him.

As he puts it, “My lifelong interest in mythology has given me energy to recreate myths and legends in a pictorial form. I plan to continue to paint mythology for a long time to come, as I consider it as an infinite subject and one that is very close to my heart.”

Inspired by falcon

MeraGobind began, incidentally, decades ago. In 1979, he illustrated a comic series for Dus Guru Sahebaan.

That project led to curiosity about Sikhism and its philosophy. Not as a religion, but as a belief.

Thereon, the sound of Gurbaani kirtan wafted around him; he picked up every book about Sikhism.

One day, he noticed a falcon.

It was an ordinary evening, he was sipping tea on the terrace of his studio and his eyes fell on the falcon sitting on the water tank.

For the next seven days, the falcon returned. Ritually. Chitrak took the bird’s regularity as signal — the falcon is a symbol of Guru Gobind Singh.

That moment was ultimate motivation — for the next five years, Chitrak soaked himself into MeraGobind.

Form of self-expression

Is art a means to find god?

I ask Chitrak, who studied commercial art in Sir J J School of Art and worked long years in advertising firms.

“Art is not only the best medium of self-expression, but also the answer to one’s inner seeking — which speaks beyond religion and rituals.

Indian mythology has a deep philosophical meaning, and it goes beyond blindly followed traditions and grandmothers’ tales,” Chitrak confirms.

For Chitrak, art began with traditions; in a traditional home in the Karwar district of Karnataka, where the family had acres of land for a living and art for love.

His uncle Venkatgiri Chitrak was a famous painter, carver and sculptor. “An all-rounder,” Chitrak remembers his childhood and the moments he spent in the village temple playing with colours.

Art ran in his blood.

He knew he wanted to become an artist. “I did not plan to study art or become an artist, but I knew I’d become one.”

Even getting into J J was ‘accidental’, as he puts it. The best lesson he picked there was ‘proportion’ and a pretty batchmate named Pushpa, who later became his wife.

Chitrak’s living room is iridescent with the yellows and oranges of his canvas.

“Your favourite colours?” I ask knowingly. “No, blue. Cobalt blue. There’s one behind you.” I turn around.

A huge canvas with horses shimmering in the night with a large moon hanging in the corner.

In his ‘Whirling Dervishes’ series, blues/purples are in harmonious gradients. I see no black on his canvas. Very little white.

“Why?” I throw another question. “Black and white are not colours,” Chitrak almost blotches the palette.

“Black and white are pigments; they are not colours,” Chitrak begins with a scientific ruse; his thought trailing to the use of natural colours — how his uncle dug mud from the well to get the earthy colours, and how cow calves were only fed mango and their urine used to acquire the hue of gold.

I walk into his studio.

It is littered with paint tubes and numerous brushes. He rarely wears an apron at work; he does not have a favourite time of the day to paint (he avoids painting at night); the shelves are lined with books on religion, art, textiles, craft.

No fiction.

“In my entire life, Devdas is the only novel I have read. I do not like fiction,” Chitrak picks a brush to paint the yellow of the guru’s robes.

Abhyankar Raga Bhagyashree is still playing in the background. Right now, Chitrak is swathed in another colour.

That of Guru Gobind Singhji.

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