Inspiring art from coal tar

Mixed media

It was 2006, when Simran KS Lamba saw coal tar from close proximity. Renovation at his house was in progress and drums of black viscous liquid was being heated for waterproofing the terrace. “The moment I saw the boiling tar, I was enamoured by it. This sticky, dense and malleable liquid looked immensely powerful,” Lamba tells. A filmmaker till then, he decided to experiment with the stubborn material and make it a permanent muse of his oeuvre.

Coal tar finding a linking among artists is unusual, but Lamba ensured he experimented, tried different techniques and found different ways through trial and error to disintegrate the tar and mix it with oil, metal, wood and allied media to create artwork and sculptures. The exhibition ‘Nouveau’ celebrates his triumphs and displays over 80 objects, covering a large body of his work. 

“It was a lot of struggle to make this medium behave the way I wanted it to be. I ended up burning my hands so many times,” he recollects.

Delhi-based Lamba tried all permutations and combinations in his studio at home where he understood how “temperature control” plays a pivotal role in this medium and how treating it with different chemicals can result in a new colour all together.

The abstract artwork, in which he has treated tar with various chemicals, brings out pigments of red, grey and brown. “This treatment helps in getting tonality,” he says, adding, he has designed various apparatus for these treatments.

Most of the works are abstracts, as Lamba confesses the “attempt was deliberate and didn’t want to give away everything to the viewer.” Sketches in tar resin, tar shaping into forms, figures and spaces and tar creating multitude of surfaces and 3-D compositions create a story in each canvas of art. The use of molten metal, metal sheet, copper dust, copper wires and plates, wax, wire, leather, ink metal rivets and nails, ropes, metal discs and polishing agents add to the narrative.The exhibition Nouveau is displayed at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre till August 17.

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