Praise for pigments

Praise for pigments
Did you know that UNESCO has announced natural dyes as one of the ‘intangible heritage’ properties in the cultural ecosystem? Neither did I, till I spoke to Ruby Jagrut.

She is one of the few artists with close to two decades of experience in painting with only natural dyes.

Ruby hails from a traditional Gujarati family that gave importance to a disciplined lifestyle. As a child, Ruby loved painting. However, the call of career saw her to a course in Mass Communications. “It got me an interesting job opportunity at Kanoria Centre for Arts in Gujarat; the workspace provided me the much-needed impetus to my dream of painting and trying different mediums.

There I kept meeting artists and had the opportunity to understand their work. During one such chance interaction, I came across a fascinating workshop on natural dyes by the very famous and eminent artist Toofan Rafai. This workshop attracted me towards the world of natural dyes. Under his tutelage, I practised the art of creating natural colours first and then creating my own art work. The love affair with natural dyes has been going strong. I had my first solo exhibition in 1999. Since then, it’s been only natural dyes and canvas for me,” reminisces Ruby.

Origin of colours

Curious to find out if natural colours are available easily, I ask Ruby if she sees this as a challenge, and her answer surprises me. “We see colours everywhere, but we do not question their origin, or maybe never explore the possibilities of creating something new. I find colours everywhere; a palette of vegetable dyes can be made from flowers, leaves, barks, roots... something as easily available in your kitchen as pomegranate seed and onion peel. One can look at spinach, harda, behada, kesu flower, coffee, tea and majith... It is not just the ingredient but rather the process in which a colour is developed that is of significance. There is a definitive technique to mix it, blend it and develop unique shades. One needs to understand the steps to develop colours.” And, of course, the properties of the ingredient... if it is alkaline or acidic.

To raise awareness about and popularise the usage of natural dyes on canvas, Ruby conducts workshops for artists, dyers, weavers, students and private design centres. She has been associated with various design schools across the country for more than half a decade now. “One of the art centres from South Korea also invited me to conduct workshops in various cities to increase awareness about natural dyes,” she adds.

She power

Ruby has also painted women characters from the Mahabharata as she turned to spirituality during her tough times. “My father’s sickness pushed me to seek comfort in the Bhagavad Gita. While everyone talks about its relevance, one only relates to it when it’s personal. It took me three-and-a-half years to read the 26 volumes in the epic. A total of 13 stories were formed and I painted them in a series called Pratidhwani,” says Ruby.

She also started Abir in 2016, a charity trust to support emerging artists. “Being an artist has helped me understand the problems of young artists. It’s difficult to have visibility in the art world for many. I saw that famous art galleries would only promote a set of artists, not all. While that can definitely be a good business model for a lot, it does not provide a fair chance to all artists.

Hence, I wanted to create a platform where artists are given an equal chance to showcase their talent,” says Ruby. With Abir growing organically since 2016, she says that it is heartening to receive support from across the country. “We will include mentorship programmes along with exhibition and competitions. We will also be more open to experimental art forms and support different art forms and mediums of expression,” she says. For Ruby, life is the biggest inspiration, and she says that the ebbs and tides of life provide her with fodder for creation. “My relationships with people and surroundings have quite a strong influence on my works,” she says.

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