Silent monologues

Silent monologues

Silent monologues

My work is a journey in search of my own self," says senior artist Shobha Broota. "It is the experience of space, colour, expanse and movement through which I travel into this mystical world. It is geared towards a silent inner communication."

With her insatiable work ethic, the 74-year-old Delhi-based painter shows no sign of slowing down. "Rain or shine, I am at work every day - either painting in my studio or helping my students of all age groups in their creative journeys."

As one who began in the usual academic mode of figurative expression, Shobha allowed her art to transform and change forms organically. "I loved figuration till I reached a point of saturation. After two decades of continuous practice in the figurative mode, I arrived at a centralised, non-figurative element."

Shobha's images are characterised by seemingly simple colour bands and delicate designs made up of soft concentric circles, spirals, squares and triangles. They appear to be traversing through space, emanating light and movement, and conveying subtle feelings and emotions. Very often, the colours of her paintings are soft, and the expressions gentle, meditative and silent.

In many ways, her own poise, calm personality and dignified demeanour seem to get reflected in her works. Her 'minimal' work discourages intellectual interpretation, and instead invites the eye to contemplate on the form and experience the feeling.

Art & music

Shobha's journey into the world of art was not without hiccups. In the 1950s, still in her teens, she had to convince her parents that art was her choice of study. Having joined the arts college, she was lucky to come under the tutelage of such masters as Somnath Hore (1921-2006).

"That was a period of great experimentation. Every medium attracted me. Of course, there was no pressure of selling any work because the concept of 'art market' did not exist those days. The whole idea was to study, learn, experiment and exhibit wherever possible."

It was not just art that attracted Shobha's interest as a teenager. She was equally besotted with music, which she pursued passionately. Way back in 1964, she had completed her Masters in Indian Classical Music (vocal).   Unsurprisingly, many of her paintings reflect the sense of pulsating rhythm and lyrical silence, both essential ingredients of classical music. "My intrinsic relationship with music takes me deep into the world of resonance, as abstraction and meditation, and which all perhaps, then reflects in my work."

Critical appreciation

Shobha's first one-person exhibition of paintings, held in 1965, was followed by a flurry of solo and group shows in India as well as London, Amsterdam, Perth and the United States. These shows brought her both critical appreciation and popular acclaim.

Well-known art and literary critic Keshav Malik (1924-2014), who followed the artist's work for decades, was particularly impressed by Shobha's discipline, preparation, effort, contemplation, and musical sense. "There is dignity in Shobha's compositions for she is by nature considerate and courteous," he observed. "There is speech, but it is to the point. Her work is primary, a communion of self with soul… It does not allow reprieve; it is only designed for those mindful ones who are exacting, catholic in taste, in search of the greater meaning."  

On her part, Shobha always believed in approaching her canvas with openness and without any predetermined ideas. "All creation, I feel, is born from Nothingness and leads to Nothingness. I feel blessed being a participant in this eternal drama, of knowing Nothingness… The process of creation gives me joy, and insight, into the realm of eternity… I try my best to shed all that is unnecessary and come to the minimum in expression."

While one can easily sense a spiritual drive in her works, they do not provoke any religious or dogmatic feelings.  "Shobha's works, in whatever medium, do not claim any whiff of holiness," explains Malik.   "rather they are her effort to understand and work within the boundaries of an age-old convention, that of the basic harmony or purity of the underlying reality, as of inner reality."

The colourist

By all accounts, Shobha is a passionate colourist. Over the years, she has explored moods and feelings that get reflected through various colours. Her process of working is based on contemplation and intuition. "Sitting in silence before a blank canvas, I contemplate," she says. "Intuitively I start applying pigment layer by layer, merging one tone with the other, one colour with the other, playing with the structural formation, and suddenly I realise that there is nothing more to it. The work completes by itself."

Size and scale do not seem to matter much for Shobha while working. She recalls having made very large paintings in her younger days.

Over time, she absorbed smaller canvases but with the same meditative intensity. From the very beginning, she did not allow her works to be restricted to acrylic and oil paints, but employed a range of mediums including dry pastels on paper; knitted cloth, patterned wool, iron mesh, among others.  
"Art is a  physical  medium; pigment, canvas, wool… they are all a physical means to an end. I try to take these materials beyond their obvious attributes; they help me move closer and closer to spiritual abstraction. I try to be in that space of constant moving, searching; I hope this search never ends. I have no qualms of changing my forms, colours, mediums."

While being totally entrenched in her art practice, Shobha has always found time to teach. Her students come from different age groups and economic clusters. "I love teaching art; that is why I have done it since the mid-1960s. My approach to teaching is not to impose my ideas on the students but to allow and encourage independent thinking. I am happy that many of my wards have accepted this approach and have been able to develop their own styles of rendering."

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