In a recently held first solo exhibition of traditional Mysore paintings at Chitrakala Parishath, artist and creator Shobana Udayashankar showcased her entire collection of paintings, a symbolism-rich, intricate Mysuru art form that needs more support and revival to sustain itself. Shobana’s mission is to revive interest and passion in the Mysuru style of painting by making it more accessible and relevant to contemporary and next-gen audiences, without compromising on its heritage and integrity.
This Mysuru art form originated in and around the Mysuru town, and was tremendously nurtured by its rulers. The distinct style evolved from the Vijayanagara Empire is known for its mythological content, elegance and attention to detail. Another off-shoot of the Vijayanagara Empire is the famous Tanjore painting. There isn’t enough understanding about the differences between the two.
Mysore paintings are also known for gesso work — usually a paste of white lead powder, gambose and glue — known for depicting intricate design like clothes, jewelry, and architectue. Gesso work here means a much thinner material — a thin gold foil.
One of the most unique aspects in Shobana’s paintings is the element of external influences. While she specialises in the Mysore Traditional School of Art, her artwork has cultural depictions from around the world including Asia and Europe, rendering it in a unique pattern.
It starts with the preparation of hardboard, initial sketching, then there’s gesso work for embossing, the pasting of the fragile gold leaf, and ends in painting itself. Each painting takes months, and some have even taken years, to reach perfection.
Shobana has been perfecting the art for over 20 years, and continues to be passionate about it. “There is so much to learn with each new painting, each element of mythology takes months for me to understand. Rendering it to my satisfaction is a journey in itself,” she says. She has undergone rigorous training under J Dunduraja, as well as the renowned Mysore Palace Artist and Curator, the late Shri Ramanarasaiah.
Shobana brings new flavours to the traditional paintings. Her artworks incorporate perspectives such as the Balinese, Thai and Cambodian cultures. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed and today, Mysore paintings have a unique geographical indication, recognised by the Central Government of India. There are over 25 students training under Dr J Dunduraja, one of the few experts in the art. Dr Dunduraja says, “Mysore paintings require intense learning, rigorous practice of technique and above all, lots of focus. We are encouraging more people to take to this art form so it thrives for decades to come.” Mysore Traditional Painting is a survival art founded by refugees of a bygone era. And Shobhana has given it a new life: “I lose myself completely when I begin painting and I want to keep painting till the end, till my last breath,” she says.
The works are based on tales in various scriptural and mythological texts, including the Puranas. The Samudra Manthana or Churning of the Ocean and The Wedding of Girija (Parvathi) and Shiva and Kama-Kameswari are philosophical ruminations on the structure of the cosmos presented and preserved for generations as art. Also featured are depictions of gods and goddesses following the symbolisms in ancient treatises, including the famed Samudrika-Lakshana — the science of anatomical proportions. Devi Chamundeswari is an example of a traditional representation of the patron goddess of the Wodeyar kings.