Ravi Varma paintings on Khadi

Gaurang Shah

Gaurang Shah to showcase 30 saris woven in Jamdani weave in 2019

Designer Gaurang Shah has always believed in handlooms and promoting them. He showcased three khadi saris which had artworks of Raja Ravi Varma weaved on them at the event. In a tete-a-tete with Tini Sara Anien, he talks about the art of weaving saris and his love for khadi.  

Tell us about this unique collection. How much time did these saris take to make?

We have chosen 30 paintings which are divided into three collections: women, godly figures and the stories of Raja Ravi Varma. The three saris displayed here are from the women collection.  Each sari takes time according to the design. One of them took seven months, the other three and the last one took five months.

How did the project start?

It all started when Lavina Baldota of Abheraj Baldota Foundation, who has a great taste for handloom, suggested that I work on something new. Artist Laxman Aelay, who is a close friend, suggested that I try weaving some of his works in handloom. I developed them, Lavina chanced to buy it and said we had to work on something.

In February 2017, she suggested that I come to Bengaluru and interact with members from The Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation. They showed me some of Ravi Varma’s works and asked me to recreate them. Each of the paintings had different skin tones, expressions and I knew it would be a herculean task to get on it. 

Most of my weavers were surprised and not sure about the project in the given deadline. The weaving of the saris is happening in Srikakulam in Jamdani technique. 

What were the challenges you faced?

Finding the right group of weavers to work on the saris was the first challenge. This group works on paper Jamdani, where they print six metres of paper (length of a sari) and puts it under the warp, looks at it and weaves it.

The warp and the weft on a loom are square. Ravi Varma’s paintings are made of curved brush strokes and it was a huge challenge to train our weavers to recreate his masterpieces. If a painting was small, it had to be blown up, the challenges were aplenty. Finding the right dyes and matching them according to the saris was another task.

We had to take big printouts of the artworks. In some saris the artwork came out on the opposite side; all three saris showcased at the event were reverse. In some saris the colour combinations did not come out well. It has been a learning process. It was like my entire team including the person who dyes, weaves and finishes each sari are reliving the artist’s life. 

Precision must be a major challenge. How do you make sure the reproduction is closest?

I have a set of weavers who are monitored by a master weaver. I invigilate the entire work through videos and regular visits; I keep reminding the team that they should take ample time yet be done with the entire project by May 2019.   

How many saris are being worked on?

Conceptualised by the two foundations and me, this exhibit will open on October 2, 2019 with 30 saris woven in Jamdani weave on 300 count khadi yarn. Each of these saris will have a painting by Ravi Varma woven on its pallu. Google Arts & Culture will document the exhibit and plan to take it as a travelling exhibit to as many museums across the world as possible for viewing.

Thoughts on khadi as a canvas.

Khadi as a yarn is my favourite. The yarn takes in anything that one gives it. Print on it, embroider on it or beat it, it is a rough and tough yarn. One can wear it in summer or winter; khadi falls beautifully and is an all-rounder. 

Do you believe that Raja Ravi Varma and Mahatma Gandhi are connected?

I feel they are somehow interconnected. I feel they are spiritually connected and somehow the same spirit has entered me now. 

I’m an average human who loves working with handlooms. My love for khadi and handlooms is probably my connect with Gandhiji. Also, Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings often showed women in drapes and saris.  

Oil as a medium of art is challenging: Jay Varma  

Jay Varma, the great great great grandson of Raja Ravi Varma delivered a lecture, ‘In Search Of His Roots’ at the ‘Khadi a Canvas’ event on Tuesday.

In his lecture, Jay spoke about his lineage, about what got him interested in painting and his journey so far, along with a presentation showcasing some slides about structures from Kilimanoor, from where Raja Ravi Varma hailed.

About the use of khadi as a canvas to depict Ravi Varma’s paintings, Jay says, “Art is many things to many people. People express themselves in different ways and it will continue to do so.” 

When asked if Ravi Varma and Mahatma Gandhi share any connect, Jay Varma quickly adds, “Portraying Indian mythology, Indian culture and way of life are probably the connect between the two.” 

He strongly believes in non-violence. “‘Live and let live’ is the motto I follow,” adds Jay. 

Jay, an artist who is concentrating on oil as medium, is working on a series of paintings on ‘Significant women of Indian mythology’ currently. “The works are not only a tribute to women all over but also to the ones who were an influence in my life,” he adds.  

Having started off with colour pencils, there were no judgements or comparisons made till date with Ravi Varma, he says. “But now that I have started working with oil, judgements are bound to happen. I do feel my works are very different from his though,” adds Jay.

He points out that he has faced challenges with oil as a medium. “At the earlier stages, I was distraught and wasn’t sure if I was capable of learning the medium. I went through a tough time where I convinced myself that I shouldn’t run away. There’s a lot to learn in oil; there’s a certain complexity to it and a way in which one can express one’s feelings with brushstrokes,” he adds. 

Exhibit will open October 2, 2019

October 2 is the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and the death anniversary of Raja Ravi Varma. Khadi a Canvas, an initiative meant to commemorate the day, is supported by Google Arts & Culture, the Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation, the Abheraj Baldota Foundation, along with designer and textile revivalist Gaurang Shah.

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Ravi Varma paintings on Khadi

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