Colour connected

Rani Sarin arrives at harmony through a journey of colours, writes Preeti Verma Lal

Highlights: 
Currently obsessing with greens and blues, ‘harmony’ and ‘repeats’ are oft-repeated in Sarin’s conversation about the why’s and how’s of her own beginnings...

Reds and oranges of her mother’s sari. The grit of Satyawati Devi, her aunt, a fiery freedom fighter whom Mahatma Gandhi called Toofani. The lyrical stories of her father, the editor of Sarika, a Hindi literary magazine. Silhouettes of cultural tsarina Pupul Jayakar walking in and out of her Lutyens’s home in New Delhi. The frequent footsteps of social reformer and freedom fighter Kamla Devi Chattopadhyay into her courtyard. And many, many moons ago in the midst of art, literature and the whiff of rebellion, there lived a girl who was always doodling. She was not to the easel born, but the air in her home was always redolent with literature, art and the beginnings of revived pride in swadeshi textile and handicraft.

A Goan setting

Sitting in her French-doored home in Reis Magos, Goa, Rani Sarin (the girl was always doodled) was towing vignettes out of her childhood in New Delhi. From that impeccably clean glass door, I could see the waves thrashing against coffee-brown beefy boulders; if I peered harder, I could even find a dolphin galavanting in the blue. But I was distracted by the blue on the wall, the red of the curtain screen, and the sunflower yellow looking placid inside the brown wooden frame. “I did not come packed with paint in my veins, but I was surrounded by colours, especially the reds and oranges of my mother’s saris. Add to it my father’s literary bent. I picked the colours from mother and words from my father,” begins Sarin, who seasonally straddles between Boston, Massachusetts and Goa — Christmas and winter in her sea-side Goa home, the other seasons in Boston, her home for several decades. 

Her passion for words pushed her to major in English Literature from Delhi University’s Miranda House; carrying those reds and oranges, she crossed the hallowed threshold of Mumbai’s Sir JJ College of Art to study textile designing. For a year, colours and words got entangled as Sarin pursued her Masters degree in Literature simultaneously. Eventually, art nudged words off the margin. Sarin left literature on life’s sidewalk and hurried ahead with a tin of emulsion and paintbrush in her dainty hands.

With a degree from JJ College of Art, Sarin’s first stop was a job with Handicrafts and Handlooms Export Council (HHEC), a government-of-India undertaking that sedulously tried reviving and promoting Indian textile and handicraft. That job with HHEC had Sarin soak into the textile heritage, the basics of which she had already picked during her art degree course. Silk and cotton saris from Andhra Pradesh’s Pochampalli and Uppadas; tussar from Bihar; kosa and chanderi from Madhya Pradesh; patola from Gujarat; paithani from Maharashtra, and bandhej from Rajasthan. 

Representation

Sarin bundled all this for the 1967 World Fair in Montreal, Canada in which HHEC was participating. After three weeks, the fair’s hullabaloo turned raucous for Sarin. And by a quirk of fate and Pupul Jayakar’s offer to look after an HHEC outlet in Boston, Sarin stepped into the snowy sheets of a cold city.

Here, she met Vinod Sarin, a PhD student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), learned print-making from a Japanese artist, and held tie-&-dye classes for seniors in Boston’s Museum of Science. In Boston, life, and art, hastened its pace. She audited art courses for Harvard University and in her studio, paper, canvas and tins of paint grew colossally in numbers and her art found collectors in India, Sweden and the US. 

Currently obsessing with greens and blues, ‘harmony’ and ‘repeats’ are oft-repeated in Sarin’s conversation about the why’s and how’s of her own beginnings and conclusions of art. “Ultimately, everything should find harmony. And harmony comes from repeat,” she animatedly slips into harmony as a leitmotif of existence and points at a canvas on her white wall.

“Come closer and look,” she exhorts. I walk to the canvas laden with greens and blues. “There are several layers. Perhaps discordant from each other, but these disparate forms come together and create harmony,” Sarin explains. 

In another canvas, repeats turn harmonious. Again. This one in mixed media. A swatch of fabric adding a hint of brown to the sunflower-yellow canvas. Often, Sarin destroys one art to create another. “Tearing your own art can be liberating. Initially, that thought of destruction frightened me. Now, I can take bits of one undone canvas, add other things, and another painted canvas comes alive.”

With German-Swedish artist Paul Klee and French artist Henri Matisse as her favourites, Sarin can multi-task art. If one idea hits an art-block, she moseys to another, for there’s nary a dearth of thoughts in her heart. “Anything can prompt the beginning of an artwork. A moment. An image. A memory. Not all beginnings begin as a fused whole, a few of them are very abstract. Ultimately, they find their harmony,” Sarin repeats the harmony. 

Sarin walks down the granite staircase with me. A large canvas bids a quiet goodbye. I turn around. Wearing beige and grey, Sarin was standing near the artwork with strokes of orange and white. Harmony was so measurable, between the beige of her dress and the patch of orange on canvas. Harmony was so indisputable, between the art and the artist. In Sarin’s world, harmony is not an option, it is a prerequisite, for everything.

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