What type of flower are you? An artist’s take on flowers as modern-day characters

  • Soma Das, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: May 26, 2016 18:03 IST
Datura, watercolour on paper (2016) (Photo: Institute of Contemporary Indian Art )

Sexuality and Andy Warhol-esque pop colours meet innately Indian characters and settings in Dileep Sharma’s works

We are at the Institute of Contemporary Indian Art (ICIA) in Kala Ghoda. It’s that in-between time when the earlier works are being dismantled to make space for newer ones. Amid the clutter, Dileep Sharma’s (43) watercolours and sketches stand out. It could be the darker hues juxtaposed with a subdued pastel backdrop that lend the works something Andy Warhol-esque.

Or it could be the motifs and the poses of the characters that borrow from popular culture: the hand-on-hip pose that celebrities strike in front of the camera (Lotus); a man with his muscles stretched taut (Datura), and the backdrop visuals of the Taj Mahal and Khajuraho sculptures.

Sunflower, watercolour on paper (2015) (Photo: Institute of Contemporary Indian Art )

Sharma’s latest exhibition — A Valley of Flowers — features 18 paintings, sketches and sculptures that celebrate the bond between nature and humans by representing flowers as modern-day women and men. Unlike his earlier works, which used bright colours against a white background, this collection sees him pay attention to the backdrop as well.

The figures are swathed in flowers (like a full-body floral jumpsuit, almost) and strike seductive/muscular poses. So, while the African Daisy is reminiscent of a masked Catwoman, the Sunflower is a diva posing in front of a crowd, and the Forget Me Not is a female tourist standing in front of a monument. The characteristics of the flowers were based on the dozens of characteristics Sharma gleaned while browsing the internet.

While he admits that his works may seem inspired by Warhol’s, he prefers to call his work “a new version of pop art” and insists his motifs are “all-Indian”.

African Daisy, watercolour on paper (2015); Lotus, watercolour on paper (2016) (Photo: Institute of Contemporary Indian Art )

Second innings

At the start of his career, Sharma worked as a printmaker specialising in etching (involves making incisions on a plate to hold the ink applied to the surface, which is wiped clean). He even had his own studio in Bandra. But by 2003, his landlord decided to sell the property, and he had to put his printmaking machine in storage.

It was a lean period for Sharma and he is still saddened by the second-class status accorded to the art: “Considering the amount spent in making a print, you don’t earn that much. How is a printmaker to survive? Also, galleries don’t promote it as people are reluctant to pay for a print as opposed to an original work.”

With his career on a standstill, Sharma decided to focus on watercolours instead. “The things I couldn’t enjoy in print, I started doing in terms of drawing and watercolour. For one, I could use a lot of bright colours and the drawings could be more intricate,” he says.

The Artist, fibreglass, pencils and acrylic box (2016) (Photo: Institute of Contemporary Indian Art )

The artist’s muse

Flowers have been one of Sharma’s earliest inspirations. Back in 1998, in a self-portrait titled When Kunwarji was in JJ, Sharma replaced the beard on his face with flowers. It also reminds him of home. “My home-town memories are of the Harsingar (night jasmine) flowers in our garden in Mandavar, Rajasthan. Every morning, the ground would be strewn with petals. My village is close to Haryana, and I miss the mustard fields.”

Forget me not, watercolour on paper (2016); Rose, watercolour on paper (2015) (Photo: Institute of Contemporary Indian Art )

Apart from paintings, there are two fibreglass sculptures on display. His favourite is The Artist, a fibreglass and pencil sculpture, which shows a person lying on a bed of sharpened pencils. It’s something he identifies with: “An artist’s life is lived on a sword’s edge. Out of thousands, only some achieve greatness. Art drives you mad but without it you are nothing.”

Read: Meet the youth group that is transforming Mumbai a wall at a time

Despite all the struggles, Sharma lives in the hope of setting up his printmaking studio again. “As a medium, it engages you. You lose yourself to the process: your hands are stained perpetually, you can hardly breath until the print is out. Once you get a good print, the satisfaction is incomparable,” he says.

Artist Dileep Sharma at ICIA gallery (Photo: Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times)

Know the artist

Born in Rajasthan, Sharma did his Master’s in Fine Arts, specialising in printmaking from Sir JJ School of Art. His first solo show was at Prithvi Art Gallery in 1999. He was a resident artist with the Glasgow Print Studio in Scotland.

A Valley of Flowers is on display from June 16 to July 1, 11am to 7pm
At ICIA Gallery, K Dubhash Marg, Kala Ghoda
Call 2204 8138

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