Garam chai, samosas and art

  • Nirupama dutt, None
  • Updated: Nov 23, 2014 10:32 IST

When we think of food on canvas, the pictures we conjure in our mind are the classic European still life with sensuous fruits arranged with care on a stemmed fruit dish and a backdrop of silk drapes.

These would be painted so realistically that one would be tempted to steal a sliced watermelon, a bunch of grapes, a tempting green pear, a curved banana or the blood-red apple, better known as the forbidden fruit, from the frame. However, painting food and drinks that pleases one’s senses is just the beginning.

There have been artists who have used food as a metaphor to convey much more. A classic example of this is The Potato Eaters by Vincent van Gogh.

This work of art dates back to 1885 and is considered one of Van Gogh’s greatest pieces because he portrayed the hard and meager life of the peasantry.

The Parisian painters took great pleasure in painting people in the famed or (rather ill-famed) cafés of Paris.
The Absinthe Drinker (1876) by Edgar Degas captured decadence by portraying a couple sitting next to each other in a café, but is emotionally distant from each other.

Food also figured in the Indian miniature paintings and many an Indian artist has captured the partaking of food in their works.

Two paintings that come to the mind at once are Breakfast at Kasauli by Bhupen Khakhar painted in 1980 in one of the workshops organised by Vivan Sundaram at Ivy Cottage in Kasauli.

The other one is the bare-bodied Nayika (by Gogi Saroj Pal) joyously sucking a ripe mango, made in the nineties.

But the homegrown artist Alka Kalra takes the cake by doing her very creative Dhaba series, which have won a lot of critical acclaim. My favourite painting from among her works is that of the hot fried samosas just out of the kadai.

No one has serenaded the samosa as much as she has. The painting makes the viewer want to rush for a cup of garam chai and a samosa.

The samosa is the most cherished snack in the sub-continent and this painter gave it a grand portrayal on the canvas.
There is also a work of art named after the life-saving tumbler of tea.

The next time you take the Shatabdi from Chandigarh to Delhi and are rushing out of platform number 1, take a few moments to stop and look at the wonderful art installation by Punjabi artist Naresh Kapuria.

It is an actual bicycle mounted on the wall with brightly coloured tea kettles and glass tumblers in wire-mesh tots.

Of course, it is called Chai Garam!. Growing up in the crowded and food-filled streets of Lajpat Nagar, he has captured the mood of someone who drinks that hot glass of tea very well.

These works of art say we paint not just what we see but also what we eat (and drink).

(The writer is a prominent art and culture critic.)

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