The newly married do many things with their honeymoon memories – a YouTube clip of miyan-biwi prancing on the beach; a Facebook album with 36 lopsided pictures; or a big, fat scrapbook with every sightseeing ticket pasted next to fiercely smiling photographs. Trishla Jain created a painting... with words.
“I thought, what if I paint my honeymoon,” says the artist. So on the canvas, she wrote in bright paint all the words that were of significance during her honeymoon – ‘fickle fairy’, her husband’s teasing words for her; ‘happily ever laughter’, a joyous take on a hackneyed phrase; ‘hot sweet cups of tea’, for the times spent chatting over chai... and many more. The canvas also declares that ‘honey matters’. “...‘More than money’, it’s meant to say, but I didn’t write that, as it would sound strange coming from someone like me,” says Trishla. ‘Someone like me’ refers to her family – father Samir Jain heads the media house The Times Group. Trishla keeps this part of her life private, lest it overwhelms her identity as an artist.
As the honeymoon painting Fickle Fairy indicates, words and colours are big influences on Trishla’s work. Her first solo show, ‘That Freshness’, was in Delhi last year. The second is coming up in Mumbai this month and takes its title from the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. The show title, ‘Tangerine Trees and Marmalade Skies’, speaks of “something transcendental”, a quality that appeals to the artist. Her personality is a blend of the spiritual seeker, the keen wit, the curious collector, and the literature lover. All of this is manifested in some way or the other in her works. One painting has attempted to encapsulate the Shakespearean comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream through phrases from the play. “If this hangs in a home, and a child sees it, he or she may find Shakespeare more accessible.”
A painter since the age of seven, she is an English major from Stanford University and has a teaching degree from Columbia. In between, there was a stint at a brand consulting firm in New York. While at Columbia, she had a very interesting experience. “I taught Classes VIII and X to get the degree. One of the exercises to make the kids read was ‘found poetry’. They were asked to choose their favourite phrases from books. Then with the ‘word bank’, they could make something new. They had to write an essay to explain why certain phrases were used with others.” This little anecdote has relevance to her current body of work – she describes it as ‘found art’. How a collage shapes up is dictated by “what goes on the canvas first” – it could be letters or a picture cut out of a magazine or comic strip, a line from a book. It could be anything; what matters is that it should have “high prana”, like every work of art Trishla has collected and displayed in her elegant, neutral-toned living room. “Prana can come from the right use of colour, the subject or the humour. Sometimes, simplicity has high prana. It has to add energy to my space.”
She likes a bit of imperfection, too, the human touch that is so lost in this digital age. “Impasto (the technique of using very thick paint in very quick brushstrokes) is very human, handmade for me, [as] you can see each stroke.” A penchant for word play is also evident. ‘Summer salt’ (on a canvas) is obviously a twist on ‘somersault’. “‘The truth behind the truth’ is cheeky; it implies that truth is in little things.”
Her grounding in art came early: a lot of time on family vacations was spent at museums and galleries. “My parents love art, so I saw a lot of great art. Wherever we went, we also saw the work of artisans.” The Jain residence is now home to a lot of that. In fact, young Trishla’s work used to be displayed at home, too. “And guests would compliment my father on his collection of contemporary Indian art,” she says with a laugh. There was a break in painting after finishing college in the US. Then she came home to Delhi, fell sick, and at this time, took up art again.
Many of the works in her next show are furniture pieces – dressers, sofas, a rocking horse – that are either painted over in an abstract pattern, or function as the base for a collage. Trishla would like it if these became objects of everyday use, though treated with love. Eventually, they would come to the natural end of their life. “Everything will die. So my objects should give joy when they are alive.”
Her spirituality – she meditates regularly – is represented by the phrase ‘thank you’ on the honeymoon canvas. “My spirit of gratefulness comes from ancient texts,” says Trishla and emphasises that this is different from the idea of ‘positive thinking’ propagated by books like The Secret. This ‘attitude of gratitude’ is for any gains but is simply a way of life. This philosophy is also reflected in a little picture visible between all the words in Fickle Fairy. A young girl sits on a bed seemingly in the air, a blue sky hangs overhead, a legend at the girl’s feet says: ‘A place to dream’. “We talked of what our marriage would be – it would be a place to dream,” Trishla says. In this place, she and her husband would talk about anything and everything, and not allow the mundane to swamp the more meaningful things in life.
What is meaningful is pretty much the same as what has high prana – whatever is vibrant, energising, such as Art of Living silence courses, scuba diving, hiking, food, movies, performances. Of her art, she says, “It is a celebration of the universe’s ultimate capacity for joy and laughter. Both the ephemeral wink of the present moment, and the depths of cosmic consciousness can be found within the layers of my wacky work. I believe in both Prada and pranayam, in both the guru and the G-spot! From skin to spirituality, its all in the paint.”
Trishla Jain’s show is on Feb 11-March 6 at BMB Gallery, Queens Mansion, G.T. Marg, Fort, Mumbai