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Dressing up Mother Nature

Dressing up Mother Nature

india Updated: Mar 19, 2006 17:55 IST

Whem Willem Kalf painted a lemon in the seventeenth century, he didn’t know he would revolutionise pastoral art.

Never before had the world witnessed such savageness, such a relentless search for truth whilst painting a mere fruit.

He had sliced the lemon and torn off a part of the skin to reveal its glistening interior. Even its seeds were discarded so nothing obscured the eye in its exploration of the lemon’s secrets.

Before Kalf and the Dutch vision emerged, natural painters in Italy tended to romanticise Nature.

She was the unknown, an all-powerful mystical force that kept her secret core well-hidden. When the microscope was discovered, Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch scientist, published several manuscripts revealing what hid in the innermost realm of a leaf and flower.

From flowers and blades of grass to bacteria and even his own semen, he recorded it all and birthed a whole movement in natural art that became the quest for truth.

Since then, artists all over the world have taken nature and made it their own. In Mumbai, three artists from the Baroda school have infused the natural with a startlingly personal language.

Simeen Oshidar’s oeuvre, for instance, had consisted pri marily of the figurative, until now. In her most recent body of work, which exhibits in Chemould from April 10, brilliantly coloured flowers spanning the breadth of the canvas swallow you whole and phantasmal sepals lunge out at you as you journey into the inner realms of a hibiscus.

The paintings abound with phallic symbols and velvety petals that press together suggestively, conjuring up visions of a vulva.

Oddly enough, Oshidar wasn’t exposed to O’Keefe when she began this collection. “I used to drop my daughter off at school and then go to the Hanging Gardens to read,” she says. Watching the gardeners at work made flowers and leaves creep into her canvasses.

If Oshidar’s world involves exploring the inner world of a flower, Kim Kyoungae’s natural forms try and capture the cosmos.

Her dark, hallucinogenic paintings look like an LSD tripper’s vision of a garden. Nothing could be further from the truth though, as the Korean-born Kyoungae’s work stems from her Oriental and Buddhist roots.

A student of the Baroda art school, she moved to India in 1994 from Kumi in South Korea to do a master’s in fine art.

While most naturalists paint their flora and fauna saturated in light, Kyoungae bathes her plants in a whimsical moonlight.

Hers is a quiet, restful art with a floating, dreamlike quality. “In the dark, everything we hide comes out,” she says. “There is infinite possibility.” Then, there are zoologist Shruti Nelson’s natural landscapes, in which humans morph into animals as herds of cheetahs and zebras prowl their natural habitat.

Nelson’s art has a rich tapestry of form and intricate layering of backdrop. She loves experimenting with different mediums and even paints on jackets and textiles using eco-friendly dyes.

A passionate animal lover, an entire Noah’s Ark of the animal and reptile kingdom has been known to visit her canvasses. “Wherever I go, if I find the area has a forest, I cannot resist visiting it,” she says.

In Baroda, it was the Jambagoda forest, which Nelson would troop into, toting her sketchbook to observe the deer and porcupines there.

Each artist’s interpretation of their Garden of Eden varies dramatically, but all of them have forged a stylised path and dressed nature in a garb they have personally fashioned.

First Published: Mar 19, 2006 01:45 IST