“We are all born...then we go through conditioning. We are taught to live in a certain way. Slowly we get bound by beautiful frills of life. We live blindly thinking this is it, but somewhere deep down, I knew this was not true life. It’s all made up of conveniences.”
Shobha Broota is one of the established contemporary Indian artists, who has rotated the wheel of abstraction in an invigorating dimension. Brought up in a family that nurtured his artistic values from childhood, she feels privileged of having learned arts, music and dance long back before her professional career had begun. Her paintings chart an earthly layer but generate meanings that are deeper and transcendental. While viewing many of her paintings, I felt engulfed in an evocative silence they emanated, leaving me entrenched in resonant harmony for a while. Moreover, Shobha is a Sangeet Visharad in Classical Music.
Having spoken with Shobha on the phone, not only we exchanged our common love for taking up immediate challenges but I also learned the significance of creativity irrespective of what medium one selects. She taught at St. Thomas School and Triveni Kala Sangam from 1964 to 1970 and 1970 to 1994, respectively. At the same time, sharing her childhood stories, she sportingly tells us that as a kid her teachers described her ‘reticent’.
Her paintings have been described with varying criteria that underpin a sense of cosmic attributes while a staunch relevance to tantric forms. However, when it comes to herself, she explicitly confirms that she enjoys the process and loves taking up challenges.
AA: Could you share the process of your painting? Do you visualise the painting beforehand?
SB: My work is based on spontaneous decisions. I do not enjoy thinking about the process beforehand. Rather, I just listen to the canvas. When it tells me to paint, I follow. Subsequently, once I realise that it is finished, I end my work. For me, every painting is a new start. Without challenge and learning from mistakes, I can’t enjoy my work. This is how I move forward! And, it is very satisfying. A slight change is not a repetition and also it is not a copy. Once I start, the canvas directs me. That is why I rarely undertake commission projects because the rich quality of the original somehow gets diluted. Preferably, I work regularly like our daily routine.
The accumulated experiences subconsciously reflect in my paintings.
Also, I believe in taking breaks as a means to restart work with renewed strength and a peaceful state of mind. Also, then, the itching for work is more powerful.
Broota is a voracious reader. However, her reading that plunges deep into her inner self, reveals in exemplary successive paintings. A journey which requires immense patience, perseverance and equanimous mind to perceive the object as it is. At the same time, she accepts the arising notations, wherein each brushstroke converts into a permanent mark on the canvas. The expressed motifs of dot, line, form, colours, movements and expansive territory of conscience lead her into a mystical realm.
Broota has been part of several national and international art exhibitions. India, post-independence, had seen a gamut of artists who experimented in abstraction, impressed by European modernism. However, as a postmodernist, she has charted a route which is bereft of influenced regimes. Rather, to find a personal style she travelled within herself to accord an individual analogy for the world of renewed abstraction in India. We asked about her initial encouragement from the family which inspired her to walk the road of abstract concepts.
AA: How do you describe your journey of becoming an abstractionist?
SB: My father was an architect. And, our home environment was suffused with artistic skills and values. Because of my father's profession, our home was always equipped with art supplies, which inspired me to practice art.
I practice music, dance and theatre. With no restriction from family, my lifestyle had been imbued with artistic mediums and styles. My mother was interested in embroidery while my grandmother, which I had observed, also created artworks. By being an artist, I feel like being connected with my ancestral past.
I think, we don't learn everything from school but grasp it from our surroundings, friends' and many activities. Probably, everything has an impact on you if you are sensitive. During the learning process, your failures, as well as achievements, equally become part of you.
I started painting when I was a child. In school, my teachers would ask me to do drawing work and I did a lot, too. During college, it was like I obeyed what teachers guided us to do. At that time, the syllabus did not begin with abstraction in training school. Now it must be different. We had one week for landscape, still-life, printing, commercial art and we learned all of these in the initial two years.
AA: Is there like a time frame to finish one artwork? Few days or a few months?
SB: There is no relation of timeframe with the quality of the art. With my experience of finishing many paintings in the past, I believe it depends on how much you desire to express on the canvas. Most importantly, it is your choice about where you want to stop or overdo, which will satisfy you compulsively. At the same time, you are also rendering your truthful personality. If you get connected with your inner core then you will be doubtlessly true to your expression. Otherwise, you can copy others as well as your past works, too.
Shobha Broota and Keshav Malik have co-authored a book Vesture of Being in 2013. Cooperating and sharing her ideas about paintings, the content beautifully flowers into several comparative contexts touching the chords of the writer's conscience. Broota’s paintings do not look for descriptions but one is titillated to derive meanings to arrive at an experiential ground, which the artist must have felt and undergone. The deal of transparency falls us in the tiresome process of decoding the infrastructure of artistic and fundamental elements of practice.
AA: Could you share Keshav Malik’s experience of your paintings?
SB: Keshav Malik is an excellent art critic and poet. He attended my exhibition at the India International Centre, Delhi. Later, he also expressed his wish to exhibit my paintings. Subsequently, not only he selected my work for this exhibition but also wrote a book, which overall consumed 3-4 months. However, while he did everything I witnessed his interest in performing things with great precision. Kapila Vatsyayan, the founder of IGNCA, had inaugurated the show. Once, when he was in the centre, observing my works and attending the visitors, he did not consider taking a break. Surprised at his stance, I did request him to relax and refresh, but he refused, saying, “I am listening to the music of your works.”
AA: How do you feel your artworks are part of eminent collections?
SB: That time there was no such thing as an art market. It has become commercial, today. However, I feel the strength of an artist’s lies in his/her work. Sales will happen but if you do not have any work there is no possibility of growth. The market will eventually follow your work. Whether nationally or internationally, as appreciation increases, the sale will happen. But enjoyment is significant in your work.
Being a Visharad, Broota belongs to the era when the recording was not in vogue. With a family supporting her multiple careers, she learned and played the sitar, too. However, with medical conditions growing severe, she lost her voice and had to stop her creative pursuit. But she revels in the fact of expressing creativity, irrespective of which medium one chooses. She opines, “ The mediums may be different, but the expression is the same, whether painting, music, dance or any form.”
AA: How do these creative forms or your art experience have helped you?
SB: I paint because it helps me open my mind. It assists me in differentiating between human and robotic ways of working. Depending on one’s capacity, they can perform an act, paint, to understand the self.
Many artists, I have seen, undertake multiple forms of arts like theatre, music, dance, movies, travel, etc. together. We do not operate linearly rather we are all wide in accepting variety. Thus, we can do anything we want.
That is what I have learned from my art experience. Artists don't read because maybe we have interest in opening our inhibitions through action. Since childhood with familial encouragement, the passion for learning has made me do several things. You don't need college to educate yourselves. Today, with Google, anything could be learned. And people are learning, too. It projects that we are multidimensional.
Moreover, we must sustain that hunger, without killing our interests and plunging into a depressed attitude. If there is no passion then you cannot learn anything. We have to make efforts to learn this Cosmic intelligence.
Shobha Broota’s 60 years of experience is enriched with refined intellect and sharpened wisdom. And the same could be seen chronologically in her repository of paintings and artworks. Bringing my attention to the self, and the indispensable will to keep it active and passionate, I realise that it is a constant practice which will keep the expressions contemporary and transparent.