27 March 2010

Knitted chair....sounds interesting right!!!!

I really never thought that the age old practice of knitting can be applied so ingeniously to create innovative & beautiful design furniture. I really found this chair so intriguing that I decided to feature it here, for me this represents 'new art'!!!

The wooden chair seen here is a furniture made by knitting pieces of wood together using yarn. It was a brainchild of Designer Emiliano Godoy who decided to take the homely craft of knitting to a new level thereby creating a piece of art which can also be used. The chair resembles a tortoise shell or soccer ball with its geometric segments comprising a sturdy whole. The segments are made of aircraft plywood which are knit together with cotton rope & it is this process which gives the sturdiness, making it sustainable.

The chair, brought its designer great fame by receiving a Bronze leaf award at an international design fair & for sure it was well deserved. No doubt it is something intricate & difficult to create, but it just shows what amazing things can be achieved by pushing one's boundaries!!!

26 March 2010

Patta Chitra....an ancient illustrative Indian art form!!!!

If you have seen a Patta chitra work, you will realise how miniature & artistic the work is but only if you look at it closely. This is exactly what happened while visiting a fair in the city recently, where I spent a considerable amount of time viewing the work & got talking with the artist. Although at first glance, they seem quite ordinary, the intricacy of the work can only be noticed on closer inspection & shows the dedication & time that has gone into making it!!!

The Paintings & illustrations done on palm leaf, is an ancient art form practiced in many parts of India & is known by different names, Patta Chitra in Orissa & Olaichuvadi in Tamil Nadu. These have originated from the ancient method of communication, i.e writing on palm leaves at a time when paper was not invented. Gradually these illustrations developed into an art form itself.

The technique of Patta Chitra (Patta: wood, Chitra: drawing) involves sewing together rows of palm leaves which are folded in such a way as to make a pile. The paintings are then etched out on the palm leaf, using a sharp object on its surface. Ink mixed with turmeric & oil is then poured along the lines, thereby defining them. Although these paintings are mostly dichromatic (black & white), often different colours made of vegetable dyes are also used for a more colourful effect .

The images drawn, mostly reflect Hindu mythological themes i.e scenes from the Mahabharatha & Ramayana & images of Gods & Godesses. In Orissa, Lord Jagannath's image & in Tamil Nadu, Lord Vishnu's image is commonly used.

Orissa has a small village named Raghurajpur, also known as the artistic village which is famous for its traditional artisans who diligently follow the time honoured method of creating these pattachitra paintings on different media including cloth, & adapting it to contemporary styles thus keeping the art form very much alive. It is this dedication & devotion which makes the art form unique & one which cannot be replicated in any other part of the world!!!

24 March 2010

Salvador Dali, a Maverick & an extremely gifted artist!!!

More than knowing Dali as an artist, I was fascinated with his name from a very young age & being very inquisitive, I have tried to find out everything about the man & his body of work. Impressive is the only word that comes to mind!!!!

Salvador Dali (11/05/1904- 23/01/1989), was a famous Spanish painter whose surrealist works were known for their striking & bizarre images, mostly influenced by the Renaissance period. He was very prolific in his works & his repertoire included film, sculpture, and photography, in collaboration with a range of artists in a variety of media.

He studied art in Spain & France being influenced by the cubist movement & Picasso initially but later moving to surrealism. He also used both classical & mordern techniques in his work often using art as a strong political message. In his later years, his paintings were strongly influenced by science & he employed holography & optical illusions in his work being among the first artists to do so. Some artists even considered him an important influence on 'Pop art'. His free-thinking sometimes eccentric works, although based on surrealist philosophy angered many people of the time.

The most famous of his works was the painting, 'The persistence of memory' which comprised of a surrealistic image of soft, melting pocket watches. The general interpretation of the work is that the soft watches are a rejection of the assumption that time is rigid. This idea is supported by other images in the work, such as the wide expanding landscape, and the other limp watches, shown being devoured by insects.

Throughout his life, Dali, in his ever-present long cape, walking stick, haughty expression, and upturned waxed mustache was known as an eccentric who displayed often bizarre behaviour, delivering lectures wearing a deep-sea diving suit, wearing a glass case containing a brassiere to a party, knocking over a projector at a film screening in a fit of anger. Although he gained fame & notoriety often for his behaviour rather than his work, he always justified it as a free-thinking act of surrealism but critics found in it, a desperate act of seeking fame & fortune.

No matter whatever was spoken about the man, his prolific work of more than 1,500 paintings, sculptures, instruments (Lobster Telephone and Mae West Lips Sofa), illustrations, lithographs & designs are an incredible legacy & show the persona of a man who defied society & lived life on his own terms often considering himself the greatest which he described in his own words: "every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí."!!!

23 March 2010

The folding bamboo house.....a creative & eco-friendly architectural design initiative!!!

As the name suggests, these houses inspired by the art of origami are created from bamboo & are intended to be used as a temporary shelter in the aftermath of an earthquake. They are elegant & beautiful & are the brainchild of Ming Tang, an architectural designer who has designed them making use of renewable materials.

Ming Tang came up with this idea after a magnitude of 7.9 earthquake struck central China in May 2009 killing nearly 69,000 people. On learning that the Chinese Government planned to create about 1 million temporary homes, he designed a shelter that was cheap, easily produced & environment friendly & at the same time which can be folded into a variety of structurally sound shapes.

Going by the design of the house, Ming aims to have achieved what he set out to do thus creating houses that are dynamic & easily adaptable to different situations.

The concept utilises bamboo poles which are pre-assembled into rigid geometric shapes. This geometry provides each structure's integrity thus allowing a range of lightweight modular structures to be quicky assembled depending on the need & transported to their final destination when required. Once constructed, the shelters are then covered using re-cycled paper making the whole process eco-friendly.

There is no doubt that such a product will have a huge impact both in terms of the environment & also considering the fact that earthquakes are no more a rarity in different parts of the world!!

Bharatnatyam....a visual embodiment of music!!!!

One of the oldest classical dance forms in India originating in Tamil Nadu, Bharatnatyam is a dance form accompanied by classical music consisting of various poses filled with grace, purity & tenderness. Its name is derived from a combination of BHA- Bhava (Expression), RA- Raga (Music) and TA- Tala (Rhythm).

This traditional Indian dance form was first inspired from the sculptures of the ancient temples of Chidambaram particulary depicting the God Nataraja. Also contributing to its origin, were the sculptures & poses in Hindu temples & the description in various Hindu scriptures. Since it has mythological overtones, Bharatnatyam as a dance form set to Carnatic music was considered to be the ultimate embodiment of music in visual form, an act of devotion performed by 'Devadasi's' in temples.

Also called the fire-dance, the dance form manifests the metaphysical element of fire in the human body, thus resembling a dancing flame. It is actually a solo dance with two aspects, LASYA, the graceful feminine lines and movements, and TANDAVA (the dance of Shiva), the masculine aspect, which is identical to the Yin and Yang in the Chinese culture.

The credit for its worldwide popularity in recent times, goes to Rukmini Devi Arundale who founded the Kalakshetra school outside the city of Madras. She was instrumental in introducing new aspects to it by including men in the dance compositions & removing the erotic aspect of the dance form, making it more puritan & acceptable.

Bharatnatyam includes a lot of karanas (transitional movements), hastas (expressive hand gestures as a way of communication), adavus (dance steps) & elaborate eye & neck movements. This combined with jewellery, costumes & music in different languages, gives this classical dance form a variation & beauty that still manages to capture peoples imagination & withstand the test of time!!!!

19 March 2010

Ajantha & Ellora....cave monuments that have stood the test of time!!!

The caves of Ajantha & Ellora situated just outside the village of Ajantha in Aurangabad district, India, are monuments that stand testimony to the ravages of time. They consist of 30 cave monuments hewn out of rock whose walls are filled with pictorial art in general & Buddhist paintings & sculptures in particular. They have been a part of the Unesco World Heritage site ever since 1983 to protect their cultural & creative significance.

The Ajantha caves were partly created in the 1st century BC under the Satavahana dynasty & the remainder of the monuments were created in the 7th century under the Vakataka dynasty, ruled by emperor Harishena. The murals found here are considered to be the oldest monuments of painted art in India. At the end of his dynastic rule, these caves were abondoned & undisturbed for 1300 years, aided by the dense jungle growth & were re-discovered only in 1819 by the British army officer John Smith, whose name is visible on the walls even today.

The caves are beautiful to behold, because of their impressive architecture, paintings & the stories they tell. The whole structure is hewn into the surrounding rocks, including the pillars, the spacious courtyard, the pillard portico & the various vestibules.

The paintings, carvings & decorative motifs present all over the cave, although eroded by time & human interference, are fairly visible & detailed narrating the Jataka tales & depicting the stories & scenes of the Buddha's life in great detail. The murals found in the caves use the techniques & processes that are unlikely ever to be found in the art history of other civilizations. To create these murals, the rock surface was first chiselled, a plaster made of clay, dung & lime was applied, drawings were done & colours applied while the plaster was still wet. The colour was then soaked in by the wet plaster, becoming a part of the surface & thereby retarding decay & peeling to a major extent, elongating the murals life. 

The Ajantha & Ellora caves are a must see for their uniqueness & for the belief that true art can surely stand the test of time!!!

Blue pottery of Jaipur........... exquisite in its visual appeal!!!!!

Jaipur has always been a must-see tourist place for every traveller whether he's an Indian or someone from abroad, the main attractions being the palaces & monuments. What I'm sure many of us are not aware of, is its local art forms which have existed since ancient times, the most noted of these is the art of making the vivid & exquisite blue pottery!!!

This art form, was first developed by Mongol artisans who combined Chinese glazing technology with Persian decorative arts. This technique travelled south to India in the 14th century. During its infancy, it was used to make tiles to decorate mosques, tombs and palaces in Central Asia. Later, the Mughals began using them in India to mimic their structures. Gradually the blue glaze technique grew beyond an architectural accessory to Kashmiri potters. From there, the technique traveled to the plains of Delhi and in the 17th century went to Jaipur. The ruler of Jaipur, Maharaja Ram Singhji under whose patronage this art-form flourished, was partial to blue-glazed ware, and many marble halls in Rambagh Palace have fountains lined with blue tiles. These tiles were also used in the building of the city of Jaipur.

The name Blue pottery comes from the eye-catching Persian blue dye used to color the clay. The material used is quartz stone, for its distinctive properties & peculiar look. It is glazed and low-fired, making the articles very fragile. The blueness of this pottery is got by mixing oxide of cobalt into quartz. The traditional method of painting on the finished surface is not followed here thereby making the pottery all the more unique & distinctive. Other colours like white, Green (Oxide of copper), yellow, dark-blue, brown can also be used. The pottery sometimes looks semi- translucent & its design still reflects its persian/arab roots making use of floral patterns, animal motifs, etc in the works.

Apart from the usual urns, jars, pots and vases, one can even find tea sets, cups and saucers, plates and glasses, jugs, ashtrays and napkin rings made in the traditional way & which cater to a more sophisticated clientelle.

But no matter the commercialisation of this art-form, the ultimate purpose is to keep it alive & ensure its spread so that it benefits not only the local artisans but also those interested in the art itself!!!

18 March 2010

Cubism...a radical art form that not only revolutionised art, but also music & literature!!!

It is difficult to comprehend the far reaching implications of Picasso's life & work. The most profound of these is his starting the Cubist movement in art with his friend & co-founder Georges Braque.

Cubism was an avant-garde art movement that changed European painting & sculpture & inspired similar movements in music & literature. The first branch of cubism, known as Analytic Cubism, was both radical and influential as a short but highly significant art movement between 1907 and 1911 in France. In its second phase, Synthetic Cubism, wherein the use of different media was involved (collages, textures etc.), the movement spread and remained vital until around 1919, when the Surrealist movement gained popularity.

Cubist artworks are flat 2-dimensional representations wherein objects are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form i.e instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context. Critics often dubbed it viciously as 'a field of broken glass'. There is no coherent sense of depth & it is more of a geometrically analytical approach to form and color where the object appears shattered into sharp-edged angular pieces.

The painting 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon)', an oil painting by Picasso was widely considered to be the earliest of cubist works.

The concept of cubism was more of Picasso's attempt to go against the normal, conventional way of representing objects based on what is viewed by the normal eye. He adopted the abstract way of looking at things but at the same time maintaining enough touch with reality to discern the objects. Although they were quite complicated to understand, this different view of things gradually seeped into the different forms of art.

This art form spread into different areas & evidence of this art can even be found in poetry (Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"), books (The Makings of Americans by Getrude Stein) & sculptures (Bulgarian State monument near Shumen). All this goes to show that personal belief when unique, can push boundaries & although resisted, can bring about a much needed change!!!

17 March 2010

'Detroit Industry', the finest example of Mexican muralist work in the US!!!

'Detroit Industry', a series of 27 panels depicting industry at the Ford motor company is considered one of the greatest works of Mexican fresco artist, Diego Rivera, husband to artist, Frida Kahlo (A movie was made on the artist's life with the same name starring actress Salma Hayek)

Unveiled in the year 1933, it is considered as a national treasure & consists of 2 main panels on the North & South walls depicting labourers going about their work in the Ford Motor company. The other panels depict other advances made in fields of science, such as medicine and new technology. The meaning of these images is complex, a view of industry that challenges ideas about its role in society and raises issues of class and politics.The entire mural as a whole encompasses the idea that all actions and ideas are one, be it related to science or religion.
The work was surrounded by a lot of controversy even before it was made since it dealt with the conflict between Rivera's Marxist philosophy and Detroit as a developing industrial centre. The work also included religious icons albiet in a different setting & this caused it to be condemned by both the Catholic & Episcopalian clergy. For example, one panel on the North wall displays a Christ-like child figure with what appears to be a halo over its head. Surrounding it are livestock, a doctor and nurse giving the child a vaccination, and three men working on a lab experiment. This is believed to be a parody on the birth of Christ, with the scientists as the three wise men, and offended members of the religious community.
The controversy was not a deterrent but instead generated widespread publicity & enabled the work to become world famous. Rivera actually depicted the workers in harmony with their machines and thus as highly productive people. This view reflects both Karl Marx's begrudging admiration for the high productivity of capitalism and the wish of Edsel Ford, who funded the project, to have the Ford motor plant depicted in a favorable light.

Although I might go on & on about the work, its magificence needs to be seen to be believed, not only because of its theme & message but also because of the determination & creativity of the artist to single-handedly complete his work!!!

16 March 2010

Bob Marley...the king of reggae!!!!!

Who has'nt heard of the song 'Buffalo soldier' by Bob Marley??? I was just listening to this song yesterday & thought of maybe looking him up & finding out more about his work.What actually caught my attention was the life of a man who lived for a short while but achieved a lot in his lifetime.

Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer, songwriter & musician who became the face of reggae music & is credited with spreading both Jamaican music & the Rastafari movement worldwide.

He was a product of mixed racial parentage but always identified himself through his music & his beliefs as a black African. He was a part of the band 'Wailers' which produced some huge hits in the '60's such as "Get Up, Stand Up" and "I Shot the Sheriff". Eric Clapton made a hit cover of "I Shot the Sheriff" in 1974, raising Marley's international profile. His first hit outside Jamaica was the song "No Woman, No Cry", from the Natty Dread album. This was followed by his breakthrough album in the United States, Rastaman Vibration (1976), which spent four weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.

Throughout his life & career, Marley took an active effort in trying to bring about peace & harmony in his native country, Jamaica through his music.He was against aparthied & tried to ease political tensions & strife at the cost of his life. Even his family was not spared, they were attacked & threatened, to such an extent that he had to leave Jamaica & live in self-imposed exile in England!! This did not deter him though & through his performances which drove people into a frenzy, he was able to connect with them & send them the message he believed in.

His convictons were reflected in everything that he did, including his songs & the most profound of his words were that uttered to his son Ziggy, "Money can't buy life.". This short little sentence exemplifies his life & work & although he was not without his shortcomings, Bob Marley, despite his untimely & unlikely death will be someone who has shown that despite adversity, it is possible to succeed!!!!

13 March 2010

Pablo Picasso....can't believe I just missed being born in his lifetime!!!

The most well known artist & sculptor of the last quarter of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso (25/10/1881- 08/04/1973} can only be described as a genius!!! 

I think my first exposure to art must have been associated with his name, because even though not knowing who he was, I had heard quite a bit about him & his work.

Picasso was a maverick who embodied many different styles in his work & together with Matisse, co-founded the Cubist form of art. He started off very early, painting realistically in his childhood & gradually evolved into an artist with new techniques & ideas. He rebelled against art as a studied discipline & chose his own path & methods. After finishing his art studies in Madrid, he moved to Paris where he struggled for quite sometime but eventually found wealthy patrons who believed in his work & he also made a lot of friends. He began to acquire a lot of wealth & estates but remained fiercely independent even refusing to cower down to the Germans during the 2nd World war when his art was not accepted.

With his friend & art rival Matisse, he co-founded the Cubist art movement wherein the objects painted were broken up & analysed in terms of their shapes. This was done to depict objects from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context. This kind of art became well known in the early 1900's & is used in paintings & sculptures even today.

Although he was very famous as an artist, Picasso was also very well known for his colourful personal life having had a string of wives & mistresses. This often diverted attention from his work but nevertheless, he continued to create & dabble in different mediums & style. He was very prolific in his work, having created 50,000 pieces of artwork in his lifetime which grace homes, museums & public places all over the world today.

This blog, is my personal tribute to a great artist, a man whose work has inspired me enough to take up art seriously & to think differently!!!

The Violin...a small musical instrument, but one which has stood the test of time!!!

The Violin, also called the fiddle is a very fascinating bowed instrument & as most of us know, consists of 4 strings, tuned in fifths & played with a bow. It is held between the shoulder & chin & has got one of the highest pitches of the stringed instruments family.

The instrument actually originated in the early 16th century in Italy (but of course!!!) & was made by Andrea Amati. It consists of simple pieces of wood which are glued together & strung with gut, nylon or steel. The instrument is played by a violinist who produces sound by drawing a bow across the strings & manipulating his fingers accordingly.

The violin, ever since its inception has been a much cherished & flexible instrument, used in all kinds of musical styles like baroque music, classical jazz, folk, pop, rock 'n roll etc. This just goes to show its versatility & thus can be called an orchestra in itself. Classical music & jazz used the violin as a solo instrument but popular music in the 1970's relied heavily on it as an accompaniment for an orchestra. Musicians like Bing Crosby & much recently the Corrs have still kept its influence alive even with the advent of electronic music.

Even in India, the violin is a very important part of South Indian classical music & has even been used in film music!!! Although I do find it complex & a bit daunting to learn, it would be a much cherished dream of mine to have done so!!

10 March 2010

Yakshagana....a popular & colourful form of dance theatre in Karnataka, India!!!

I recently witnessed the popular dance form 'Yakshagana' being performed at a cousin's wedding in Bangalore. Although there were a lot of distractions during the marriage ceremony, the dance performance definitely had me riveted. This maybe because I was viewing it in a different setting rather than just as a stage performance.

Yakshagana is a traditional & classical form of theatre combining dance, music, dialogues, costumes & stage techniques with a distinct style & is dynamic in essence. It is believed to have originated in the 13th century & is usually performed by the people of South India i.e Karnataka. It might also have evolved from pre-classical music and theatre. It can be compared to a large extent to the Western tradition of Opera & some even believe that the dance form Bharatnatyam originated from it.
Yaksha-gana literally means the song (gana) of a Yaksha. Yakshas were an exotic tribe mentioned in the Sanskrit literature of ancient India.

In a Yakshagana performance, actors wearing colourful costumes & makeup enact various roles especially depicting mythology i.e from the Hindu epics & puranas. It consists of a narrator (Baghawatha) who either narrates the story by singing or sings precomposed dialogues of a character, backed by musicians playing on traditional musical instruments as the actors dance to the music, with actions that portray the story as it is being narrated.

The performances are such that there are large troupes of artists travelling through villages thus providing entertainment to the people & also managing to address them through social messages. This dance form is slowly gaining popularity & can even be found being practiced all over India & abroad.

But no matter how much more I describe & speak about it, nothing can match the feeling one gets after having actually viewed a live performance......I can only term it as exhilarating!!!!

09 March 2010

To Kill a Mocking bird....the most simple & touching story I have ever come across!!

I'm sure most of us have read the book or else seen the movie but for those who have'nt....you don't know what you have missed.....

'To kill a Mocking bird' is a semi-autobiographical novel written by the author Harper Lee & published in the year 1960. It is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel which has become a part of American literature.

In brief, it is a story that tells of racial inequality & rape albiet with warmth & a bit of wry humor. The story is narrated from the viewpoint of the 6 yr old Scout Finch who lives with her older brother & widowed father, Atticus Finch. Scout gives an account of her neighbourhood & its daily goings-on & as children, her incredible curiosity & fascination with the hidden & reclusive neighbour. She is most often accompanied by her brother & friend in this. In the meanwhile, Atticus being a lawyer is entrusted with the task of defending a black man accused of raping a young white girl. The trial does'nt go the right way & although the black man is innocent, he is wrongly convicted by the predominantly white jury. This fact is realised by the children who though knowing the right from the wrong, watch helplessly as the wrong triumphs!!!

For details, you will have to read the book but what actually struck me about this story, is the title which is aptly described when Atticus gives air rifles to his children & tells them that although they can "shoot all the bluejays they want", they must remember that "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" because, all that the bird does is give pleasure by its song & never harms other birds, thus killing it would only be killing its innocence.

The book was made into an award winning movie in 1962 by the same name starring actor Gregory Peck which was a huge hit & is true to the book. Basically the story is about innocence & rightness, courage & compassion. The narration is brilliant &  though I have read it innumerable times, I keep going back to it again & again because its message although redundant, remains relevant even today!!!!

Papier-mâché....was surprised to find it has French origins!!!

Although I am aware & collect artefacts made of Papier-mâché, I was under the impression that it had a very Persian & Middle eastern origin because in India, these are commonly made in Kashmir. It thus took me quite by surprise when I went online to research it, that its history goes as far back as the 1700's & it actually originated in France!!!

Papier-mâché (French: chewed up paper) is actually an object made by gluing together pieces of paper soaked in a wet paste i.e glue, starch or adhesive, & applied on a base/ frame till it is dry . The basic principle involved is to make three dimensional objects out of paper pulp. It was originally done as a low cost alternative to carved wood & was quite well received.

The wet paper prepared is placed on a base surface and allowed to dry slowly. The crafted object becomes solid when the paste dries. Once dried, the resulting material can be cut, sanded and/or painted, and waterproofed by painting with a suitable water repelling paint. Adding oil of cloves reduces mold development & also makes the product long-lasting.

In the old days, the qualities of Papier-mâché such as resilience, sturdiness & lightness of weight, was used to make all kinds of products, from ornaments, masks, furniture to even firearms & telescope refractory domes!!

In recent times, they have been used to make large temporary sculptures & floats & are also used in theatrical props. Many contemporary artists like John Connell & Kiki Smith use this medium in their sculptures.

The advent of plastics has no doubt restricted its use, but it has still managed to survive & continues capturing the imagination of people everywhere, especially me!!!

08 March 2010

Imagine creating furniture from live plants!!!

This is exactly what designer Asif Khan has done when challenged by the Design Museum in London to create something special using local plant life. He thus used the plant Gypsophila (commonly known as Baby's breath) which was allowed to bloom into something beautiful & aesthetic to sit on!!!!

The plant's natural ability to interlock, was taken advantage of & this enabled the designer to use it for his specific purpose. Once the plant was in bloom, it was harvested, woven & then placed into pre-designed molds to be freeze-dried over several weeks. After the subsequent hardening, each piece received a coating of linseed oil resin to lock its shape into place.

The artist called this series of furniture 'Harvest' & it not only makes use of unconventional materials but is also beautiful, harmonious & merges the interior with the exterior world.

By using this kind of furniture, it might help to relieve the guilt we feel when using wood from cut & felled trees. At the same time it also helps us give back something to nature in exchange for what we have taken from it!!!!