F E M I N I N E I D E N T I T Y & B E Y O N D
“What I want to show in my work is the idea which hides itself behind the so-called reality. I am seeking for the bridge which leads from the visible to the invisible” – Michelangelo
For Radhika Varma Hormusjee art happened quite naturally. A young girl who grew up with paintings all around her, it did not take much time for Radhika to discover the artist in her…“drawing was a normal way of life for me”.
Radhika is a graduate of the Government School of Arts and Crafts, Chennai where she fine-tuned her creativity and allowed it to grow in a new and unique direction. That was particularly important to her because she bears the responsibility and liability of her last name, Varma. Radhika is the daughter of Uma Varma, also an accomplished artist and the great great-granddaughter of the legendary painter Raja Ravi Varma, who introduced the very concept of oil painting in India, thus heralding a new era in modern Indian art. The moment we hear the Raja Ravi Varma connection, we unwittingly seek his influences in her works as we have an innate tendency to explore influence rather than identity!
Since childhood, Radhika was surrounded by the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma and somewhere in her earlier works, one can notice a very distant resemblance to the great painter’s style in the realistic rendering of the female forms, especially their posture. But the resemblance, which comes from visual memory, is purely incidental. Gradually, that similitude disappeared from her works, as she moved down a subtly surrealistic path in search of a new creative idiom.
Though Radhika’s depiction of female figures is realistic in nature, her stylisation renders woman and nature as extensions of each other, ultimately becoming one. The backdrops in her works are not just an inorganic presence. It is with these aspects that Radhika departs from the classic style of her predecessors. In her interpretation of the female identity, she explores the myriad aspects of feminine existence as well. Here, the woman is not an object who pleases the eye of the beholder.
Her works depict lonely women immersed in their dreams and fantasies. Although realistically executed, the overall mood is surreal. Like freeze-frames from a dream sequence, they are still yet lively and bright.
The woman-nature equation assumes many levels of interpretation in Radhika's works. The lotuses that bloom or the colourfully stylised flora and fauna add vibrancy to her compositions and might bring to mind the ever-blooming pictorial world of A. Ramachandran, an artist who took the feminine beauty and pristine charm of nature to new heights. However, Radhika started experimenting with birds and flowers in her works much before she saw the works of this modern-day master. Perhaps the resemblance is more with the cultural roots both artists share – murals and miniatures that ponder the man-nature equation. Moreover, if Ramachandran's compositions celebrate the sensuality of the female body, Radhika looks at its innocence and creative solitude. It is this purity that enables her female forms to interact with birds and flowers - a constant presence in her compositions.
When it comes to her charcoal, pastel and chalk drawings, Radhika prefers to keep that dreamy loneliness at bay and explores the world of birds. The cranes with their elongated necks in various forms, positions and movements enliven her compositions. If Radhika’s women are lonely in their surroundings, the birds are not so. In their solitude, they celebrate life…in their stillness, there is momentum. The vibrancy that Radhika deftly infuses into her birds underscores her control over free-flowing lines. Incidentally, birds entered her compositions during her art schooling in Chennai. A casual visit to a bird sanctuary heralded this metaphor into her creative world. Ever since, their images of longing and fulfillment have added much charm to her works.
On closer introspection, the inner world of a woman finds expression through the ecstatic world of birds. Through her vibrant strokes in a variety of colours, the artist brings to life the contentment and joys of these flying beings. Is it this freedom of expression that the lonely women are searching for in their colourful dreams? While the women brood, the birds enjoy the colours of life. This paradox can be interpreted as the subtle politics of female existence emerging in Radhika’s creative sphere.
The vivacity of colours in Radhika's compositions seem to recall her training in textile design , where colours are as significant as forms, giving it a surreal dimension. By replacing skin tones of her stylised women with different colours, she emancipates the female body from being the object of mere pleasure. In more recent works, bright colours give way to darker tones, which again points to explorations in subjectivity. In shedding the decorative elements of the female body, and the bright colours around, she places the women in her compositions on a new level of existence and identity, thus creating a new body-soul equation.
Interestingly, here again, we can see a very fascinating aspect of Radhika’s style, especially when she handles different mediums. She experiments with colours and well-defined figures in her oil paintings; a world of women that touches the verge of fantasy. But the artist also explores the possibility and potential of lines in portraying the enthralling life of birds in her charcoal, pastel and chalk drawings. To understand the strength of her strokes, one should flip through her early drawings. While infusing life into those sketches, they also reveal her inclination to the abstract…aspects of which are defined in her later watercolours. Like her more recent paintings, many of these drawings are minimalist in their approach.
Predominantly figurative, Radhika’s creative journey is towards abstraction…in her watercolours, landscapes become a riot of colours…forms move towards formlessness and merge into dreamy compositions. Even though she maintains three different approaches in three different medium – oil, watercolour and charcoal, all these styles are mutually complementary, underscoring the strength of an artist who realises the force of the line that leads her from the visible to the invisible, from realistic to abstract.
W O M E N I N C O N F L U E N C E W I T H N A T U R E
Radhika Varma’s recent works revolve around women in confluence with nature, in an abundance of myriad hues. Poets and painters from time immemorial have often compared women to nature and its desiring aspects. This is highlighted in our own traditional art like Kangra and Basholi miniatures. Radhika’s depiction and approach to detail brings back memories of those fabulous traditions.
Although Radhika's works are very contemporary in execution, content and visual appeal, her works reflect her traditional mooring. Coming from a family of artists and being the great-great granddaughter of the renowned Raja Ravi Varma, it is commendable that she has found a path and direction that is uniquely her own.
Her earlier (but ongoing) series of birds, executed in charcoal, watercolours and pastels, have a slight surrealistic aspect to it. Comparatively, these works are rendered in a realistic manner using hues that derives from nature. They also reflect judicious application and control over the medium that the artist has achieved.
Radhika, a graduate of the Government College of Arts and Crafts Chennai, is also trained in textile designing. That perhaps reflects in her precise rendering of elements from nature, like flowers and leaves. These works are indeed a pointer to the maturity and emergence of an artist with a great future and potential.
Lotus Holder | Oil on Canvas | 30” x 30” | 2003 | A reflection of the lotus she beholds…g 3
MY GROWTH AS AN ARTIST & HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Drawing and painting comes naturally to most of us, or so I believed through my growing years. It was only in High School that I realized it was not so for everybody. Coming from a family of artists and being the great-great-granddaughter of Raja Ravi Varma, I was surrounded by generations of art. Inspired by these images and especially watching my mother paint, I found myself sketching everything, including fellow classmates and family members. I realise now that I was fortunate and privileged to be a part of a great tradition.
The urge to take art seriously was never in doubt and materialized after completing Class 12 in Bangalore. The Government College of Arts and Crafts, Chennai honed my skills and opened up many new dimensions for me. Focus on line drawing was a crucial part of my learning process, with structure and form integral to it. Colour led me to design where pattern and form were equally intriguing. I explored human figures in all their fascinating complexity and experimented in different medium and styles. Impressionism was a common path followed by most fine art students at the institution. I found myself enjoying this approach where colours were applied with spontaneity, blending more on the canvas than on the palette. Different hues juxtaposed against each other.
A casual visit to a bird sanctuary one day drew me to the world of winged creatures. Cranes and swans filled my sketchbooks, soon to be transformed into works that captured them in different medium. I began to identify myself with these wondrous creatures. Alone or in a crowd, they conveyed the same feelings – loneliness, seeking to communicate and ultimate fulfillment in union. Birds continue to inspire me today.
Five years of study culminated in a Solo Exhibition at the Soviet Culture Centre. A new chapter began thereafter – marriage and children. A long gap without serious painting – cut away from the art world – the only connection being teaching art privately and in institutions, something I have enjoyed over the years.
Soon a fire within started burning and I was once again seeking to explore my creative side. The urge to hold a brush again led me to set up my own Studio ‘Aarambh’ (Beginning) in 2000, where I could indulge in my own work as well as nurture young talent.
I found myself turning, once more to birds for the way forward. Works in oil were soon followed by charcoal, watercolour, pastel and chalk. I, however, yearned for more. It was perhaps the long gap that made me reach out and restart to communicate feelings of belonging and attachment that pervaded my mindscape, especially in connection to the female form. I needed to express myself. I looked around, nature in all its glory and diversity, captured my soul. The bonding took shape in a series titled “Women in Nature”. These forms were captured in a manner different from my earlier works...taking new direction, drawing me to a world of flowers, birds and insects, curved lines running through them all, there being no straight lines in nature. Thus began a search and a longing to connect. The Birds became a constant comforting presence and seemed to have established a deeper connection with me. Soon, a dream like feeling emerged while looking at the wonder around, assuming varied dimensions and proportions.
What is real and what was not…the series “Woman in Nature” emerged from that existential quest. In the beginning, the forms were rendered with the usual skin tones, light and shade gently moulded in. As the series evolved, different colours replaced the body tones with flatter application of colour. An overall mood of the surreal crept in. Gradually, the woman moved out of her comfort zone to explore the world around her, finding new relationships and establishing wider connections. The ground beneath her feet no longer pulled her down. She could finally rise above her physical limitations…and joyfully transcend.
….There is so much to explore and the journey has just begun….
Radhika Varma Hormusjee