Among the lots at Sotheby’s auction in 2007 was a series of paintings, titled “Barah Masa”, on the 12 months that make up a year. As the colours change on the canvas with every season, the works become an interplay not only of passing time, but also of a spiritual journey. The shades of artist Sidharth’s visual inspirations weave into his inner world, a style that marks all his works.
The Chandigarh-based artist is now preparing a series titled “The Decorated Cow”, on the relationship of humans with cows in India. Comprising 60 sculptures and 45 paintings, the series will be showcased at The Louvre, France, one of the world’s most historic museums.
By all yardsticks, it has been a long journey for a man who began life in the family of a Gurbani singer in Rajkot, a small village in Punjab. Along the way, he has been a signboard painter in Ludhiana, an apprentice with contemporary artist Sobha Singh, and a monk in Dharamshala. “My life is a story,” says the artist, who is in his fifties.
Writer and filmmaker Reema Anand is now documenting Sidharth’s life in a 150-page coffee-table book titled Thousand Hands and Feet. “I wrote it in Hindi and Reema is translating it to English, with her own inputs, references and contexts,’’ says Sidharth, who learnt fresco painting techniques from local artisans in Punjab, Tibetan thangka painting from the monks of Dharamshala, glass blowing in Sweden and techniques of Madhubani paintings and Kashmir papier-mache from master craftsmen.
The biography, says Anand, also provides a bird’s eye view of the evolution of contemporary art, architecture and culture in Punjab. “This biography is not about the self, but about all the people, mentors and characters who have shaped my life and being. We cannot exist alone, so how can art be created in isolation? The book tells stories of my parents, village, trees, animals, friends and gurus and builds an artistic link to life as a whole,’’ says Sidharth, adding that the book’s text comprises prose as well as verse.
Sidharth has written three endings for the book and talks about the spiritual transformation that reflects in his work, be it documentaries on Indian temple art and architecture, designing houses, composing music, translating Oriental poetry to Saraiki language, or conducting detailed studies on mineral and vegetable pigments and their use in contemporary paintings.
In the pages, there are also references to his stint as a chowkidar, being denied a hostel at the Chandigarh College of Art for defaulting on fees twice, and going without food for days. “I came to Delhi after my degree in art from Chandigarh College of Art. Along with a few friends, I began working and living in Garhi, in a chowkidar’s home, and it’s here that I worked for my first show, on a series of paintings titled ‘Self Clowns’. I was nervous, and sat outside the gallery. Artists and art critics whom I never thought I would see or meet, not only appreciated the work, but spent time analysing it and made an effort to meet and congratulate me. That moment, I knew I had arrived in Delhi, and after that day in 1985, there was no looking back,’’ says Sidharth.