In March 2020, when the nationwide lockdown compelled everyone to stay indoors, art critic and curator Prayag Shukla, like several others, found himself pondering over the times. The uncertainty and quietude bothered him and he found comfort in his pen and paper. This time though, instead of writing his thoughts, he opted to sketch them.
“Years ago, as a journalist, when I used to go for reporting we did not have a camera all the time. We would sketch what we saw. In more recent times, I turned to drawings when I felt I could not find words to express my feelings,” says Shukla, 80.
While the initial months saw him draw with pen and ink, he soon turned to other mediums, including oil pastels and gouache. He is now sharing these in the exhibition “Earth Space Remembrance” at Dhoomimal Art Gallery in the Capital. “When I began, I would share the works with my friends. The positive feedback was encouraging and I started pursuing it further. Krishan Ahuja (artist) also bought me some colours and notebooks,” says Shukla, who recently launched a new book on MF Husain.
Comprising 30 works, the showcase ranges from intricate pen and ink drawings to more vibrant works such as House with a tree in pink, and When the lights are switched on that looks at an urban expanse. If the mixed media work titled Trees have many colours and forms has trees covering the entire frame, in the oil pastel on paper Two rows of flowers, the setting is more formal.
“I would often look out of my window during the initial days of the lockdown, which led to the building structures that are seen in the some of the works. Later, my childhood memories began to surface, as did my love for nature, trees, butterflies,” says Shukla.
The exhibition, he says, is also influenced by his own observations as an art writer over the years. Born in Kolkata, when he moved to Delhi in the 1960s, he spent the initial days living in Ram Kumar’s studio at Gol Market. In the following years, he interviewed several senior artists and documented the growth of Indian art and the works of the modernists. He also accompanied J Swaminathan when he was travelling across Madhya Pradesh for Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal.
“All my experiences have influenced my artworks in myriad ways,” says Shukla. He adds, “Even today, the support that I am getting from the art community is heartening. Jogen (Chowdhury), for instance, told me that for him I am now a ‘poet-painter’. He also wants to exhibit my work at his center in Kolkata.”
The exhibition is on till October 30.