The first thing that strikes you about Arpana Caur’s studio on the third floor of the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature, Delhi, is space. The room is bare except for a low table, a couple of chairs, a dewan and a few canvases. The cool, bare floor is mottled with paint-smears. The room opens out to a terrace flooded with the morning light. The city, with its vanishing green spots and soaring buildings, sprawls in the distance. “A few years ago, I could see the Lotus Temple and the Qutub Minar from here. Now the buildings have obscured the view,” says the soft-spoken artist who has been working at the studio for more than 10 years now.
One ritual still carries on. A group of peacocks and parrots fly into her terrace every morning. “Their numbers have reduced but they are always here to welcome me,” smiles Caur, who spends five-six hours daily here.
The studio was a surprise gift from her mother, Ajeet Caur, on whose initiative the academy came up in 1975. “She had kept it a secret. One day she brought me to the studio and asked me what the lighting should be like. I was left speechless,” says Caur as she switches on the music system. Some of her mother’s books are stacked in an open cabinet in a corner of the studio. Paints and brushes lie neatly arranged. There are other books on miniature and folk art to which you can trace several motifs of her art— the passionate feminine figure to the Basohli paintings and the expressionist architectural forms to the Pahari miniatures. “I refer to these a lot,” says the 53-year-old artist. “The place has grown on me and it is now my temple, gurudwara, church and mosque,” she says.
As notes of Bhai Manjeet Singh’s gurbani fill the room, Caur picks up the brush to paint. It’s time to leave her with her imagination. Suddenly, something strikes you. There are other canvases propped against the red-brick walls. Most have their faces to the wall, others are covered with cloth. “I like to keep some of my artwork and these I’m trying to hide from eager purchasers,” she confides with a smile. Perhaps not startling for an artist who loves her seclusion—she still refuses to carry a cell phone—and her space.