Tao has many galleries at different levels. Walking through one of the galleries on the upper floor I came across a remarkable painting structured with small strokes of the knife. I was curious, I asked Kalpana, whose work it was and she said it was a work of a new artist. After few months when I visited her again she showed me few more works of the same artist and I said to her you must have an exhibition of these works. Who is the artist? She smiled and replied these are my works. I was pleasantly surprised. Earlier I had seen her drawings which were realistic and now this transformation. She queried do they resemble any other artist or do you see anybody’s influence? I answered, No, they don’t. They could be broadly classified as optical art or OpArt which hits the retina directly. There is much depth in the works unlike the use of classical perspective where the vanishing point is the ultimate destination. In this works the depth is non-perspectible and the structure is architectonic or multi dimensional. The eye enters the body of work, travels around back and forth creating a new kind of multi-dimensional space and optical illusion. Kalpana told me excitedly that she and her husband Pankaj are planning a show of her works in the near future. But tragedy struck leaving Kalpana alone.
To be an artist or a scientist the first condition is to know inner-self which means “TO BE” art belongs to a different time and space where birth and death are part of the continuum.
Mumbai, December 2009
In the decade that the Tao Art Gallery has been in existence, Kalpana Shah has extended her warmth and generosity of spirit to artists, writers, curators, collectors, and viewers at large. And while she is known as a friend of artists, few have suspected that her journey into art began, many years ago, with her own drawings and paintings. This aspect of her life had been kept intensely private until recently, when Kalpana realised that her love of the image helped her to express much that she could not otherwise articulate.
Kalpana had already decided to work towards a solo exhibition last year when tragic events intervened to transform her life, completely altering its tempo and focus. While she worked to cope with the sweeping nature of the change, she found that the image brought a measure of consolation: while art cannot dismantle the irreparability of loss, it has brought a gradual measure of healing and acceptance.
Kalpana’s paintings develop from the single daub or cleat of paint, often in a burnished gold, copper or silver, as their unit of measurement. Arrayed in patterns that resemble the curve of coastlines, the path of cloud flotillas, the profiles of cities against the competing orbs of sun and moon, or forests touched by dawn, these daubs or cleats grow to encompass a world of sensory perceptions. They approximate for us the touch of sunlight, the feel of moonlight, the shadows of evening, the grey scale of darkling seas breaking into foam, forests rising to the snow line, or rivers in mid-current.
This abstraction is one informed by Kalpana’s long-term engagement with the idioms of such exponents of the visionary landscape as Akbar Padamsee, S H Raza and Ram Kumar: this suite of paintings acts, at one level, as an extended act of homage to their explorations. At another level, Kalpana’s paintings are an embrace of the natural world, the world that speaks in unheard voices to the reason and the senses that are too often trapped in the anxieties and urgencies of metropolitan life.
In her suite of works shaped in mild steel and stainless steel, Kalpana addresses herself to a medium that is more customarily associated with industrial monumentality and endurance, and more recently with the cool, crisp elegance of design. She imparts to this medium the delicacy of the textile, the fluency of water. In Kalpana’s handling, steel is induced to renounce the blandness and sturdy angularities identified with its utilitarian avatar; in place of these hardy properties, we find undulating skeins of colour that enchant the eye with the music of pattern. We are reminded, when we view these works, of that marvellous trope of infinity playing in an eternal loop, dreamt up by mathematicians: the Möbius strip. We are put in mind, also, of those subtle threads of breath from which the fabric of the spirit is woven, in Kabir’s poetic account.
There is, in these paintings and works in metal, a suggestion of great expanses of space and emotion held in reserve. They remind us of the gift that the consciousness enjoys, for expanding to cosmic scale while also flowering in intimacy, or, in the words of the Chandogya Upanishad, they remind us that “as great as the infinite space beyond is the space within the lotus of the heart.”
Mumbai, December 2009
Imagination can be elusive and seductive. If the mind is open to receiving its wealth of possibilities, it can transform an arid desert into a rain forest. Perhaps that is how Kalpana Shah has been making quiet harvest of her fertile mind.
It was on one still September evening this year, when I first witnessed the series of paintings that had, it seemed, appeared magically from her womb. Some twenty-five canvases of vivid pigments knife-bladed onto naked surfaces – like thumbprints that had unearthed articulation.
At that point, all the canvasses were untitled, urging the viewer to decipher readings of the artist’s journey. Clearly, one could trace a voyage of infinite pleasure in the elements of nature and play with pigment: the sun bleeding through a rust and amber sky or ochre mountains morphing into rugged faces; blue waves licking a thirsty shore or a shimmering river curving through forgotten terrain.
The application of metallic pigment in many of the works imbues another way of seeing, especially with the changing textures of light. Thus, what appears as a landscape when seen in the day, transforms with the slow dance of light into a blaze of abstract metaphors by night.
Similarly, her recent experiments with metal reflect a palpable delight in its malleability. Shah has not merely ‘tasted metal’ and is not merely enticed by its fluid nature, but to her the ductile strands are a poetic vocabulary that tantalizes the imagination. The installations, a series of metal rivers hinged to metal grips on either side flow into desired shapes as willed by the artist –– in a new rhythm discovered with an old form.
While living intensely with art as a gallerist, Shah, a self-taught dabbler of paint, shifted from her seminal, tentative experiments with Romanticism, to decisively discover the joys of a lexis close to ‘Abstract Expressionism’ – a form particular to a group of post-World War II painters like William De Kooning, Hans Hoffmann and Arshille Gorky, who were Americans of European origin.
All of these erstwhile artists practiced abstract forms to express their inner thought-processes or feelings. Like Hoffmann, whose works mirrored his understanding of colour, its spatial juxtapositions and passion for natural elements, Shah also delves into her inner instincts that seek and connect with nature in its varied forms.
A Singaporean artist of the same genre, Mike Wong Joon Fong continues the process paved by Kooning, Hoffmann and Gorky in a slightly deviated form which may be defined as ‘action painting’. While he employs almost flamboyant brush strokes to explore the subliminal workings of his mind, Shah’s process is meditative – a kind of recurring rhythm, like the repetitive reading of prayer beads. However, there is a sharing of philosophical inquiry between Mike Wong and Kalpana Shah, where they both believe being “human” means being spiritual.
The spiritual plays a key note in Shah’s symphony of abstracts, reflecting her own search as well as her proximity to veteran artist SH Raza and her admiration of his meditative vocabulary. In fact, Raza’s works have, for many years inhabited her being and inspired her own contemplation of life and its layers of meanings.
The practice of referencing other artists is never to diminish the work of the artist in question, but is in fact, an exciting exercise in transcending territories to discover people of a particular tribe, who, despite disparities in location and environment, share similar concerns. Interesting therefore, is the fact that while I allude to Hoffman, Gorky, Kooning, Wong and Raza, there is another artist, Canadian painter Eli Bornowsky whose works are also stirred by a spiritual quest through the repetitive chant of lines or circles.
Having intensely experienced both, the exhilaration of love and the bewildering pain of loss, Shah finds profound solace in the spiritual. And like Wong and Bornowsky, she has decidedly circumvented the fashionable trend of ‘issue’ or ‘cause’ related art to pursue her own conversations with the elements and mysteries of nature and the universe.
October 18, 2009
During the last one year, Kalpana has devoted herself to forging a new way of seeing through an intense and impassioned exploration of a variety of forms. Constantly questioning, seeking, taking nothing for granted, Kalpana has in her own way transformed our understanding of how we perceive the world and how art can alter our vision. Interweaving detailed account of personal experience and artistic endeavour, she developed a system of symbols with which she could depict her own experiences; her creativity fuses playfulness with a deeply felt philosophy.
In the current suite of works Kalpana’s influence of scientific theory is present in familiar grids and patterns upon which the images are built, and yet they possess a spontaneity and fluid movement in space that breaks away from any kind of rigid underpinning. Her attention is focused on the relationship of three-dimensionality in the perception of color and form of painting to the twodimensional area of the picture.
A key to understanding her paintings is to follow the process of how a picture is created – First, layers of colors with varying thickness are applied to the pictures surface on top and next to each other. In a complicated and sometimes lengthy process, portions of individual colors are rubbed away, washed off and altered using spatulas during the drying phase, so that on the one hand varnishes and on the other the torn edges of elusive paint are produced.
This creates an abstract colored surface that is renewed again and again and generates an infinite result, and is something that is worth viewing from close up. Then the layers of colors arranged in tiles behind each other, which convey the feeling of surprisingly variable depths, can be perceived particularly well. The artist notes that the transparency of the paints allows for one to witness – “all the events that went into the making of the painting”.
In the paintings, columnar forms suggested by built-up geometric patterns appear alongside mathematically derived shapes which the artist calls “city-scape” or “face”, the theoretical nature of these figures is significant, and is entwined with Kalpana’s interest in the generation of new pictorial spaces. The painter shows herself primarily not in the structure of painting but in the idea of what is depicted. The painting is markedly illusionistic; lines are separated from the color and are the purely constructive element. And yet the lines and the space they circumscribe and depict correspond to the color. The reason for this is that, as already mentioned, with color the important thing is also the illusion of space. Her works are abstract conceptual figures culled from grid theory, a specialized area of topology involving the study of mathematical patterns—defined as closed curves in space whose lines do not touch or intersect. Kalpana continues to investigate the complexities of space that painting alone is able to conjure, drawing on the tension between organic and in-organic forms.
Her work, speaks not of forms but of forces and intensities, not of the stabilities of the grid but of dynamic movement – of some of the conceptual possibilities available to pictorial space when one pushes paint around and through and ultimately off the grid.
Mumbai, December 2009
Love like you’ve never been hurt and live like it’s heaven on Earth.”
The word love can refer to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from generic pleasure to intense interpersonal attraction. Love has been defined in a myraid ways in the past. From Virgil’s “Love conquers all” to the Beatles’ “All you need is love.” St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, defined love as “to will the good of another.” Bertrand Russell describe love as a condition of “absolute value,” as opposed to relative value. Philosopher Gottfried Leibniz said that love is “to be delighted by the happiness of another. The concept of love has blossomed in its unique way across cultural geographies, which makes it difficult to establish any universal definition.
Love is often linked to being surreal as well as spiritual and this association goes a long way back in time. In Ancient India, Hinduism defined love in different ways such as kāma or pleasurable, sexual love, personified by the god Kamadeva, prema or elevated love, Karuna or compassion and mercy and Bhakti or loving devotion to the supreme God. These concepts have been imbibed in India over centuries and exist simultaneosly with the global percolations of the different manifestations of love.
In Ancient Greece the natives worshiped Aphrodite the goddess of love and beauty. They believed that she emerged from the sea epitomized in Sandro Boticelli’s Birth of Venus. The legend is believed strongly throughot Europe as people look for the godess and her grace in their partners amalgamated well by the Irish poet George William Russell in his poem, Aphrodite
“As to her worshippers she comes descending from her glowing skies, So Aphrodite I have seen with shining eyes look through your eyes”
In India, we applaud the woman as a Yogini, as one who possess a steadfast mind, which is cultivated through the disciplined pursuit of transcendence. She has many faces: from devotional to demure, and from fiery to fierce; The Yogini is the amalgmation of inner energy and ecstacy, the source of the Shakti and the idol of wisdom and energy. It is to this primordial energy that the individual invokes in facing the many challenges of a dynamic existence.
And it is this leap of faith which prompted gallery owner and Kalpana Shah to showcase her work in a public domain. Although Kalpana has been painting for the past 25 years, she was hesitant to exhibit the artworks which were done purely as an act of pleasure.
In her early works it was apparent that Kalpana was deeply influenced by the style of the early Indian modernists painters. One could feel the resonances of S. H. Raza’s reflective landscapes. The paintings had an idealized romantic air about them. It was one fine day in the year 2008 with the deft application of white and silver with a knife as an instrument and acrylic paint as the medium, that she found her singular voice. Cushioned within the genre of abstraction, the repeated flat application of acrylic paint with a palette knife with a mathematical precision doused with melodic notes becomes her signature. And ever since there has been no looking back, canvas after canvas has rolled out with clockwork regularity.
That Kalpana enjoys the sheer act of painting, is obvious in the thick layers of acrylic on canvas. No thought out drawings and sketches for her. Kalpana takes the knife and applies paint directly on the canvas. Sometimes the paintings emerge as virtual translations of her visualizations, and at other times the result is contrary to what was originally conceptualized. “My paintings are being with my loved ones in my heart. Sometimes I am chanting with each stroke. I play with colors and forms without thinking of any art I have seen in my life.”
From two-dimensional paintings Kalpana moves into a three-dimensional space with consummate ease. The acrylics in paintings and steel in installations appear luminous and ephemeral. Kalpana’s application of paint and assemblage in steel is a deliberate act of an adoration of beauty bordering in the realm of decorative. The recurring leitmotif is a deep meditative silence, which becomes a performative act. It is in the repeated act of doing that Kalpana transforms herself into a ‘yogini’.
While creating installations Kalpana gives definition to the strength of steel by representing it as textiles. Kalpana virtually weaves with and into steel as she creates ethereal installations which lunge, fall, flow in a serpentine mesh. Steel becomes soft and pliant in her hands as she gently unfolds the break from the space of traditional sculpture into a more experimental forms.
The twenty two paintings and ten installations in the exhibition The Power of Love reveal in different ways the inspirations culled from her surroundings, the rich experiences that she has had very early in her childhood, her love for nature, for music and writing. The art works take us into the private and personal imaginary world of Kalpana Shah which is dotted with the earth, the sun and moon, mountains rivers and the sky soaked in the abundance of colours, forms and textures drawn from nature.
With “Radiance” Kalpana Shah showcases her latest paintings and installations.
Known widely as the owner of the renowned Tao Art Gallery in Mumbai, she made her debut as an artist in 2009, and was well received by eminent artists such as Husain, Akbar Padamsee, Krishen Khanna and Manu Parekh. Subsequently, in 2010 she held a successful solo show at the Habitat Centre in New Delhi followed by another at Amdavad ni Gufa in Ahmedabad in 2011. And now, in 2012, she brings her artworks to The Birla Art Academy in Kolkata.
Kalpana’s engagement with art began inconspicuously enough with drawings and paintings she made during her student days. Although she enjoyed the process of painting, she did not give it serious consideration at the time, treating it more like a hobby to be indulged in at whim. But the pleasure that she had derived from painting channeled itself productively over the years into visits to art galleries, interactions with artists and acquisition of art works.
In 2000, already married and mother of two, Kalpana was able to actualise her dream of setting up an art gallery. The Tao Art Gallery that she established at Worli in mid-town Mumbai comprises superb exhibition spaces spread over three levels and equipped with state of the art facilities. As a gallerist Kalpana has been required to regularly interface with different aspects of the art world such as art production, art connoisseurship and the art market. Gradually, her involvement in the field has intensified, leading to the curation of exhibitions of Indian Art overseas. Perhaps because of this exposure, the urge to paint that had lain dormant for many years, resurfaced and, one day in 2008, she found herself in front of a large canvas with a palette and brush in hand. As she started to paint she realized that the act of painting was not only exhilarating in itself but also deeply satisfying on a personal level, providing a new direction in life. Her family enthusiastically encouraged her decision to pursue it.
Kalpana’s first solo show was planned for early 2009, but tragedy struck in November 2008, and her world came crashing down. In those days of benumbing pain and utter hopelessness it was the power of prayer and meditation in the form of painting that provided some sense of stability to her disrupted existence. In the years that followed, she has transformed her sorrow into a spiritual quest, which derives its energy and thrust from love felt and experienced. She has consciously and deliberately put the past behind her. And now, animated by a new resolve, she stands steadfast as she reshapes the future for herself and her children.
Kalpana’s early efforts in painting had been in the sphere of Naturalism and Romanticism. However, in its later avatar her preferred idiom is Abstract Art. She was able to effect an easy transition from one style to the other and develop a distinctive expression which carried itself with assurance. In her choice of stylistic idiom, as also the thematic content of her paintings, Kalpana has been inspired by the works of such leading modernist artists of Mumbai as Akbar Padamsee and S.H. Raza. Her close association with them for many years has created a deeper appreciation and understanding of art and the values it seeks to embody in its expression. She finds Padamsee’s landscapes suffused with poetic and mystic qualities, and Raza’s works with their underpinnings of Indian philosophy, extremely meaningful. She strives towards integrating such subliminal approaches in her works.
Unlike many artists Kalpana does not make preparatory sketches or plan her paintings before starting to work. She believes that the act of painting should be spontaneous, free from preconceived notions. As a result she is herself often surprised by what she produces – images that she was not aware existed in her consciousness. Generally, Kalpana bases her paintings on a uniformly laid out pattern of parallel lines. She then builds up her imagery within those lines in repeated regular sized squarish or rectangular strokes. By layering and texturing the paint and selectively emphasizing, blending or obliterating areas she creates cohesive compositions that depict the jagged skyline of a city, the wooded hills, the expanse of the ocean, or the vast firmament of the sky. A sensitive colorist, Kalpana offsets soft sedate tones against deep shadowy hues, with the glint and glimmer of silver, gold and burnished bronze as highlights. Her paintings, with their geometric precision and patterned rhythms are imbued with luminosity.
Kalpana has also created some striking installations that recontextualise steel. Intrigued by the flexibility of this tensile material in the form of chains, Kalpana drapes skeins of steel concatenations into flowing forms that curve, turn, twist and loop. The installations underline the inherent paradox of steel—strong and unyielding in its solid form, pliant and graceful when forged into chains. In these installations, colour imparts an element of vitality to its characteristic monotone. According to Kalpana, it is her love for textiles, jewelry and fashion that have come together in these installations.
For Kalpana, her art is the narrative of her life.
The landscape does not exist in nature. It is one of the many gifts that the artistic imagination offers for the delectation of the viewing eye. The landscape is nature framed by the artist, its elements chosen and combined from among the diverse offerings of the natural world: sky, earth, water, natural phenomena, and the shifting moods of the year. The landscape is thus, from the beginning, a vehicle that carries symbolic value. And while it may seem to be related intimately to space, it is equally powerfully an image of time.
Presenting itself as a stage for the seasons and a setting for human activity, the landscape is a theatre through which the universe manifests itself in its varying temporalities, a theatre that the artist celebrates and memorializes. We are reminded, here, of the sophisticated manner in which the magisterial Sanskrit poet Kalidasa enacts the beauty, pleasure and melancholia of the turning wheel of the year in his poetic cycle, Ritusamhara, the ‘Garland of the Seasons’. As we read the poem, we find ourselves engaging with the recalibrations of temperature and tempo in nature across a twelve-month period, as well as, correspondingly, our own shifting sensations and emotional states, the raptures we seize and the absences we mourn.
In Kalpana Shah’s art, the landscape, rendered through the prism of abstraction, has played a central role. The given pattern of nature, embracing the dialogue of sky and earth, forest and water, mountain and plain, elicits from the artist a response phrased in a symbolic vocabulary of colour and a chosen idiom of repeated gestures, with a system of daubs or cleats of paint deployed to create strata, outlines and the suggestions of varied kinds of terrain.
In Kalpana’s handling, nature is translated into pattern. She draws our attention to the cyclic dance of creation, destruction and resurgence through which the universe renews and recreates itself. In her abstractionist departures from the landscape, mountain ranges rise, echo themselves visually, perform a perennial choreography; waves of rain seem to meet rocky outcrops, sky and sea striking the earth as a single tide; turmeric gradients convey the earth’s generative energies; and a peak rises like a magnificent tower, the forms of geology crossed, momentarily, with the forms of architecture.
We are reminded, as we view Kalpana’s works, with Kalidasa beside us, that the Sanskrit word samhara has several meanings: if it means ‘garland’, it can also mean ‘harvest’ and ‘slaughter’. The seasons can be woven together into a strand; they can also be readied for the great Harvester from whom all creation emerges and in whom it is dissolved at the end of time; the annual rites of violence enacted by winter and summer prepare us for the processes of rebirth in the spring and monsoon. Even at the bleakest times, the promise of resurgence is always present: it is that promise, that hope, which animates Kalpana’s art.
Mumbai, December 2014
‘Stray birds of summer come to my windows to sing and fly away. And yellow leaves of autumn, which have no songs, flutter and fall there with a sigh. O troupe of little vagrants of the world, leave your footprints in my words.’
– Rabindranath Tagore
The dark stormy clouds have spent themselves and it is tranquil once more, the skies a serene blue with the orb of the sun mistily visible.
Beneath the heavens the earth newly cleansed is radiant, resurgent.
In the present suite of works Kalpana Shah revisits the natural world where the landscape is dominated by colour fields and the silhouette of distant mountains. Intuitively, you feel the invisible presence of the painter in the midst of nature, inhabiting the very world she is painting. The infinite expanse of the horizons and panoramic vistas of distant mountain peaks towering up into the skies is captured not in a flurry of brush strokes but much more intricately in a complex mosaic pattern that gives the works a classical feel.
Her allegiance has always been towards abstract painters she has shown at her gallery Tao and even collected, but when it comes to her own preferred genre, she veers away from the abstract or conventionally non-figurative. What she does seek to evoke, instead, is a luminous impression of the vastness of nature, its immenseness. The landscape she paints is inspired by memory of lands explored and the painted space is consciously effervescent and vibrant.
It is as if Shah’s meditative reflections have left her calmer and introspective. What was earlier melancholic and desolate is now joyous and optimistic.
The Landscape of Life presents a suite of paintings that celebrate existence. There is resilience in her spirit today and a resolve that she will pursue her dreams irrespective of what happens tomorrow. In her works, the sun appears, like a leitmotif, a symbol of promise and hopefulness as she decodes nature ‘to reveal the very rhythm of life’ as she intends to live it.
– Ina Puri, New Delhi/India
There are times when we pause and reflect on what life means to us. Its all the more true for an artist who is constantly posing new questions and arriving at new paradigms.
Kalpana Shah’s new body of work titled ‘Landscape of Life’ is a testimony to her journey of looking at life and being able to use new mediums to look at life through the aesthetics of her art.
It seems natural for Kalpana to look at Landscape of Life after her Solo exhibitions titled Power of love and Power of Love II where nature and its elements were brought out in beautiful fluidity.
The works in the new series continues to explore nature of not only elements but also of human emotions. One can see the spiritual essence shine through. What makes the works remarkable is the large scale.. One of the work is 6 x 18 feet where different elements of nature come together in a beautiful synthesis. The work looks different from various angles allowing the viewer personal interpretation space. The medium also is interesting of Individual Powder Coated Aluminium on wood. Each tiny piece significant in the making of the whole work just like life where all tiny parts add to make it all worthwhile and full.
Landscape of life thus is an insight into Kalpana’s journey of life,her understanding, gratefulness for the desire to look within and to be able to give an artistic expression to the same through her art using different mediums.
The river flows,flows in all its serenity
From the top of the mountains
Making its eternal journey to the vast ocean.
On one side of the river
People worship it,venerate it
And elevate it to a Goddess.
On the other side,
People spit,shit and float their dead.
The river does not complain
Continuing on its onward journey
But there comes a time,
When the river can,t take it anymore
And then there are floods…
But like a good mother
Slow to anger and quick to appease
The river flows back into its own course
Continuing on its onward journey.
May I like be the good mother and the river
Slow to anger and quick to appease
And may I journey to my Eternity.
The birds will fly away
The tree will still be there
Do not let the tree feel abandoned
For when the birds come back
The tree may not be there.
Delhi, December 2014
(Robinson, an alumnus of St.Stephen’s College, Delhi is a Theologian, Meditation Practitioner, Poet, Art Critic and Heritage Walks Curator primarily based in Delhi. He describes himself as a traveler in life, who intends to journey well.)