Olivia Fraser has dived into the world of miniatures to fish out a unique visual vocabulary

Wary of making sweeping statements, Olivia Fraser would rather settle for something mild when asked about her journey exploring the miniature traditions and creating a unique visual idiom for herself. “I was an outsider, a traveller. I was aware of my western sensibilities and now it's like I have dived deep into the whole thing,” says the Scottish artist.

It shows in her work. While in the first phase of her artistic career in India, spanning from 1989 to 2007, Olivia found herself fascinated by the everyday life and rendered the same in the Company School style of painting, later she delved deep into the visual traditions of miniatures and Pichwai paintings.

Olivia showcased her new body of work at a recently held exhibition at Nature Morte in Niti Bagh in Delhi and now two of those pieces are on display as part of the group show ‘Iconographic Investigations' at Nature Morte, Gurgaon. Several years dedicated to studying both the techniques and iconographies of miniature painting in Jaipur, yielded her an expertise in the subject. Olivia then took off, deconstructing the iconographies, particularly focused on cosmological ones to make it her signature style. “Training under masters in Delhi and Jaipur, I realised it is a completely different process from the Western….It was rigorous and I copied one Shah Jahan miniature after another. And then I wanted to take it to the next stage…” explains Olivia, who also illustrated her husband, William Dalrymple's ‘City of Djinns'.

Minimalistic yet detailed, Olivia draws on a singular motif from the miniature traditions combining it with other traditions like the Pichwai. For instance, three rows each comprising three flower motifs in a recessed triangle symbolizing the yoni, makes up her painting called ‘Krishna'. In another work titled ‘Seven Oceans, Seven Continents', just the face of Shrinathji, a typical one from the Pichwai paintings of Nathdwara, is placed in the centre, a circle suggesting the cosmos. Olivia finds the miniatures, especially the repeated patterns to be deeply contemplative spaces and hence try to concentrate on this aspect in her art. Even though it's a different take on these century-old traditions, she says her colour palette is unmistakably Indian. “The colours are ground stone pigments of Lapis Lazuli, Malachite, hinglu, which I get it from the miniature artists in Jaipur. And when you burnish them, it goes back to being stone like, radiant and sparking. The opaqueness in the works comes from here,” says the artist, who is now gearing up to showcase this latest set of work at Grosvenor Gallery in London, later this year.

Olivia feels, that she has taken off from where her ancestor, James Baillie Fraser who painted India, its monuments and landscape in the early 1800s left. “He also commissioned local artists to paint and built an extraordinary collection of Company School Paintings and now I am taking it one step forward.”

(Iconographic Investigations is on at Nature Morte, The Oberoi, 443, Udyog Vihar, Phase-V, Gurgaon till May 20)