The art of painters-illustrators- authors Suddhasattwa Basu and Mala Marwah meets and departs at several points

Nature is at the core of this two artists’ show presented by Gallery Espace. Two senior artists, illustrators and writers Suddhasattwa Basu and Mala Marwah render their interpretations of nature which are at times representative and realistic. “We are both concerned with aspects of nature. We don’t just want to make pictures of nature but bring out the magic that’s hidden there,” says Mala Marwah of the commonalities between her and Suddhasattwa Basu’s art practice. The two have known each other since “Target” (A popular Indian children’s magazine that was published monthly in English from 1980 to 1995) days. Though they are bound by a common thread of nature, there are several departure points too. The artists reveal to us some of the finer details of their art and their engagement with nature on different levels.

Suddhasattwa Basu

The blue leaves in his depiction of Lotus seem to be almost dancing to the breeze but there is no mistaking the stillness. Movement and stillness remain in equilibrium in Basu’s dreamy watercolours which are soaked in tranquillity. “I love Lotus and it has been there for a long time on my canvas. The only difference is that here it evokes more of meditative mood. Here Lotus is not Lotus,” says the painter-cum-illustrator-cum-animation filmmaker-cum-author. In his latest show, which is happening after a gap of four years, Basu is exhibiting two series — ‘Parasparopagriha jivanam’ and ‘The Sacred Garden’ plus a short animation video, the track of which he discovered while cleaning his cupboard. “I had got it composed 20 years ago but forgot all about it.”

“While the former is about interdependence of life forms, the latter is inspired by the famous book “The Journey to the Sacred Garden”,” explains Basu, who also teaches Classical Animation as a visiting lecturer at College of Art, New Delhi.

Having witnessed untamed gardens in Chandan Nagar in Kolkata in his childhood, Basu grew up loving non-manicured gardens. And that’s the garden he depicts in his ‘Sacred Garden’ series. He extracts the imagery of empty benches, a leaking tap, fountains and colonial gates from his memory to suggest human presence in the vicinity. The nature’s presence surely has an uplifting effect on the viewer but somewhere there is also a hint of melancholy. “Try standing in front of a sea all alone. One feels so sad, scared and humble,” he says.

But there is little narrative to his work. “All my story-telling gets satisfied with other disciplines that I follow. There can never be complete abstraction as some artists claim but there is no storytelling here. Storytelling can be dangerous. It ties one down to a regime to a plot. Metaphors can be misunderstood.”

Mala Marwah

In the solo, done after 29 long years, painter, art historian, author and cartoonist Mala Marwah has come up with drawings and paintings on botanical and architectural subjects. “But they are not two separate bodies of work. I look at that them as where one has led to another,” says the artist who is struggling with multiple health issues.

In love with nature, she says, she travels to Mussourie whenever she can, armed with sketch books. “I do a lot of sketching there. I have dozens and dozens of sketch books from there but I am not showing any sketches but a few small drawings which are rooted there. Also my botanical subjects are born from the house I live in. It’s a 100-year-old house and has an old garden planted by my mother. A lot of my time is spent in the verandah sketching. Some of the works have emerged from there and from my father’s ancestral house in Hoshiarpur,” explains Mala who hails from New Delhi.

Having an M.F.A. in Art History from M.S. University, Baroda, Department of Art History and Aesthetics, Mala has written on modern Indian art along with publishing poems and short stories. “My works are narrative to an extent. A narrative is a moment in a series of happenings and my work fits into this space,” says Mala, who says describing her art writing as research-based and academic. She was one of the first art writers to have written extensively on Nilima Sheikh. “Like Nilima, I also believe very earnestly in the relationship between word and image. Jataka stories are the basis for Ajanta paintings and miniature tradition is also steeped in stories.”

(The show is on till August 10 at Gallery Espace, Community Centre, New Friends Colony, New Delhi.)