Chandigarh-based artist Madan Lal’s ongoing exhibition in New Delhi addresses the increasingly busy but ultimately hollow human existence

Well-known artist and critic Martin Bradley once described his works as a “broad spectrum of kaleidoscope”. As soon as you rest your eyes on these paintings, on display at New Delhi’s Shridharani Galley till this Sunday, those words ring true. A myriad of colours seems to surround the visitor, not to suffocate, rather to enlighten.

Chandigarh-based senior artist Madan Lal’s exhibition “Urban Mirage” explores the increasingly busy but ultimately hollow modern urban existence that now plagues humanity. “The problem with us humans is that our yearning for possessions just increases — materialism has never decreased. That is what my paintings explore,” he says. Among themes, the artist explores the reluctance of procreation in the work “Aquarium”, the five phases of life in “Where Seeds To Grow” and true emotion of a person in a crowd of masks in “Faces”.

“I chose the word ‘mirage’ because that is mrig trishna, a desire that can never be fulfilled. Our current existence has left us like the egret — always flying high up in the sky whether it is day or night, and crying out for satisfaction, but we never come down to land, which is what we were meant to do,” he says.

For him, painting is a never-ending journey. “I have no focal point in my paintings. Rather my creations showcase what I feel, the complexities of human relationships and life.”

His paintings are awash with symbolism — almost every painting in “Urban Emotions” has arrows, which depict the inner and outer chaos that plagues the urban human life. Other symbols that are present in his works are that of the parrot — for him, representing love, since according to mythology, the parrot is the vehicle of Kamdev. “I like to communicate to my audience through symbols; all that is needed is a close look and all that I wish to communicate will come through,” he says.

Sufism is well and alive in his works too. “I hail from Punjab, and Sufism is seeped into our literature, our culture,” Lal explains. “Sufism is not limited to any religion; it is a way of life. Right from childhood, it is inculcated into our creative outcomes.”

In 1995, Lal had his first exhibition, and since then, his paintings have moved from touching on abstract concepts like music towards a relatively tangible topic in urban musing. He feels that he has not done so intentionally, but offers an explanation, saying, “When I start painting, I start with a blank canvas. I first envision an abstract concept in my mind, and as I add paint to the canvas, a more concrete form starts appearing. That is how I would trace my progression in art.”

As an artist well traversed with the international scene — he has previously had exhibitions in Germany, England and Sweden — he points out that Indian art is very distinct from other cultures. “Indian artists are still rooted in tradition, which comes across in the colours, symbols and forms that we use.”

“Personally, though I have been well educated in the western schools of art, I take inspiration from the Ajanta murals, Indian sculptures and typically Indian architecture while painting,” he says.

(Madan Lal’s paintings are on display at Shridharani Art Gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi, till November 10, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.)