The 23 canvases on view at Sarala’s Art World are a meditative map of artist Vera de Jong’s journey from Canada to India

When I walk into the space with paintings by Vera de Jong, I feel I am witness to select parts of the earth on her canvases, mysterious parts that are etched and evolved, milked from the rich understanding that has sieved through the artist’s mind. It recalls an ancient Buddhist shrine with gardens, called Daigo-ji, more than a 1,000 years old, near Kyoto where Vera lived for four years. Daigo translates to “essence of milk” — a metaphor for the cream of thoughts. Order and serenity, clear lines, and the beauty and balance of Japanese aesthetic have undeniably influenced de Jong’s compositions.

From Japan, where she was teaching English since 1992, Canadian artist Vera de Jong made her way to India in 1996, with her husband George Penner, who had grown up in Kodaikanal. Vera set up her first studio in Hyderabad and painted with a fresh focus, experimenting with watercolours, rejecting oils, before moving on to acrylic, the quick and pliable medium that she has used ever since. It was Vera’s battle with the unbearable heat in her studio, in a new and challenging Indian milieu, which fired to life her initial large canvases bursting with intense and vibrant colours. For the first time, she confesses, her painting actually helped to process an immediate experience. Vera had her first solo show in Daira Art Gallery, Hyderabad.

Self-taught

A contemplative painter, Vera’s art is informed by her study of history and a spiritual inquiry, giving each painting the time it needs. In 2007, Vera and George moved to Kodaikanal and she set up her studio there in an old stone building beside their home. Trained in carpentry, when she could not find readymade frames, she started to make them herself, stretching the canvas across the frame. The final frame is a permanent part of the artwork. Completely self-taught, Vera evolved her own visual language as an abstract painter using figurative allusions. She embraces her work with dedication, allowing for experimentation. It is an intense involvement where she whittles away at her canvas, scraping, shaving and then layering the surface to create her art. Wherever she wants cracks on her painting to naturally form, she uses a special layering technique, allowing the last coat of acrylic to dry in a certain way. Sometimes she allows the texture of the canvas to show through the paint.

Vera de Jong’s show in Chennai features 23 works with four 4-panel works, three 3-panel works, one 2-panel work and the rest all single canvases. She brings to the palette her paler, richer and softer hues of Canada with which she intervenes with India. It speaks more of her inward journey in Kodaikanal, of displacement from Canada and this meeting of territories through the topographies of her painting. In Compass, an arc evenly scores the canvas, circulating the universe de Jong has laid out — an architectural plan, with all evidence of the construction lines so the process of making is not separate from her painting. In How Many Cities, she portrays the succession of communities over history as we carry the past forward. In this depiction of skyscrapers reflected in the water, the emphasis is on the building being different than its reflection. Through this, de Jong interprets how these are visuals over time, how the entire past stretches over time that we experience in the present.

In a moment of epiphany, these stimulating works reveal how she has compressed the time of varied human experiences in her art form much as we see time in a redwood tree’s annular rings — in the now. The link to one’s one land is always greatly fostered by separation from it: this distancing perhaps causes the artist in Vera to look for what binds us as peoples. For we should want to see what is similar in order to come together, and de Jong by evaluating history, memory and her relocation, brings us these meditative maps of faith, plentitude and scribed geographies drawn with her internal compass. For Vera de Jong, painting is about everything and everything is about painting.

Vera de Jong’s paintings are on view till August 20 at Sarala’s Art World.