Colours, crowds, chaos… French artist Sophie Jo's works are a vibrant take on the country

Inspired by her travel and experiences, meeting new people and cultures, Sophie Jouannet Bech has brought out a scintillating collection of paintings exhibited in a solo show. A French artist, graphic designer and illustrator, Sophie Jo was involved with design and illustration since the age of 14. Marriage and her husband's career had her family travelling all over the world, and this, instead of inhibiting her career has provided her with the inspiration, subjects and rich detail that one sees in her works.

Refreshing and unique

A different perspective both literally and figuratively — Sophie Jo shows you India through her eyes. She shows you the colour, the crowds, the minutest details. She lets you look at the surging, colourful mass that is India, yet not from the traditional viewpoint — the artist positions herself behind the thronging crowds, she gives you a crow's eye view, and laces her work with subtle humour. Her perspective is as unique as it is refreshing, making the viewer smile at the sheer joy and energy that radiates from her work.

Boldly drawn with a steady, unwavering hand, Sophie's people come alive with vivid clarity. The hand of the illustrator and graphic designer is evident in the clear, delineating outlines that capture and hold the vibrant colours within their confines.

The canvases are large, eye-grabbing and mesmerising, with captivating attention to detail. ‘Indian Traffic' looks at the surging crowds that are quintessentially Indian and shows the oiled, glossy black of the Indian head and the dancing braids of the womenfolk adorned with schoolgirl ribbons or strings of jasmine. There is no sense of hurrying in the huge crowd that threatens to overflow from the edges of the huge canvas. She adds unusual elements for the perceptive viewer to discover and chuckle over — the expressions on the masks of the mask seller, and in ‘Turbans', the puppets slung across the back of one of the men seeming to have a conversation.

One man holds up a lighted lamp and another, a mug of tea. Someone clutches a skull and a bone, and one person cheekily holds up the braid that pokes out beneath the turban. Interspersed among all these is the element of Nature that is integral to the artist — fish, rodents, snakes, birds, fruits and flowers nudge their way into the composition.

‘The Man' is Sophie's personal take on Mahatma Gandhi, the instantly recognisable silhouette housing the throngs that characterise India. The series is a brilliant tribute to him and the country he fought for, symbolised by the masses.

Sophie carries forward her personal brand of humour in her paintings such as ‘Let's Go' and ‘Water melon', where she shows the contortions and horseplay that is only possible on Indian roads; the unholy glee of the boy on the bicycle and the circus-like balance of the woman riding pillion with several watermelons bring an understanding grin onto the face of the viewer — this we have seen, and this we know.

Entire families squeezed onto single two wheelers are a common enough sight on Indian roads and Sophie highlights and exaggerates it in ‘Force India'.

Familiar scene

The scene shows four people crowded onto a motorcycle, the two women holding children, the satchel of books, the unused helmet dangling from the handlebar and the inevitable squawking chicken getting in the way of the vehicle. Careless of both road rules and personal safety, ‘Force India' is typically Indian in the way it captures the essence of our Indian roads.

Vivacious and charming, Sophie Jo's work persistently compels her viewers to discover magic in everyday sights and sounds and find amusement in the most mundane situations.

(The exhibition is on till May 12 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Apparao Galleries, 7, Wallace Gardens, 3rd Street, Ground Floor, Nungambakkam)