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Ragas in frames

Sharon Horvath and Tom Pappas. Photo: Liza George

Sharon Horvath and Tom Pappas. Photo: Liza George   | Photo Credit: Liza George

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Indian ragas are Sharon Horvath’s inspiration. The artist will be holding an exhibition of her paintings in New York

Apart from some final touches, Sharon Horvath is all geared up for an exhibition of her paintings inspired by her stay in India at the Lori Bookstein Gallery in New York.

A research grant authorised by the Fulbright Commission and the United States/India Educational Foundation is what has brought Sharon to the country. “My husband, Tom Pappas, and I are artists. We have visited exhibitions of Indian miniature paintings in New York and were fascinated,” says Sharon. They were also captivated by Ragamala paintings, a set of miniature paintings depicting various moods of the ragas of Indian music. These are representations of love and longing according to Indian tradition.

Wanting to learn more about this style of painting, Sharon decided to come to India to see more of such paintings and to learn from master practitioners of the tradition. Tom too accompanied her.

Their journey began in Gujarat where Sharon was sponsored by Maharaja Sayajirao University. Sharon conducted a workshop and met the Fine Arts students and faculty of the University.

“Professor Indrapramit Roy, an artist helped me get acclimatized to India and sent us on our journey through the country. A favourite was the Bundi Palace, which has the most astonishing murals.”

Sharon has documented her research by creating a visual diary and by holding micro interviews with various artists and scholars. For instance, in Hyderabad they visited art collector Jagdish Mittal. Jagdish has a vast collection of ragamala paintings. “I did a video interview with him,” says Sharon.

Google helped Sharon zoom in on a place to do her residency. “We searched for studio spaces in India and Gowry Art Institute was amongst the top.” They also spent a month at the Kriti Gallery Residency in Varanasi.

Their stint at Gowry, proved “a restful and fruitful time” for the couple. “It was great to be able to relax and work at a proper studio. At the hotel we stayed at in Jaipur, we took a double room. I would arrange the furniture in one of the rooms into a studio, only to have the cleaning staff rearrange it, back to its original position when they came in for their rounds,” laughs Sharon.

Each of the 10 to 12 large paintings in Sharon’s show in New York will be a combination of many images layered together. “Paintings can represent not only what we see, but how we make connections between visual experiences. The working title of the exhibition is ‘The Joining of Eyes’, inspired by the ritual about which I learned about in India, of placing eyes on sacred statues. It's a final act done to give a sense of life to the being/deity that is represented. I like to think that finishing a painting is like that. You have to give it eyes to look back at you. One person seeing the world isn’t enough, you need at least two! Sometimes it is important to see things through somebody else’s eyes, and India has given us this opportunity,” says Sharon.

The couple, who will be heading back to New York next month says saving Kerala as their last stop was a wise decision. “It was truly saving the best for last,” say Sharon and Tom who started their tour of Kerala from Kochi.

A new ‘art style’

“We visited the Mattancherry Palace and viewed the murals; it was inspiring. We hope to see more such murals in our remaining two weeks in the state. We saw a Kathakali performance recently and really enjoyed it. We hope to catch a Theyyam performance before we leave. If not, we plan to return soon, maybe then we will,” says Tom. Tom has been keeping himself busy during the journey too. He has discovered a new “art style” during his journey in India. He sticks black tape on old ledger papers and peels them off a couple of days later. The designs left on the frayed paper look almost etched. “It’s fun to work with the ledger paper though difficult to improve on its initial beauty,” says Tom.

“We visited a paper factory in Sanganar, Rajasthan, which specialises in making Wasli paper. While we bought some of this handmade paper, I noticed a sack containing old ledger paper in the corner. It was like finding treasure. And so we scooped it up,” says Sharon.

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Printable version | Jun 24, 2018 1:31:47 AM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/ragas-in-frames/article5866700.ece