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Posted at: Feb 17, 2017, 12:43 AM; last updated: Feb 17, 2017, 12:43 AM (IST)

A story on canvas

Art is neither meant to disturb nor soothe, only hold a mirror to the times we live in. So believes eminent artist Viren Tanwar, whose works follow the trajectory of life, a life that he observes with alacrity and sensitivity

Nonika Singh

‘Ghar wapsi is how eminent artist Viren Tanwar, City Beautiful’s very own gift to the world of art, describes his recent sojourn in the city. Life has come a full circle for him in more than one way. In a world where artists are constantly chasing newer fads and newer isms, he somersaults back to the imagery that dominated his canvasses way back in eighties.

Of course, as headless figures reappear in his works there is nothing that is dated. The imagery is awash in colours of new vigour; it manifest in the luminous eyes of the tiger that stare back at you, almost throwing a challenge. Headless forms, as always, are symbolic of aam aadmi, whose face has little value in a society that mindlessly hankers after prestige and fame. Quoting from Mohan Rakesh’s Ashaad Ka Ek Din, Viren ponders over how creativity has become only one part of our being, while honour, status and position become the rest. He says, “As I look all these decades I see no signs of progress in real human beings we have allowed our animal instincts to take over our humane side.”

Varied themes

Ready to tell his story, the story of visual art and of life in general he can’t help but rue, “Lying on a bed of nails or of roses, we are clueless about what we truly want?” So he creates a triptych where limbs, organs and empty bottles jostle with each other alluding to how man himself has become a kabaadi. In this crossfire where man is pitted against man with little empathy for each other, art too invariably becomes a victim and falls prey to market where galleries are no more than business centres. Amidst such a scenario, he recalls, art connoisseurs like Chester Herwitz, who not only bought his work the moment he laid his eyes on it but understood the dynamics behind it. Tanwar reminisces, “Soon after I had lost my brother, I had created this painting ‘He was, he is and he always will be’ with no obvious signs of death. Yet Herwitz immediately understood and enquired-was there any tragedy in the family?”

Indeed, for every Herwtiz there are thousands of ignoramuses who are shocked by his headless forms, nude figures and constantly badger him with, “what is the meaning?” He throws his hands in despair, “We look at the clouds, their shape too is abstract yet we simply appreciate without asking questions?”

Art, anyway, he feels, is like nature where a few things are constant yet all else is ever changing. Besides, like chroniclers, artists are meant to record and mirror the times they live in; but not graphically as photojournalists and documentary makers do. So though he stood a distraught witness to the macabre dance of savagery during 1984 anti-Sikh riots, he could not understand how he could paint the same blood and gore. A couple of years later as he did in a work titled What Next the crumbling wall, the nude figure and the fiery red earth encapsulated the immeasurable tragedy emphatically. But like every dark cloud has a silver lining, his works too are marked by hope.

Long journey

Oscillating between despair and optimism, his life too has seen many ups and downs. “When I lost my job in this very city, there were moments of deep darkness when I felt I would never be able to pick up the brush ever again.” But soon the sun smiled as his works were sold at the prestigious Sotheby auction. Lo, behold, his Circus series that draws a parallel between pulls and pressures of life and the game of circus flowed from his brush, which has since never been dry. Steeped in the miniature tradition, his current muse or in the lifelong lesson ‘not even a single line goes waste’ of his mentor Dr BN Goswamy, Tanwar’s creative odyssey has traversed many paths. From Hisar to Chandigarh to Delhi, from being part of the collection of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, USA, ESSL Museum, Vienna, Austria. Arts India Gallery, New York to finding buyers such as the rich and famous, like UK-based business tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, it has been an upward spiral. However, the boy from the hinterland of Haryana, who loves bright colours and who has not forgotten the art of minimalism, is still alive and strong.

And it is this fascinating story, along with the story of his images, which he will tell during an audio visual presentation on 17th February in an event organised by Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademy. At Government museum auditorium, from 5.30 pm onwards, watch the creator, observer and sutradhar of a story that has infinite possibilities and infinite endings. Just as the show must go on...the story goes on!


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