Could one write about anyone’s inner experiences, their inspiration? As an ancient seer said: ‘no intelligent man will ever be so bold as to put into written language those things which his reason has contemplated, especially not into a form that is unalterable – which must be the case with what is expressed in written symbols’. Absolutely, except for the proviso, of that, which may pertain to art. However, add to this another caveat: namely, that no serious person will think of writing about serious realities for the general public so as not to make it a prey to envy and perplexity. Why strain those too happy in a pop-art ethos!
All visual arts stand or fall by their own merit, that is, they communicate their inherent ideas to others, whether valued or not. However, there is an important aspect that one has been concerned with in the works such as Shobha Broota’s, and which in several cases come close to what is termed as the sacral. Having used such a word, we are quite aware that all serious and genuine artists treat their subject as sacred on a personal level. However, what is meant by sacral over here is an artistic endeavour which is directed towards an objectivity in art that might be described as an art which grows out of, or is sanctioned by, a long lasting tradition – at moments revealed only by the inner eye. All the same human judgment of the genuine in tradition is not so clearly obvious.
Thus what are the criteria of Shobha’s genre of art? An art that is integrative, transparent to the spirit, illuminating in the indescribable sense in dictating the interrelatedness of ourselves with the world around us. Sometimes this order of art takes on explicit forms or images which are effective because they reflect an essential aspect of each and all of us and act as reminders of our collective source and goal. At other times they achieve a balance of elements, a proportionality and harmony that resonates throughout our being. This has the effect of communicating universal and objective principles of cohesion that give us the sense of certainty about the very nature of all things and our inseparable relationship to the whole; to clean circles and flowing lines.
The love of beauty (as the beauty of love in the totality of its meanings) is one such instance of the experience of certainty. Such is the kinship of Shobha’s art. At the most basic level, nothing can be considered worthy, but the unified might be considered the most fundamental criteria for any artist regardless of the differentiation between craftsperson, ‘fine’ or applied artist. The quality then we might suggest that signals the difference between works of art is the power of unity they achieve.
Such profound unity we observe and sense in this painter’s chosen works. The genre is inclusive not exclusive. It takes into its ambit all. The work, on the surface, is simple, because this same simplicity is applicable to the fact that all of us are different yet we are all human. Human? In the sense that the work is integrative rather than disintegrative, fragmentary. The feel of the sacral comes of this all-embracingness.
Shobha’s works, in whatever medium, do not overtly claim any whiff of holiness. Not at all. Rather they are her effort to understand and work within the boundaries of an age-old convention, that of the basic harmony or purity of the underlying reality, as of inner reality. The discipline, preparation, effort, contemplation, as the musical sense of the inner ear that have gone into these works is palpable and one would not even dare to sum it up or even to outline it. Still it must suffice to say that a life-time close attention lies behind each of the works shown quite apart from the training in the fundamental skills of geometry, drawing and colour.
As a final thought it seems relevant to remind ourselves of the genealogy of the Cosmos, and of which Shobha’s images are intimations. But what of the original philosophical meaning of the Greek word Kosmos? Decoration or adornment. The material, visible, or phenomenal world was considered by the ancients as adornment of the nominal, invisible world of pure principle and upon which it was totally reliant. Number, pattern, and colour are inseparable universal principles and always apparently will be so. They are fundamental keys to the understanding of both ourselves and the universe in which we live.
At the very start I said that it is perilous to speak of matters of spirit. One can only offer hints. However those hints I try to assay at length in what follows below. It may, possibly, the further assist in taking in the invaluable values which seem to me to lie at the centre of this art, and of the spirit of its unpretentious, self-denying maker.
What order of art is this then? – an echo of the physical universe, our partially known and vastly unknown, mysterious home. And in it are both the micro as the macro levels – faces of one and the same reality. The painter is not an astronomer or a microbiologist, but being fully human, being aware, being able to go deep within herself, she can carry on a conversation – in paint – with the fundaments of existence. This is not being a philosopher, but an ardent lover of the truth behind appearances. Reality comes in many shapes and forms, but it becomes richer the deeper we go. It refuses to open up to the superficial gaze. The painter through toil and trouble has stuck to her vision of the ineffable. There is reserve behind her person and that reserve comes of being strongly conscious of the greater circumference within which the speck of self lies, like grit in an oyster. Analogies are what the best art tries to present. It is a sign of language, pointer towards vaster and deeper space; the stretches of such infinite time and infinite space must be mediated by the self. Often Shobha has titled her works ‘ORIGINS’, for the soul must remember its history, and by so remembering to receive the gift of poise, learn moderation.
That’s the sort of work that the painter does. It is spare, all extra fat has been scraped off to reveal the harmonious order behind the seeming chaos. There is dignity in her compositions for she is by nature considerate and courteous. There is speech but it is to the point, and that never ever drags. She will not, nor, draw attention to her work by quirks and oddities. Her work thus, in the line of all such work, is primary, a communion of self with soul. Now those of us who like melodrama will shun it, so will those who like being let off the hook of vital experience by dreaming of pretty pictures.
If so Shobha’s work does not allow reprieve – it is only designed for those mindful ones who are exacting, catholic in taste, in search of the greater meaning. They alone will value these extraordinarily meticulous compositions as well made as honeycombs or snowflakes; which simulate the flight of comets and meteors, the whirling galaxies, the spinning electrons. Work at once still seeming yet dizzying to the imagination. Ah yes, the painter makes us realize all that we merely know but do not sense or feel. This is done by the simplest of devices, almost as though her canvas space was an empty void. But is it really so? Prying into the microcosm and the macrocosm she breaks through our ignorance sensationally and removes the cataract over our eyes. And then we know there are so many unknowns and still more unknowables, and so limited our sense organs. Artists like her enact the drama of human consciousness. The rapport is with the tens and millions of galaxies that inhabit space-time; and all this with a view that we are a little more of selves, a little more alive:
Nothing but long-drawn yawns
at the spectacular fire-work of Being! –
the head dozing before
a most astonishing thing.
In the vault of the temple
studded with scintillant stars
can be heard such snoring!
O rain, heavenly rain!
Pour your astringent silver
on the tight shut eyes
of a still sleeping human spirit;
The bud of its aspiring remaining to open
to the witchery that hourly shines
in each nook and cranny
of the great lung of infinite space.
Pour, someone! –
warm love or cold scorn
over them who fail
that to which they were born.
- Keshav Malik