Discovering the Artist within me (Part I) – Art? What’s that again?

Art is something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings… Merriam Webster.

By this definition, everything that’s created with imagination and skill,  and which either looks/feels good or expresses an important idea or emotion, can be classified as art. For this reason, I suppose, a piece of music that makes the listeners swing and dance (looks/feels good) is art; a caricature-composition that obviously requires a lot of imagination and skill to create and which expresses an important idea, is art; a dramatic scene in a movie that is directed with imagination and acted out with skill, and makes people bite their nails (expresses/conveys important feelings) is art.

By this definition, what may be art for you might not be art for me, for the expression must be understood and felt. By the same definition, something that’s created with imagination and skill, but is neither beautiful nor expresses an important idea or feeling, isn’t art; nor is something that’s created without imagination or skill but expresses and important idea or a feeling – (a pamphlet, a news item?)

As I go through the history of art, learning from it in bits and pieces, I realize that art is evolutionary. What is considered art at one time and place may not be considered so in another. In the late nineteenth and earlier twentieth century when art separated itself from the visual renderings of religious nature, and began acquiring a personality of its own, most of the works that were acclaimed internationally, had one or both of these characteristics.

  1. They evoked an emotional response in their viewers.
  2. They were aesthetically pleasing.

The degree to which each of these characteristics would be experienced by the viewers varies, and yet, these are the two basic reasons why people buy the art of an unknown artist. (The known artist’s work is often bought by art-investors who “invest” in the works of an artist who’s expected to become a star. These characteristics don’t matter then.)

Let us look at two interesting works. (I’m not good with the names of the art-periods and the art-schools, and as I’m studying them mostly to “feel” art, I won’t force myself to remember them.)

The Scream by Edvard Munch.

This painting by Munch reminds me of my times of hopelessness. Most of us have been through dark times in our lives, and while we could argue about the degrees of darkness that one may have experienced, for each individual his darkness is made of the deepest darkest black. Munch’s Scream for me is soundless and endless. It draws a strong emotional response from me.

And this is my response to the painting, not to the artist, nor to the artist’s own pain. I knew nothing of Munch when I had first seen an image of this painting.

The Scream definitely isn’t aesthetically pleasing to me. I won’t want it on my living room wall because every time I’d look at it, I’d be hurled back into that half-forgotten pit of darkness. And yet, for me, it’s a work of art. While it may be pointed out that it’s illustrative or even symbolic and thus doesn’t open itself to multiple interpretations, I still consider it art, for it even darkness is interpreted differently by each one of us.

American Gothic by Grant Wood.

When this painting was first displayed, it aroused emotions of different kinds. Mostly because the Iowans felt that it didn’t really depict the kind of people they were. And yet, after almost ninety years and tens of thousands of miles away, this painting still evokes an emotional response from me. It makes me think of life as a book filled with pages that the read the same throughout. It slaps me across the face to wake me up, and sends me scrambling to find a notebook or a sketchbook; it reminds me that life isn’t about living in comfort and dying within…because that’s my personal takeaway from the expressions I see on the faces of the farmer and his daughter (or Wood’s dentist and Wood’s sister.)

The emotional response isn’t as strong as the one evoked by The Scream, but it isn’t as dark either. If I could afford it, I’d love to own the American Gothic. The painting also has a stronger aesthetic dimension for me. I love the skill with which it’s painted, and I love the overall composition. The straight verticals, the neat and clean house in the background, the expressions on the two faces, the metal of the pitchfork, everything’s been painted with such finesse. I love it!

Over the next few weeks, I intend to look at other major artworks and measure my own responses to them, because I really want to figure out what my own view of art is.

Comments and suggestions to help me on this journey would be appreciated from the bottom of my heart 🙂

 

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115 F, a blistered finger, and feeling blessed.

The middle of an Indian summer isn’t exactly paradise. During the two months of May and June, the fire of hell escapes from the belly of earth and smothers us with a blanket of hot air that scalds the lungs and burns the skin. The afternoon temperature hovers between 110 and 120 F – the computers heat up, and so does my direct-to-screen drawing tablet.

In the middle of all this, I find myself working on an urgent assignment that, as I will later discover, to work from 6 in the morning to 7 in the evening. I wake up, ready to go to work, hoping that I’ll be able to use the air-conditioning for those few hellish hours of the day; and then the unthinkable happens. Right at 5 AM, the power goes off! while the heat hasn’t begun to show its true colors yet, I am devastated!

As I try to introspect and reschedule my work to afternoon, wondering if sending the files to the client in the middle of the night would make any sense; I see a tiny speck of hope. “It’s a planned power-cut of 6 hours,” said the official newspaper reader of the house who is also my organized-to-a-fault much better half.

So I decide to work until the power-backup exhausted itself. No Air-conditioning – aircons are power-hogs and they aren’t plugged-in to the backup. Without the air-conditioning, my Cintiq heats up and starts scorching my fingers. A small selfish part of me keeps praying for the backup to die. It would cut this torture short and give me a temporary respite. It doesn’t happen. The tablet continues to heat up…the air around keeps pace.

The power comes back on 30 minutes earlier than expected. Awesome! A quick breakfast and I am back to work. And then it hits me. The artwork that I was working on was complex and it would take me a very long time to finish it. Especially if I took all those breaks that the Doctor advised. So I do the unthinkable – with my fingers crossed, I take my chances. I decide to work non-stop (except for the loo-breaks) until I am done with my work. I am hopeful that I’d be done by 4 PM. I strike gold – finish the sketch on time – but with an angry red boil on the side of my little finger.

I should’ve been happy that it was done – I should’ve given my tired me a break from work, but I couldn’t. All through the day, I was nagged by the thought that a part of the concept didn’t appear convincing…and I had to handle it somehow. What the client wants is something that you must create, but what your conscience suggests is something that you mustn’t ignore. So I return to my art-mate, sketching furiously – creating an option that would take out the thorn from me side. Providing a possible alternate to something that I feel may potentially harm the client, is my job – or so I think. All that extra work – Not pragmatic? Perhaps…but it leaves me more at peace with myself.

So I work three extra hours and upload the sketches by 7 PM.

Delivered as promised; delivered as it should’ve been 🙂

It made me feel good…but what made me feel blessed was the fact that this morning, I woke up feeling OK, except of course the blistered finger, which reminds me that if these tiny things are beginning to register again, I must be feeling better. I know I haven’t yet healed completely, and by working 13 hours at a stretch, I had taken a chance that I shouldn’t have. And yet…

Right now, I am feeling blessed. Frazzled but blessed.

Feeling blessed - a pen and ink drawing - shafali's art. Artists and Commissions.

Feeling frazzled but blessed!

PS: Need those gloves…pronto – and yet, a delivery deadline met so… despite a blistered finger, feeling blessed 🙂 After all Happiness is…

 

Portrait Art – Hats that women wear: Hat No. 2

Women wear different hats for different occasions and at different ages. The hats also change form on the basis of what society expects from them at a particular forum.

The hats that I paint are the ones that women wear inside, those that are made of the thoughts that crowd a woman’s mind – some of these thoughts are fearsome, others delightful; some are crazy enough to border on the loony, others are balanced and rational; a few of these thoughts must arise to meet the challenges that life throws upon the thinker, and many that are woven with the threads of the wearer’s dreams.

Here’s the second hat.

Portraits of Women - Face, profile, side face, hats that women wear - this is hat 2, the hat of ambition.

 

I leave the interpretation to my visitors as our past experiences could help each one of us interpret this hat differently.

Does this hat belong to you? or to someone you think you know well? If it does…you are right, because women don different hats at different stages and phases of their lives, and many of us have worn this hat too – not very willingly though.

The hats are still torturing me. They make me paint them…they steal my hours and my days, the time that must go into more productive affairs – and yet there isn’t much that I can do, except do their bidding.

A Toonsie Roll Caricature of Hrithik Roshan…

…Who Goes Bang Bang this Thursday, Despite his Health Problems!

This post is the result of Hrithik’s interview that was published in today’s TOI. At the onset, I must tell you that I am not a fan of Hrithik the Bollywood Actor. In fact, I’ve seen just one movie of his (one of the Krishh’s, and I’ve forgotten which one.) And yet, now I have become one of the biggest fans of Hrithik the person behind the actor. I like brave people, and I think that bravery is an attribute of the human mind. It doesn’t depend upon anything external to a person – neither their station in life, nor their physical strength. Some people are brave, others just aren’t; they whine and cry and want the whole world to understand their problems, without ever taking the first important step, which is realizing that they are the only ones who can solve their problems and all that whining actually drives the right kind people away from them.

Caricature Hrithik Roshan - Using iOS (iPhone, iPad) caricaturing app Toonsie Roll.

( Note: The above caricature was done using Toonsie Roll – A Caricaturing/Caricature-making iPhone/iPad app.)

In my estimate, Hrithik Roshan is one of the bravest celebs that clutter our waking moments. He is someone who is an inspiration to many who battle chronic illnesses and debilitating pain. Almost all his life, he has lived with excruciating pain and with bones that broke on the slightest pretext. He has been suffering from arthritis from a very young age, and when he was a teenager, his doctors had told him that he had the skeleton of an old man. He was advised against becoming an actor. In Bollywood, you can’t be a star if you don’t dance (yes, pelting your pelvis as far as you can in all directions and gyrating on the beats of a raunchy number – stuff that is really really bad for your back); or  if you don’t do stunts (toss yourself up in the air with your limbs flailing and hitting ten goons at once)! So Hrithik, the boy with a spine that was proclaimed geriatric by the medicos shouldn’t have done any of what he did. Instead, he should’ve stayed home, watched dvds, ate potato-chips, grown corpulent, started a blog, and talked about how unfair life was.

But Hrithik did something different. He looked at the hand of cards that fate had dealt to him, figured out a strategy to beat the odds, and stayed in the game. Yes, he came from a fairly affluent family. Yes, he could get a doctor’s attention whenever he needed it. But nothing could’ve made him the star that he is today – nothing except his own determination to beat the odds.

So far, this year has been terrible for Hrithik. When he was shooting for Bang Bang, he got ill because there were blood-clots in his brain and he had to undergo a brain-surgery. His backache, his companion of 27 years, has been troubling him so much that he travels in a convoy of three cars, because he can’t sit in one position for more than 30 minutes. On the personal front, he has filed for a divorce from his wife, who he confirms, has not asked for an alimony of 400 Crs. (The amount sounded ridiculous any way,) and when the divorce is through he may lose the custody of his two sons to his wife. That’s a lot for anyone to handle – and yet he handles it all so well. The boy whose was advised not to be an actor, is the one who has made Roshans a recognized name in the Indian Film Industry.  He’s an excellent dancer, he looks muscular in his movies, he does all those stunts that movies require him to do – and I think he is able to do it because he has a beautiful mind.

He says that he always tried being a nice person, but it didn’t work, because when you try to be nice to everyone and not hurt anyone, you try to achieve the impossible and end up hurting yourself; so you must try to be a good person instead. A good person does good whenever he or she can, but doesn’t try to please everyone. I agree – totally.

So that’s that about Hrithik. I wish him the best and I hope that he continues to win the battle that he is fighting with his illnesses. Another braveheart that I want to mention here is Shubhpreet Kaur Ghumman. This post isn’t about this one-legged brave beauty, but here’s the link to her Facebook page.

I’ll be writing a set of tutorials on How to Create Caricatures with Toonsie Roll, so do return.

 

Pran – The Creator of Chacha Chaudhary and Shrimati Ji (1938-2014) – Memories of a brush with his Work.

I am writing this post in honor of Pran, the artist who gave India its own super-hero. At the onset, I confess that as a child, I didn’t appreciate his work; I also confess that today, when he is no more and when finally my daily newspaper decided to publish his interview (given to Alok Sharma in 2009,) I appreciate all that he did and understand why his work has a historical significance.

In these moments of realization, I sketched his portrait.

cartoonist-pran-portrait-sketch-of-the-comic-artist-creator-chacha-chaudhary-shrimatiji-saboo

Pran – The Creator of the Comic Strips, Chacha Chawdhary and Shrimati Ji. (1938-2014) R. I. P.

 

Pran was born in 1938, in Kasur, which is now in Pakistan. Like many others who had to leave their home, their occupation, their land, and their way of life, and move to India; Pran arrived in India as a nine year-old son of a family that had to start their life from scratch. He liked to draw, but in the India of those days art could only be a pastime of the kings and the nobles; obviously his parents were against the idea of Pran becoming an artist.

Before I recant his story further, let me draw a picture of those times for you. Pran must have been about twenty or so when he began sending his cartoons to magazines and newspapers. So we are taking about late-fifties. That was the time of no Internet, no computers, and no Photocopiers. All that was available was carbon paper. In all probability, when Pran sent his work to the editors, he either redrew the cartoons entirely, or he put a couple of carbons underneath the master to create copies. He could obviously not trace more than three copies in a row, because the lower-most copies in the stack would become dull and useless. So he must’ve tediously gone through the process of tracing them again and again; or worse drawing them again and again.

I salute his hard work and his dedication towards his work. Those of us who crab about how difficult things are for an artist (include me among them,) must be ashamed of ourselves. True, there was hardly any competition back then, but remember that artists like Pran had to break new grounds. In his interview, he recalls how he met the editor of Dharmayug, Mr. Dharamveer Bharti, and convinced him of running cartoons to supplement the poems that the magazine published. Guess what. Mr. Bharti gave him a chance, and his work accompanied the poetry of some great Hindi poets such as Dinkar, Nirala, and Pant .

And yet, his biggest gift to India was Chacha Chaudhary. He looked at the western comic heroes and thought that the Indian kid must have an Indian hero. Indians aren’t big and muscular, he thought, they aren’t all that good-looking either; but they are super-smart. So he created Chacha Chaudhary, the old turbaned man with a frayed-toothbrush mustache, who was small in stature, but who was the wisest and the smartest guy in the neighborhood. Chacha Chaudhary was the Indian male and relatively active counterpart of Miss Marple, who solved all kinds of crimes – small and big.

Chacha Chaudhary was my first brush with Pran’s work. I was nine, and totally in love with Amar Chitra Katha and Indrajal comics. I was shortly going step into teenage and  fall in love with Bahadur (character conceptualized by Abid Surti and illustrated by Govind Brahmania), but I hadn’t met that dashing young man until then. We were taking a train home, and one of my uncles bought me a couple of comics at the railway station. As is always the case, the child is never consulted about what he, especially she would like to read. So I ended up with a Chacha Chaudhary and if I remember right, a Lot-pot. My father saw that I had a couple of comic books in my hand, so he skipped buying me more, which meant that I was saddled with two comics that I had never read before and that, in this odd child’s opinion, had somewhat uninspiring covers. I was a kid who loved mythology and who loved beautifully drawn pictures; who’d not let my father buy an Amar Chitra Katha that didn’t have a specific kind of nice looking drawings (which I later discovered were all done by Pratap Mullick.) So, the comics were hastily flipped through; and then I demanded my kind of comics. A nine-year-old can be very persistent – so on the next big station, I got what I wanted, and the two almost unread comics were promptly seized by the other kids in the train compartment.

But the point is…
all those other kids devoured those comics and from the looks on their faces, savored them too. I still remember the scene, and also the twinge that I felt…I wanted the comics back – but that couldn’t have happened. What was given away was given away. I never read another comic by Pran, except of course, the comic strip Shrimati Ji that appeared in Sarita, that my mom used to subscribe to. And yet, I kept seeing Chacha Chawdhary on the stalls and in the hands of kids everywhere. That’s what Pran achieved; and that’s what makes him great – he reached kids. Only a handful of snotty kids like me preferred the heavily illustrated stuff; only a handful of us were left out when a conversation about Chacha Chaudhary and Saboo broke out. Then there were Pinki, and Billoo, and Rocket…but I never met them. Now I wish I had.

Today, Pran is no more. He succumbed to cancer. He continued to draw through his illness. He continued to bring a smile to the faces of Indian children – with his comics and later with the Chacha Chawdhry TV show.

Today, I understand his work, his strength, his will, and his love for the art of creating happiness. May his soul rest in peace. May his characters live forever.

Pran’s Facebook Page.

The Creative Clutter of a Caricaturist’s Corner :)

Creative Clutter?

It better be creative – because if it isn’t, all my lady-associates of -iL and non-iL kind, will have the last laugh. Those voices still ring loud and clear in my ears. “Her room is so untidy,” “her kitchen is so disorganized,” “there’s dust on the table,” and then the sin that overshadowed all other sins…”She made my cartoon!”

One good reason to be born a man in India is that if you don’t tidy up your place, nobody comes after you with a verbal dagger! There are days when I honestly don’t care – when I’d rather sit and draw or write for the whole day and most of the night, without wanting to clean up the damn place…and trust me, that’s the time when these goddesses of perfection would turn up – as though someone had been tattling on me.

But all these critical yet otherwise good-natured ladies who look down their beautifully crafted Nicole Kidman noses on me and my spherical knobby nose, haven’t been listening to Dr. Albert Einstein.

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

(If you didn’t get it, you might be one of the uncluttered lot.)

I’ve met some OCD-ishly uncluttered people, and I can’t fault Einstein’s reasoning. One spends so much time organizing stuff only for aesthetic reasons, that there’s little time left to do anything else. It’s true for me – and I truly think that the uncluttered geniuses must exist only to prove the rule that Einstein stopped short of formulating.

I’d rather stay cluttered and ignore the sniggering, giggling critics. And honestly, my cluttered desk does help me think more clearly. Ironical – but true. So, let me present another addition to the clutter on a hurriedly cleared portion of my desk.

American Spectator Obama Crowns himself - Issue April 2014 on my desk

Wondering why the desk doesn’t appear cluttered to you?

Here’s the reason why.

In the pictures, you don’t see my other two desks, where I push my clutter when I want to take a picture to post here. Who knows when one of the ladies  whom I so highly speak of, and who watch my every step hawkishly, arrive here and discover another missile that they could add to their stash of ammunition.

I’ve been busy with some writing,  and a caricature of Gul Panag (the AAP candidate from Chandigarh,) which I created for a Game App that a gentleman is creating for Android devices. When he sends me a link of the game, I’ll share it here 🙂

That’s all folks. I go back to re-cluttering my desk. Right now it’s too organized for me 😦

Obamacare – Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Someone else’s Happiness?

Obamacare reminds me of Atlas Shrugged, and more specifically of Ivy and Gerald Starnes, and the Twentieth Century Motor Company that they run into ground, by their rule of From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

I read that during the recession of 2007, the sales of Atlas Shrugged climbed. I can imagine why. Among all kinds of dystopian worlds that writers dream up and write about, Ayn Rand’s visualization is the most plausible. While I don’t think that Obamacare is the final nail in the coffin of the American way of life, I do think that it has set the ball rolling.

Bluntly put, what Obamacare symbolizes is:
If my neighbor can pay to stave off my death and if government can pay to feed me – why must I work?
And also,
I can’t swim but I am tied to the ankle of the guy who can swim, who wants to live, and who probably has the strength to pull my weight along, why should I learn to swim?

What Obamacare effectively does is – it punishes people to be work hard, earn more, and stay healthy – and it rewards people to do the opposite. It takes away people’s right to choose and people’s need to be productive, because it promises to fulfill the safety needs of people without their having to raise a finger. Maslow’s hierarchy establishes the basic needs as physiological needs and safety needs…and everyone would work to fulfill these needs – except when they are fulfilled automatically. Doles of all kinds result in auto-fulfillment of these needs – and yet I am not against doles per se. Why? Because they allow people to fulfill their basic needs and allows some of them to break out of poverty. Others who don’t want to work because they’ve got habituated to the easy life, become less disruptive, because their basic needs have been fulfilled. So doles do help in keeping societies together.

What I am against however is disguising a dole under a veneer of an “earned” right. If you earn more you pay a higher premium regardless of whether or not you need a health insurance cover. If you don’t earn, despite having never taken care of your health a single day of your life, you pay a lower premium – you get a waiver. And yet both get exactly the same treatment when they need it, if they need it.

  • Does it make sense?
  • How does it make any sense?

Theoretically, this could’ve been achieved by increasing the taxes, or perhaps by revisiting the tax structure and by grading it to make it easier for the low-earning members of the society to make ends meet. But then a dole would still be called dole and if the administration had gone about doing it honestly, a lot of people would have resisted it. It wouldn’t have worked.

Theoretically, this could’ve been done by asking people to be more charitable and people generally are charitable, but when they earn they prioritize and nobody puts his neighbor’s kids before his kids – even when he loves his neighbor. Obamacare requires that you do that – except that you put your money in a kitty with many others…and then that money is drawn and used by many others…and nobody knows anybody else.

So people who could pay were made to swallow the bitter pill by putting it inside a coating of sugar and chocolate. People were told that those who were happy with their plans could keep them…but from what I hear, this isn’t happening. Many Americans have been left holding the short-end of the stick!

To make matters worse, the Obamacare website keeps failing. A gentleman who is my FB friend recently posted his experience with the Obamacare website. He tried for many hours before he could add the information for his wife, and then suddenly it all disappeared. Just like that!

Here’s an illustration that I did around the concept of the failing healthcare website, for the March 2014 Issue of The American Spectator Magazine.

???af_dialog.Label_OK??? by Ira Stoll - Illustration for The American Spectator Magazine March 2014

Accompanies the article “???af_dialog.Label_OK???” by Ira Stoll  (Click the image for larger view.)

I see a lot of similarity between The Twentieth Century Motor Company of Atlas Shrugged and The United States of today. What has made the United States the country it is – is the will of its people to earn an honest day’s wages for an honest day’s work. In the long run, schemes such as Obamacare dry up that will to work, because hardworking people who create value are smart too, and in time they see through any veneer that the administration may use…and when they do realize, something similar to what happened at the Twentieth Century Motor Company, could happen.

If you haven’t read the book, this is what happened at that factory.

All the hardworking people got fed up of seeing the money that was made of their sweat and blood, ending up in the pockets of those who were able to make a case of how needy they were – they got fed up of working to fulfill their neighbor’s need.

In Ayn Rand’s fictitious dystopia, there still was hope – for the prime movers had united and they intended to build America back – but that was fiction and a manifestation Rand’s obsession with super-heroes. What would happen in reality? Who are the prime movers? Are there any prime movers at all?

If America doesn’t go back to its original values, one day the declaration of Independence might be replaced by another declaration – the declaration of co-dependence, and the words “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness” will stand changed to “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Someone else’s Happiness.”