The man in artist Sudhir Patwardhan’s painting at Head To Head isn’t someone he knows, he says, but someone whose face stayed with him over time (he doesn’t remember when or where he saw him).
“Well,” he smiles, “He does look like me. But it isn’t physical likeness to someone that I have tried to paint, it is the emotional connect I feel to his face.”
Patwardhan’s painting is part of Head To Head, an exhibition organised by Samsara Art at the Coomaraswamy Hall today. It features human heads painted by artists including Akbar Padamsee, Arzan Khambatta, Krishen Khanna, Sunil Padwal, Revati Sharma Singh, Samir Mondal and Patwardhan himself.
The ‘head’ in Patwardhan’s painting came from a sketch he made a long time ago. “I often do that. When I see something interesting, I come back home, sketch it and then leave it for a few days. If the face returns to me, I take it ahead.” Patwardhan says the city’s local trains have often ended up being inspiration.
“It happens so often that people run into the local train to catch a window seat and lose themselves when they look out, never in. I’ve often been inspired by these window seat aspirants.” Or, he adds, it could be the head of a man he once saw on the streets not very long ago. “A section of the man’s hair was orange. It was not fashionable but rather, strange and stunning. That stayed with me.”
Mondal, whose ‘head’ has a rather striking resemblance to many a supermodel, says the 2010 painting was inspired from the period in the ’90s when Indian models were winning international titles. “As an artist, I am always taken aback by the permutations and combinations you have with a nose, two ears, two eyes and a mouth.”
More than the head itself, Mondal says it has been interesting and intriguing to work with watercolours. “Most artists who work with watercolour move on to oil and canvas, but that never appealed to me as much. People have asked me, ‘Yeh watercolour tikega kya (Will these watercolours last?)’.” Mondal adds that he belongs to this medium as much as it belongs to him.
“After I graduated from the Calcutta School of Art in 1975, I would spend at least three to four years with one subject or theme and finally developed my own style in watercolours. This ‘head’, too, has a strong use of colours. I wanted the woman to have the elements we are made up of — there’s blue for the sky, red for earth, yellow for fire and the brown for earth.”
Artist Revati Sharma Singh, whose ‘head’ is, in fact, not a head at all, but a montage of different scenes, says a ‘head’ to her is an amalgamation of the ideas and thoughts inside it. “My ‘head’ is actually 100 canvases painted together — abstracts of a moment, a mood, quiet landscapes, excited scenes and representations of anger, sorrow and so on — everything that goes on in a ‘head’.
I think it is impossible to paint a ‘head’ without showing what goes on beneath,” says Singh. At the centre of her painting is an eye, which, says Singh, is born out of her own habit to “go inside” when I feel strongly for or against something. “I think, without really realising it, I ended up incorporating flowers, nature and its different landscapes, because I grew up in the hills, and that will never quite leave me.”