As soon as I set foot in Jodhpur, Thierry Chantegret tells me there is a miniature painting school a mere 800m from our room.
I rushed there to meet with Vijay Prajapat, professor and artist at the Umaid Heritage art school.
But wait ! I hear :
Alright, dear reader, here is a little background before we go on!
Indian art has mostly been expressed as murals at first, followed by miniature painting. In Rajasthan, miniature painting has developed betwen the 11th and 16th centuries.
Here are the main themes of Rajput paintings:
The epic of Ramayana and Mahabharata
The Gita govinda known otherwise as the life of Krishna
The Baramasa, a representation of the 12 months.
The Nayika nayaka "The heroin and the hero" (a description of various states of love in litterature
Along with Moghole invasions comes a strong Persian influence for the Rajasthani schools, and also new topics to paint about, such as Maharajas and wealthy patrons portraits, scenes of the court life, wilderness and hunting scenes, and lastly and perhaps more obviously, war and battles.
The Moghole invasion triggers a peak in miniature painting at the Akbar court.
Akbar, known for his religious tolerance, will end up gathering the greatest artists he could find, be it Indian, Persians or even Westerners.
The kingdoms of Rajasthan all have their own miniature painting school, each with a distinctive style.
Here are a few easily coming to mind: Mewar, Bûndî, Kota, Jaipur, Bikaner, Kishangarh and Jodhpur. Another worth mentionning is the Pahari school, from the ancient Rajput kingdoms lying on the foothills of Himalayas.
At the end of the 19th century, the invention of photography (and by extent photography portraits) replace miniature painting, and the school start vanishing one after the other.
Vijay started painting at the early age of 7. His father never supported this line of work, so it fell down to his grandfather to push him forward and send him to a proper painting school.
Later down the road, Vijay opened a school where everyone -even the children of Jodhpur- is welcome.
One can learn how to paint there, and most amazing of all, it’s completely free! (Very hard to believe after travelling for a while in Asia).
The school even provides not only free teachers, but also paper, paint and brushes for the lessons. The pupils can leave their painting at school or just bring them back home.
When a piece of art is sold, 70% goes to the artist and 30% goes to the school to pay for the supplies.
I am quite amazed, these paintings are so precise and delicate. I can spend ages just staring at an artwork the size of a business card. Old paper sheets with official postal stamp get a nice makeover, but palm leaves used to be the norm.
Here’s an example showing a scene between Radha and Krishna.
The attention to detail boggles my mind, every single tree leaf is here, every twig, every jewel.
Some miniature paintings are created on a polycarbonate media. It allows for nice transparency effects. The very same effects were usually obtained with camel bone powder!
Let’s get a closer look!
I have to admit, it’s impressive to realize how thin and delicate the brush strokes are on details such as the curtains and the patterns on saris. Just check the size of the pin for scale!
In these scene of Radha and Krishna, Radha’s sari’s pattern is actually 30 peacocks delicately painted, one by one. The jewels are even enhanced with real pearls!
Another mind blowing tribute to patience and thoroughness, and maybe the masterpiece of Vijay! This picture is 2 meters long.
And here, after stepping in the workshop, instant favorite! These cute elephants.
Don’t go looking for the one on the right, it’s mine forever now.
MINE! My preeecious...
What makes Vijay truely unique though, is his mastery of lentil painting...Yes, you read that right, he paints on little seeds!
I even managed to get a MINI elephant with my name written on it.
It’s so tiny my camera can’t even focus in it properly!.
They are all natural and come from rock dust, mixed with arabic gum to bind it. Silver and gold dust are also sometimes used.
On the practical side, these paints endure the test of time really well, once dried. Add some water, and start painting again!
Since they are made from squirrel tail’s hair, they need to be handled with care. Thankfully the process of manufacturing these brushes is submitted to heavy regulations and restricted to famous schools only.
I had already used sable hair brushes before, so I could enjoy the (big) difference when compared to synthetic hair brushes. Animal hair are soft, allow for delicate and precise work, and the hair are held in a tight, smooth shape for the whole process.
This made me ask a pertinent question: "What about human hair?"
"No way!" I can hear you scream, dear reader? "Yes way!" said the Chinese: Very ancient and very rare brushes have been found, made from only 3 very smooth black hair...yes they were baby hair, taken after their first haircut!
Old Bollywood vinyl discs are used for that purpose (maybe even rare vintage ones).
At last, it’s my turn to give it a shot. A tiny one.
Vijay teaches me how to proceed, on a thick white piece of paper.
Create a 10 cm square, then drawn another 8 cm one inside the first one. Voilà, here’s our picture frame!
I draw my elephant with all its details. Vijay is happy, I work quickly. We understand the same unspoken language, Art.
With my very thing brush, I start inking but it’s even harder than I expected. Maximum concentration, it’s over 9000!
With a wider brush, I fill the shape with color and then slowly build up my the details.
The whole thing is so finical and demanding for the eye, I couldn’t work more than 2 hours at a time. This first attempt alone took me 2 days.
I remain skeptical about my work. Vijay helped me reshape the really crooked eye of my poor elephant.
After that, I came back nearly everyday during our 15 days stay, to practice as much as I could.
Myself, I had to repaint the heron’s wing 4 times, and even then I wasn’t satisfied of my clumsy resulst.
To thank Vijay for the amazing and valuable lessons, I gifted him with a lil card of my creation!
That’s all for now, Delphine over and out! For more of it just follow the links below:
Next time, I will talk about Mehendi (Henna) !