Artist Simran K S Lamba paints with a material that is commonplace and not thought of as ‘art’: Coal tar. “My association with tar and allied media started in 2006 when I was waterproofing the terrace of our house and I stumbled across the latent potential that was in this industrial agent,” he says.
“Everyday materials transform into a space where the subtleties of these materials echo in various ways, giving them a new life as a piece of art,” he says about his new exhibition called ‘TAR-ART An Anagram of My Life’.
Mixed media is the flavour of the season in Indian art. Coal tar, ropes, nails, metal discs and wax would be ordinary, utilitarian objects to people, but for artists like Lamba they are creative fuel.
“Art is getting very inclusive to include all kinds of materials, methods, techniques. Whether it is on canvas or on walls as installations or even as sculptures, materials are as diverse as one can imagine – from burnt wood to mud to paper to rubber. There is too much interplay of textures and material now than ever before,” says Meetu Kapur, who manages The Stainless Gallery in South Delhi. “Today, everything from photography to sculptures and digital prints and even video films qualify as art, apart from just traditional canvas art. The horizons of art are expanding by the day,” she says.
Today even miniature collectible plates qualify as artwork. To celebrate the 60th anniversary of luxury sports carmaker Lamborghini in India, décor company The Plated Project created a limited edition of 100 miniature porcelain collectible plates. “Lamborghini is not just one more car brand. Each car has a history and it stands for precision and at the same time, graceful feminine beauty apart from power and strength. It was about taking something literal and combining it with something lateral,” says Chitresh Sinha, the founder of The Plated Project.
“During our research work we stumbled upon the concept of Shadanga, six limbs of Indian art. These six limbs stand for six decades of excellence and represent elements of grace, proportion,” he says.
The Art Market
The domestic sale of Indian art through auctions doubled between Financial Year 2018-19 (FY19) and FY23. As many as 1,464 pieces of art worth Rs 717 crore were auctioned in FY19. In FY23, over 3,800 pieces were sold for Rs 1,146 crore, ‘Business Standard’ reported in September.
What should be the points of consideration for an art investor? Investors should consider “the rarity of the artwork, the artist’s career, art world recognition, and market demand. It is factors such as workmanship, intricacy of design, material used, artist’s name that set the price of the piece. Size is secondary,” says Monica Jain, founder of art gallery Art Centrix Space in South Delhi.
An artwork must resonate with you as an investor. Purchase the type of artwork that speaks to you. Ultimately an artwork is an expression of the artist’s inner soul and personality and that must resonate with you somewhere. Take the case of abstract art on canvas by artist Varunjai Sahni (Grandson of Legend actor late Shri Balraj Sahni) who held a solo exhibition “Sarvam” which was a riot of colours. Says Sahni, “I am trying to depict the inner soul. It can’t be black and white and has to be multicoloured. Every inner soul is multi-dimensional. Every colour can throw up various dimensions depending on how deep you are willing to explore. My lineage contributes to my artistic journey and I take consistency, uniqueness and vibrancy of soul from father and grandfather. Through my artwork, I invite viewers to embark on a journey of self-discovery and healing. May my work ignite the spark of creativity within us all, and inspire us to transform our lives and the world around us.”
Know what themes impress you the most. Every artist has their own favourite subjects which they like to express and one should look at the body of work of an artist and you can come to know a lot by visiting their shows and exhibitions. Take the case of artist Karuna Jain who recently had a solo art exhibition of paintings titled ‘WoManouvre’ and her work delves into the deep connection between spirituality, mother nature and women. Says Karuna Jain, “Some of my favourite artworks include the Varanasi/ Benaras Ghat in monochrome acrylic on canvas and “Surya Kiran” , the very axis of universe and folk art which is inspired by mother nature such as Mithila, Madhubani, Gond painting. I also feel very strongly about the girl child since I myself am a mother to two daughters and I love my acrylic art titled Nanhi Beti and Umbilical Cord.”
Investors should look at the body of work of an artist and visit their shows. “Buy from a well-known gallery and see enough of an artist’s work that you are familiar enough with their oeuvre before you decide to acquire that artist’s work. Galleries are very happy to encourage young first-time buyers and will often extend payment terms so young collectors can pay over a period of time,” says Shivajirao Gaekwar, Sotheby’s specialist in modern and contemporary Indian art.
Pricing is a difficult task for emerging artists who may not be experts in the economics of the art business. There are thumb rules: Acrylics on canvas are usually worth more than graphite on paper and both are worth less than a large, stainless-steel sculpture.
“Pricing is a culmination of many things and one of them is also experience or years of practice. A new artist who is establishing himself versus an established artist are two different things,” says gallerist Kapur.
An artist would say that their work challenges, comforts or provokes. That could be true but an art’s value changes with time and taste. A work of art may do different things to different people- it can assure you or challenge you, comfort you or provoke you and depending upon what you are looking for, you should take a decision to buy or not. Similarly, some people may be provoked by art that challenges their beliefs or values, while others may be provoked by art that is controversial or confrontational.
The same work can say a different thing at different points of your life. Says abstract artist Manisha Gawade, “If you have a riot of colours on your wall, it can mean a ball of fire to someone and the universe or earth or just a bouquet of flowers to other persons. The beauty of abstraction is that you can interpret the same work in a thousand different ways and there is no end to it. Also abstraction is free flowing and it is a universal language as opposed to a figurative one. In the figurative, you are limited to the culture of that place. For example a person painting a portrait in Africa will do it closest to their culture. But abstraction is much more universal as opposed to figurative. On any international stage abstraction is something which is easily understood by a wider audience – it is the language of the heart and soul and is in the realm of infinity.”