Trees take on myriad unique forms in Ompal Sansanwal’s solo exhibition

New Delhi: Trees take on myriad forms — Krishna holds aloft the Govardhan hill, Christ’s Last Supper and Shiva as Nataraja, for instance — at National Award-winning artist Ompal Sansanwal’s solo exhibition of 60 paintings that opens in the national capital on Friday.

The exhibition, titled ‘Jiva’, showcases Sansanwal’s intricately crafted paintings of trees that he has worked on for the past 15 years. The paintings comprise mostly acrylic and pen and ink on canvas or watercolours and pen and ink on canvas.

Curated by Uma Nair, the week-long exhibition opens on April 27, and continues till May 3, at Bikaner House. ‘Jiva’ is being hosted by Black Cube Gallery, which marks its debut at Bikaner House with Sansanwal’s collection of paintings. For the artist, it will be his first solo outing after a hiatus of 15 years.

The painting bear Ompal’s trademark style — with the long, sinuous tree roots and the dense foliage merging to give shape to the stories he tells — whether of gods and goddesses, or from Indian mythology, or just take on human-like forms as they clasp each other in an embrace, or even dance.

“When I draw the trees, they come out in a meditative form,” Sansanwal said. “As I begin drawing, I have no idea what form the painting will take. It just takes shape on its own. I am unconscious of what I am doing, and always get too absorbed in the work.

Referring to his painting of Rabindranath Tagore, he says: “Like Tagore gave enlightenment to the world, the tree too is giving enlightenment to the world from eons ago.”

Trees have fascinated Sansanwal from his childhood and he would spend hours gazing at the peepul, banyan, mango, guava and jamun trees in the ‘baghichi’, or garden, behind his house in south Delhi’s Mehrauli neighbourhood. And as he gazed at them, the trees would take on the shape of humans and he would try to look for the eyes and mouth.

“In my trees you will find faces, human figures. I have not copied any tree; these shapes come from within me,” Sansanwal adds.

Sansanwal’s works have been featured in several solo exhibitions previously, including at the Museum Gallery, Mumbai, and the LTG Gallery and Shridharani Gallery, New Delhi, and in group shows held at the Nehru Centre in London and in the former Yugoslavia.

Elaborating on his style, Uma Nair, the curator, said, “As an artist, Sansanwal is a pilgrim who walks miles to find trees of his own sensibility and sensitivity. When you look at his works you sense a deep spiritual aura that fulfils him. His prowess for branching threaded twigs and leaves and berries and birds all become a rhythm.”

Born in 1964, Ompal received the National Award in 2002. The Rajasthan Lalit Kala Academy had also feted him back in 1991.

‘Jiva’ will be inaugurated by Ratish Nanda, leading Indian conservation architect and CEO of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC). He will also launch Sansanwal’s book titled ‘Meditations on Trees’.


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