When people were struggling to cope up with the pandemic, artist Abhishek Narayan Verma used the first lockdown as an opportunity to create art. The artist’s love for art dates back to his childhood days. In fact, in 11th and 12th standard, he either wanted to become an artist or a volleyball player. But convincing his parents to pursue art wasn’t easy, as they considered practicing art as a taboo. We spoke to the artist to learn how he fell in love with art and his latest show. Excerpts of the interview…
At what age did you start your journey in art and how it all started?
My journey started in a small village in Bihar when I was 14-15 years old. Before that, I remember I used to copy signboard painters and images of gods and goddesses to imitate them at my home. Practicing art was almost a taboo in my family. I faced too many ups and downs. But when I got selected in Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya (a residential school run by the Ministry of HRD) and was lucky to have good teachers in every accord. I met my art teacher, who was also a national awardee. He inspired me and fuelled zeal in me to get into visual arts. I acquired first-hand knowledge from him.
After completing my senior school, with science as my major subject, it was really hard to convince my parents and relatives about pursuing art as a career. During that time, I came to know about the entrance exam of the College of Art in New Delhi. I secretly left for Delhi. I stayed with my friends and qualified for the entrance exam. That’s how my journey as an art practitioner began. Currently, I am based in Baroda, and am dedicating my time in creating art.
In which medium did you start working?
While pursuing my Bachelor’s degree, I started working majorly in watercolours and oil. It was later (when I did Masters), I explored printmaking where I worked majorly with lithography.
Do you still work in the same mediums or have you transitioned to a different one?
After finishing college, it was hard to continue with printmaking as resources are not easily available. So, whenever I get a chance, I work with lithography. I would say there is nothing like a drastic shift in terms of selecting mediums.
Have you studied art?
I completed Masters in Visual Arts (in printmaking) from the Faculty of Fine Arts (Gold Medalist), the MS University of Baroda, Gujarat in 2015. I studied Bachelor of Fine Arts (in painting) from College of Art, New Delhi in 2012. While pursuing my Bachelor’s degree, I studied painting, drawing, composition, history of art, methods and materials and aesthetics. In my Masters programme, the major subjects were printmaking, philosophy of art, modern art and the history of printmaking.
It is said artists reveal a story in their art. What is it that you try to depict through your artworks?
I believe, to start a dialogue, we need a story. So, for me making images is a kind of dialogue that encompass varied situations and surroundings. The narrative quality makes me connected to image making. This drama yields a story like quality but does not fully qualify as narrative. The works revolve around the ideas of dysfunctional power relationships or dysfunctionality, socio–political conditioning, memory recall and fabrication, personal insecurities arising out of one’s circumstances and anxiety. I try to transmute them in my works through satire, while making use of popular idioms, myths and stories. The irony is a provocation of thoughts that uses humour to portray struggles and mistakes.
Tell us about your first exhibition? How have you grown since then?
My first solo exhibition was in 2016. Titled as Diary of an Idler, it was hosted at the Faculty of Fine Arts, the MS University of Baroda. It was a very important moment in my life. It was a part of an award that I had received after completing my Master’s degree. It was a great way to judge my capabilities, specially, as I had freshly graduated from the college and was trying to enter in the world of art.
The show became successful. It also gave me strength and a strong reason to stay in this field and to contribute my creativity. I think those accolades are still with me. They help me to grow as a person and improve my working style.
What is your recent art show about? How many pieces are on display?
My recent art show is titled The Moon Bearer - A New Saga. The artworks featured in this show are a part of an ongoing show at Anant Art Gallery that will be on display till 16 October 2021. I had created these pieces during the first lockdown. Later, I added a few more artworks to this series. In total, there are 18 pieces of art. Out of which, 14 are on the display.
For me, black moon is a symbol of dark times and the protagonist is trying to keep himself busy while finding the balance and playfulness. While recollecting memories from my childhood, childhood stories, folklore and fantasies related to the moon inspired me to think and create the entire composition in a playful manner. I have used a few of these symbolisms to depict the various dysfunctional and absurd elements.
What are the mediums used in these artworks?
These are Gouache and Tea Toning on paper.
How is your recent show different from the rest?
This exhibition is a virtual one. This means it can be accessed globally though we are hit by the pandemic. A virtual show is the best way to reach out to the masses and show your creativity. I personally feel that one-to-one interactions are very important to understand and appreciate the art and its processes. Without being in a physical space, it is difficult to understand the psychology of the space and the journey of an art work. You miss the sensory experiences in the virtual format.
Since it is a virtual show, explain the relationship that you have tried to create between moon and humans?
The moon is a celestial body. It has always played a significant role in astrology and in functions of various religious systems or beliefs across India. It defines the different personas of human beings and also how different stages of the eclipse (either solar or lunar) affect those personas/behavioural changes.
Each and every human on this earth was affected one way or the other due to this pandemic and the lockdown. While spending nights sitting on the terrace watching the moon for hours and feeling the deep silent darkness on the earth, I was unable to appreciate that beauty of the moon. So, I decided to depict it through the black colour. This reflects the dark times and a moment of solidarity with the humans, where everyone was trying to find the balance and equilibrium while living in this tough times.
What are you working on next?
I am currently working on a set of paintings, which is based on my stay in Vienna (during 2020-2021) and experiencing winter season there. Through my works, I am trying to find a connection between world’s fascination and the overwhelming situations. These works are done on gouache on paper and are variable in size. I hope you get to see those in India Art Fair 2022 with Anant Art Gallery.