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Modifying tar into art

This mixed media artist gives tar, the thick dark liquid obtained from coal, an artsy makeover. He combines it with other discarded materials and uses it to create different artworks.

The anagram of ‘tar’ becomes art. Did you recognise it? Imagine using the anagram as is. This is what artist Simran KS Lamba dares to do. He transform tar into art literally, giving it a new lease of life. He constantly pushes the boundaries of coal tar and uses it in newer forms to create paintings. He has been quite adept at it as tar has been his muse since 2006.


He uses tar not only in its raw form, but has also been experiments with it and creatively treats it with chemicals and combines it with heat.


At his exhibition titled ‘Tar – Art: An Anagram of my Life’ at the Visual Art Gallery at the India Habitat Centre, Lamba’s artworks demonstrate his skill through several large and small artworks. The show also features discarded materials that the artist found easily on the roads, which were given a new lease of life along with tar artistically. The paintings features a range of materials, such as threads, nuts, nails, bolts, encaustic wax, metal washers, sand, adhesive and wires, which are an important components in his artworks.


Lamba’s technique is all about juxtaposing the materials together. He has juxtaposed the beauty of tar with the content that he has explored in these works. Sometimes he uses tar with wax to get a unique amber combination and other time, he dilutes the former to obtain a residual liquid, which is then used it in the paintings.

An artwork titled 'Familial Conversations'

Nature of work

Lamba’s works are abstract in nature. Lamba neither believes in giving any structure and form to his art, nor in sticking to a colour palette. Instead, he allows the movement to direct his composition.


Explaining his art, he says, “These works are free-flowing in nature. I don’t humour any category.”


So, what does he want people to take away from these artworks? Apt comes the reply, “This exhibition is a road to self-discovery. A lot of these compositions reflect how deeply I think about the subject.”


For instance, ‘Assembly line existence’ (one of his works) is his take on how the consumerist society works.


“It’s a character that has been stung up to assembly line as if it’s a living meat and all the figures at the bottom of the painting represent the industry that is being critiqued. My commentary reflects how my protagonist is trapped in that cycle of consumerism,” he shares.


Another work titled ‘Witness’ depicts two characters in conversation with the third character as an observer. “I have tried to show that every conversation is being heard. Just like you and I are talking, there is a cosmos that is listening to us. So it’s important to be aware about our intentions because someone always knows what your true intentions are,” he adds.


Themes featured in the show

Lamba’s works range from depicting pain, isolation, joy and reflective themes. Some paintings feature dark colours and in some, diversity is added through a range of colours. Each colour in his works carry a significance.

“The bright colours indicate a thematic motive. They depict a range of emotions. There are also darker pieces since life is not always about happiness. There is also a lot of pain that all living beings witness in their lives and that is shown through the use of dark shades,” he says.


Though tar has been the artist's muse for years, he stumbled upon the material accidentally. It was in 2006, while waterproofing his house's terrace, he recognised the beauty in tar. Calling it a 'happy accident', he says that the material’s latent potential led him to explore the material in his artworks.

Lamba often visits local scrap shops and industrial junkyards in search of discarded materials to source his supplies for his artworks.

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