Bahaar: Paintings of Lal Bahadur Singh
Lal Bahadur Singh shifts the dominant visual discourse from its erstwhile homo-centric nature to an ecocentric one. Pushing the human beings to the peripheries of any discourse in fact in our contemporary times proves two points at once; one, it brings the issue of sustainable life practices into the focus of any discursive platform where co habitation of various beings is taken care of and considered with futuristic proliferations, two, it functions as a reminder if not an eye opener to the egoistic human beings who for the sake of his own vested interests annihilate nature indiscriminately. Singh’s paintings, seen against the dominant narratives of the global capital and homogenization of tastes and outlooks, present a fresh approach to the very idea and practice of painting in which he embellishes the images with associative references from the collective cultural make up of his country where the folklores are treated at par with the legends and epics.
Universal in its vision, global in conception and deeply anchored in the traditional styles of painting, for instance the colors and flow of the Gond and Madhubani painting that has become the focus of the global art scene for its lively imageries and earthbound nature, Singh displays absolute command over his visual language irrespective of the mediums such as watercolor and oil paint that he chooses to paint with. The dexterity of the artist is not only seen in the mediums but also in the flourish of images of nature, which makes the feel of the seasonal changes almost palpable as in the case of the traditional miniatures including the Mughal and Rajasthani varieties. Singh’s paintings become an interface where nature declares the spring festival, making the attendant figures of avian and beastly kind stand in rapturous attention as if they were before the music of Orpheus.
The symmetrical imageries that Singh develops in his paintings often have an iconic tree in the middle of the painting, giving a sense of rhythm and balance to the symmetry that is already in his mind. Tree, in the Indian as well as in the universal context is a pivotal image for life and the worldly existence; the myths and epics say that the world is a tree where the birds come to roost for the night and they leave to their destinations by morning. Some birds stay back and make the tree their home and make way for other birds to come when they find suitable climes to migrate to. At the same time, trees are seen as cosmic representation of the universe itself which has an upper part that covers the heavens, the middle the earth and the roots, the nether land. Each sphere is inhabited with real and mythical characters who often exchange roles making the existence more magical and imaginative. In Singh’s paintings these three worlds are revealed as if they were visions taking place before the eyes of the painter.
Another recurring feature in these paintings is the representation of a divine cow. Though the cow imagery has got discursive tractions among the social, political and cultural intelligentsia of the country (universally bovine images are seen as stand in metaphors for divinity, motherhood and peace), at times spilling the debates over the top and turning emotional excess in the streets causing narrative disruptions, Singh does not address them as a social reality, instead utilizes the mythological side of the bovine imagery embellishing it with various contextual paraphernalia that create a silicon screen separation between the visual narrative and the possible socio-political readings of it and makes it amply established that his meanderings through the bovine imageries are nothing but aesthetical and associative in terms of larger cultural ethos. It is imperative to understand the idea of Universal Co existence that Singh wants to emphasize in all of his works irrespective of the avian or beastly images that he employs to bring it about. Some of his paintings show the image of an umbrella in its open and tilted forms sheltering a variety of animals and birds. This immediately takes one to the traditional visual as well as textual narrative of Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan in order to shelter the cowherds and their cattle packs from the nature’s fury. Also it reminds one of the Noah’s Arch, which also in a similar calamitous situation chooses to shelter the beastly world for the posterity. The erasure of human beings from his narratives makes Singh’s works peculiarly alluring and the more one looks at these paintings the more he/she becomes aware of his presence through the very abundance of his avian and beastly cousins. Lal Bahadur Singh’s paintings could be called the symphony of co existence, which in turn underlines the need for celebrating diversity in human life.
Curator, Critic and Writer