A three person exhibition of enamel art work earlier this year by Veenu Shah, Kana Lomrur and Jyoti Singh created an enormous interest among art lovers and critics, many of whom were seeing enamels in this context and scale for the first time.
Enameling is an exciting, relatively unexplored medium of contemporary art in India. An awareness is being steadily created over the last couple of years, through the activities of the Enamellist Society of Delhi and individual artists elsewhere in the country of the tremendous possibilities of using the age-old craft techniques of firing glass onto metal to fusing temperatures, for art work. The society was established by Veenu Shah, a pioneer in the field, with the dual purpose of training craftspeople in enameling as a value addition to their own areas of expertise and to offer the techniques to individuals who may wish to explore the medium for their personal artistic expression.
Veenu has worked in the medium with different techniques for over three decades) most recently on a series reminiscent of sacred iconography in rich crimson, black and gold. For this exhibition she used a more subtle monochromatic palette of white, green and bronze in different series. One set of work was done on delicately perforated plates with ‘woven’ patterns in thin copper wire, with additional texture created with applications of white enamel in varying thicknesses) fired multiple times. Some of these pieces were framed between plexiglass sheets, allowing the repousse effects to be viewed from both sides. Other pieces were highlighted with a touch of gold or silver foil, creating a quiet drama and expressing a mature) reflective aesthetic.
Another set of Veenu’s work expressed her continuing fascination with the representation of the primeval sound through the first letter of the Devanagri script. She uses the letter in different graphic configurations against a field of free- flowing black and white strokes, exploring the paradox of sound and movement on a static visual field.
A playful side of Veenu’s personality found expression in the mobiles, a small one with a beaten copper stand) another balanced on a sleek elliptical steel tube and a large bold black one with the lines of a Picasso bull. The carefully balanced metal cutouts were in patterned copper, brass and steel, some enameled, others left bare and some with patinas.
In Veenu’s words, ‘If my enamels have a meditative quality, it is because I believe each of us needs to create our own peace and tranquility within ourselves.’
Kana works in a painterly style on copper and steel metal plates as canvases. He uses copper wires in the cloisonne technique to create line drawings in addition to the more traditional use to separate color fields. He combines industrial and vitreous enamels in one work, gradually building up layers, sometimes grinding down to reveal the color below. He is able to create depth and luminosity through meticulous repeat application of color and multiple firings, and has emerged as a master of these techniques.
Kana has been inspired by urban landscapes and is getting to be known for his smaller jewel-like pieces, some architectural, others repeating the motif of the ‘Third eye’ of wisdom, still others depicting the Buddha.
For this exhibition, Kana has expanded his canvases, creating large work made up of sets of several pieces. One set of slim panels had paths leading up from the dark shadows of urban dwellings up toward the shining domes and cupolas of temples, mosques and cathedrals. Another dramatic piece was a mosaic of plates with ethereal white dancing figures linked by the same variegated background of earth colors and continuing cloisonné lines. Kana describes his work as ‘…a fusion of reality, imagination and spirituality.’
Jyoti has ventured into the realm of enameling fairly recently having come from a background of pottery. She regards Veenu as her mentor and finds the immediacy of the process and the luminosity of enamel fascinating. She works a great deal on the copper plate prior to the application and firing of the color, hammering out areas of high relief, piercing and texturing, cutting and ‘stitching’ with thick copper wires. For this exhibition one set of work, entitled the ‘cross’ series, combined elements from Christian iconography and cosmic/planetary imagery, human pain juxtaposed with spiritual reality.
Another series consisted of contemporary adaptations of traditional esoteric representations of energy fields. In one of the larger works, Jyoti had cut and put together copper panels in the shape of breasts, belly, navel and pubis, the female form, sensuous yet pure. Seed pods, exaggerated and highly textured, some of the color ribbed off to reveal the bare textured metal below; some with sgraffito through base fluxes, some etched, formed another set of work. Jyoti feels that enameling has brought out a stronger aesthetic in her and’..a mindfulness between spontaneity and discipline.’
The participating artists styles and approaches were totally different. Together their work came together for a striking, and in some ways) a path breaking exhibition.