Sometimes my stories flow better in the form of mingled hues on canvas or paper, because the drifting of paint on an uneven handmade texture, the swerve of the brush, the wilful traversing of water colour that has a mind of its own, have always had a very organic way of narrating tales that exist all around us.
A white canvas, a palette of oil paints, the smell of linseed oil and turpentine propelled me to create a painting after ages. The dalliance of my brushes with the canvas found a story unfold. The figures of a man and a woman took shape, dancing slowly to a lilting, Mexican tune played by a man sitting close to them. The woman wore a green dress with a red belt and the man wore a sleek, black suit and hat. They twirled and swayed to the music but seemed detached.
Once the paint dried, I took the picture to a frame shop to have a desired border. I believe that a border always neatens up a narrative. The elderly person who owned the quaint little shop, sat behind a desk, framing a collage of old, black and white pictures. He diverted his gaze to my painting and asked with his lopsided smile, “Your picture tells a story, like they all do. Doesn’t it?”
An art aficionado
He seemed to be an art aficionado and probably found an intent audience in me and continued in his nasal twang, in Hindi, as he showed me a few paintings, the size of postcards. The first one was Norman Rockwell’s called ‘Delivering Two Busts’, painted in 1931 at the height of the Depression.
The careful strokes of the brush show a crestfallen delivery man, holding two busts in his arms that are waiting to be delivered. A newspaper lay carelessly tossed near his feet after a failed foray into the ‘employment’ section. This made me ponder about the lives of delivery boys, racing against time, all day round just to earn a pittance. The artist had that uncanny knack of recreating the poetry of a man’s diurnal life.
The second postcard that he showed me had a poignant tale hidden within, a pair of “Praying hands” by Albrecht Durer. A story I’d love to share with you. It was an ink and pencil sketch, created in the early 16th century. According to the owner of the frame shop, this was a part of the series of sketches that Durer drew for an altar piece in 1508. The drawing shows just the hands of a person praying, the sleeves are folded and are visible in it.
The painter lived in a tiny village, near Nuremberg, in a family of eighteen children. His father worked hard to feed them. However, two of the children wanted to pursue their talent in art. They knew well that their father couldn’t afford the lessons.
Too damaged to even hold a glass
So, they worked out a pact. They’d toss a coin and the loser would go to work in the mines and support his brother, the one who’d attend the art school. Albrecht won the toss and went to the academy while Albert stayed back to support him.
Sadly, when the former returned, Albert’s hands were far too damaged to even hold a glass, leave aside a paint brush, from hard labour in the mines. It’s believed that Albrecht painstakingly drew his brother’s hands with his palms together, in honour of the sacrifice that he happily made and never ever regretted.
My visit to the shop lasted a few more minutes as I “read” through more paintings, thanks to the entertaining frame-maker and went home with a heart enriched with tales that artists have carefully mixed with pigments of colour, in their palettes of life.
My endeavour continues to transform seemingly mundane anecdotes, into many-splendoured pieces of art as done by Pablo Picasso who always believed, “Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.”
Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Gurgaon, India. Twitter: @VpNavanita