|The Times of India
Monday, February 15, 1999
Where nature's bounty is in her art
She is insinuated with the infinite textures and vibrancy of rock pigments. A practitioner of the Japanese art of Nihonga, Madhu Jain's current passion is Rajasthan, painted in all its vibrant colours.
"My experiences in Japan, study of the Japanese language and their deeply meditative psyche made me realise how closely and minutely Japanese reproduce nature in their art," she says. Originally working only in oils and acrylic, Jain got hooked to rock pigments and the Japanese handmade papermache during her three-and-a-half-year stay in the country (1994-97) when her husband was posted there as a minister in the Indian embassy.
She even took a formal course in Sumi-e (ink painting) and Nihonga from the Japanese masters and later participated in many groups and solo exhibitions in India and Japan. Her work has been selected for display at the premier Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art for four consecutive years, now.
Although Nihonga is a Japanese art form, Jain believes it originated in India and later travelled to Japan from Ajanta and Ellora caves, as the same materials -- mineral dyes and vegetable pigments -- have been used in these cave paintings.
At present, holding an exhibition at the Lalit Kala Academy, titled Pathar Ke Rangon Se (With the Colour of Rocks), Jain uses finely graded rock pigments for her paintings, ordered straight from Japan. Of myriad textures, the pigments are derived from exotic natural minerals. Sumi, or black ink, for instance, is processed from the carbon obtained from burning pinewood and rapeseed oil, finally kneaded with animal glue. Gofun is the white pigment derived from clam and oyster shells.
Jain crushes these shells with a stone mill and dries it naturally on wooden boards. Later when she uses the pigment on the painting, the effect is a true replica of nature.
For red, Jain uses Enji or cochineal red that is made from secretions of the lac larvae and female cochineal insects. Other interesting ingredients are the Japanese gold and silver leafs, called kin and gin that are the thinnest in the world. "The leaves are rubbed into animal glue, called Nikawa, and have to be deftly applied in a single-stroke, or they crumble," she explains.
The animal glue is the binding material for all pigments. It's extracted from hides boiled in water and the extracted liquid poured and moulded into gelatin-like sticks called sanzenbon. Even the brushes she uses are specials, made from thick sable hair that can hold plenty of pictures. "Although the process is quite tedious, the final results are quite satisfying," she explains. "Over 15,000 gradations of colours are possible with these pigments, the finer the powder, the lighter the colour, she adds.
The multi-layering of the colours also gives a 3-D effect. This can be easily observed in all her paintings. The white plumage on the pigeon, for instance, looks and even feels soft and feathery. Jain has used the finest graded shell powder on the plumage. "Another concept that I love in Japanese art is called 'spacing'," declares Jain. "Everything in America is jumbo-sized. In contrast, in Japan, a whole image is conveyed through miniatures. Yet, the Japanese are such perfectionists, they pay attention to the minutest detail," she adds.
This same attention to details can be picked in Jain's images of Rajasthan. At a glance, one can discern the 'body' and the 'volume' that her brush strokes give to the skirts or the pitchers on the heads of Rajasthani women. A few faces convey the whole milieu of Pushkar mela, just as an oasis is conveyed through two bamboo twigs swaying in the desert breeze."
"Experimenting with Nihonga has brought me even closer to nature," says Jain, who also dabbles in gardening and artificial bonsai.