By Aditya Sharma
Painter Sidharth’s vision is imbued by a spiritual and holistic perspective and a love for nature
The canopy of trees sheltering the building in which celebrated painter Sidharth’s studio is located, offers a refreshing sight on a scorching summer afternoon.
On entering his first-floor studio, I am riveted. Paintbrushes – hundreds of them – are lined neatly on tables and racks, tempting me to pick one up and essay a landscape. In a corner, I see several rows of small plastic jars containing powders and liquids of different colours. I hazard, “Do you also practice medicine?” My query brings a smile on Sidharth’s lips. “They are not medicines but organic colours, which I use in my paintings,” he remarks. The artist is well known for collecting all manner of organic material ranging from trees, leaves, barks, berries, loam, lichen, herbs, lava, coral, pearl dust, moon rock, pollen, stamens, iron ores, to source his colours from. No wonder his studio could double for an apothecary’s shop.
Bespectacled with a grey brush moustache, and a square build, there is something thoughtful yet stable about him. His unassuming presence conceals his considerable achievements and unconventional and idealistic philosophy. His paintings are suffused with his humanistic and holistic perspective. An ardent lover of nature, he is a critic of present-day consumerism that he fears is despoiling the earth and all in it. His recent Delhibased exhibition, The Decorative Cow, is a thoughtful exploration of the present-day debasement of the cow, traditionally a subject of reverence and worship.
An artist of repute, he has held 18 solo shows and participated in 80 group shows in India, UK, Sweden and the US since 1976. He has received several awards for his work including from the British Council. His works have been acquired by the India Government Museum, the British Council in Delhi, the Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi and the Dusseldorf Museum, among others.
Like most artists, he wears his achievements lightly. His tone is avuncular, as he invites me to make myself comfortable. The studio is tastefully designed. The many paintings hanging on the walls infuse the room with colour and vitality. On a canvas in the adjacent room is a finished painting; while a fresh canvas is being prepared by Sidharth’s young pupils. The hundreds of books lining the shelves, the state- of-the-art PC, the wide screen LCD, speakers positioned at the right places, smooth floor tiles, and velvety white walls lend the studio a unique charm. It could be nothing but an artist’s place.
Early on, Sidharth decided to take the path less travelled. “When I was 14, I left my house and became a lama at McLeodganj. I had joined the monastery to learn the Buddhist way of painting, which is called as thangka. I lived there till I was 20. Later, I studied at an art college in Chandigarh, and learned to draw from eminent teachers for the next five years. Till I was 40, I practically lived like a lama. I travelled from one country to another and learned to paint from different masters,” he says.
Having led a life of renunciation for several years, Sidharth realised there was nothing to leave and nothing to keep in life, so why not live like a normal human being? At 42, he married and settled down to lead a quiet, domestic life. “Enlightenment is just imagination. If you believe in God you have one set of feelings, if you do not, you have another set of thoughts. It’s important to live a life full of love and compassion. When I lived in the monastery, I spent some rich moments with myself. Now, I feel even more happy spending time with my little daughter. I feel it is important to live according to nature.”
He shows me stills of his latest exhibition on the cow. In one painting, I see plastic waste inside a cow’s stomach; in another, a cow is shown lost in the maze of vehicular traffic. What made him choose The artist at work A bucolic age the cow as the theme for his recent exhibition? “A few years back, three children from Britain came to my house. They were shocked to see cows roaming in our streets and roads and queried, ‘Whose cows are these?’ Their innocent question set a chain reaction of thoughts in me and I decided to highlight the haplessness of cows through my paintings,” he says.
“Instead of eating fodder, they eat polyethylene. Instead of grazing in the fields, they can be spotted circling around heaps of garbage. Instead of being treated with respect, they are turned out of the house by their owners, when they stop giving them milk,” he exclaims passionately.
Sidharth pauses for a while before saying, “Isn’t it sheer hypocrisy to see the cow in such miserable conditions? On the one hand she is Goddess Lakshmi to us; on the other hand we treat her like a stray animal.”
Growing up in the Buddhist monastery has shaped his preference for simplicity. “We have become a consumerist society,” he rues, “We Indians are following the footsteps of the west. The compulsion to possess more and more objects is fast eroding our spiritual ways of living. Today, people take pride in possessing a mind-boggling number of cars, wardrobes, footwear, and mobiles. They do not realise the precious time they waste in trying to chase happiness with goods. Mindless consumerism also leaves an enormous mountain of waste products in its wake that is hard to dispose of.”
Apart from painting, Sidharth also sings and composes music. Recently, he sang in a music video. The song’s lyrics were Lao Tsu sayings, translated into Saraiki Punjabi!
After living in almost every country of the world, Sidharth has discovered that India is the most comfortable place to live in. “There are definitely more possibilities for living with simplicity here than in the rest of the world.” However, if given a second and third choice, he would opt to live in Turkey, and Japan. “In both these countries, people are friendly and creative. Despite the onslaught of foreign cultures, they have managed to keep their unique individuality,” he says.
Interview over, with a sigh I step out of the artist’s unique world and into the desert land of Delhi’s consumerist culture.
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