The 71 canvases put up for exhibition across the spacious Open Court Gallery of the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi makes it difficult to guess the age of the host artist. Born in 1990, Swati Gupta’s list of achievements can only be accorded to a prolific nature. Apart from holding her first solo exhibition titled Vritti: A Whirlpool of Thoughts, Gupta has under her belt a BS degree in electrical and computer engineering and economics, along with minors in computer science and computational finance from the Carnegie Mellon University.
From a young age, Gupta showed a proclivity towards arts, thus earning a diploma in fine arts from the Bangiya Sangeet Parishad at 14. She says that she had always been the pensive kind but it was under the ingenious guidance of artist SS Kukkal that she came to find her own style. Kukkal encouraged her to use unconventional forms of material to articulate herself. This explains the inventive use of leather and tracing paper canvases in Gupta’s exhibition.
Gupta’s canvases reveal an observant perspective and a dynamic style. The paintings, barring a few, seldom have a prominent figure in them. The clever use of colour and brush strokes tease the viewer with the sense of a ‘presence’ but the seemingly figures are all shadowy. A proponent of the tradition of watercolour paintings, Gupta has experimented with her paintings within that zone. The use of watercolours abound in the exhibition, be it a wide canvas or a miniature or a spray painting on tracing paper. Even her digital prints are employed to heighten a certain impressionistic view of the world.
On being asked who among painters have fascinated her the most, she names Van Gogh, the post-impressionistic genius; however, in the Indian scenario, she roots for the pensive yet political oeuvre of SH Raza. From the recurrence of the feminine form and the bird motif in many of her paintings, Gupta’s abstraction of the social realities around her are apparent. The soft-spoken artist seems to internalise the world around her and pour it back through the visual medium. One pen and ink painting had a whiff of cubism in the manner that it seemed to intertwine the Gandhian charkha with the Hindu symbol of enlightenment, the lotus.
Curiously, Gupta has left many of her canvasses untitled so that her viewers can project their own consciousness on her flexible canvas and go back with their individual interpretations. Union Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Mahesh Sharma, who inaugurated the exhibition, seemed to be pleased with what he saw. He rubbished suggestions that Swati, who is not a professional artist, put together her solo exhibition after leveraging recommendations in high places.
“The artist’s job of observing the world around them and making it come alive on their canvas cannot be achieved through recommendations, it can only come through constant devotion to their art,” said Sharma.
Also present at the exhibition were Ajay Singh, Chief Executive at Defence Research and Development Organisation (drdo), Professor Rajeev Lochan, Director, Natonal Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi and Ram Niwas Goel, Speaker of the Delhi Assembly, among others. The visitors to the exhibition of were also appreciative of the artist’s calibre.
Dona Bishwas, a research scholar on a trip to Delhi, remarked, “The artist appears to be giving the viewer glimpses into her psyche. I quite like the spray paintings.”
The paintings were interspersed with quotes from Rumi, the Persian poet. One of them read: “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”
Gupta agrees, saying, “I have not taken this up as a profession. It relaxes me when I can express my
teeming thoughts through my paintings. It is my passion and that gives me a sense of freedom. Some of the paintings you see here were actually created on a flight or a train journey.”
The sense of movement — a journey towards finding one’s motivations and goals — gets reinforced through Swati Gupta’s fluid but centred canvases.