The English painter George Stubbs took pains to draw horses by carefully stripping them of their skin and flesh and recording every layer, suggesting a physical documentation. How is it different today?
Horses have been depicted in art since prehistoric times: whether in the rock shelters in Bhimbetka, the Lascaux cave paintings in France, slate tablets from 3,000 BC in Elam (Iran – Iraq). As religious art became more popular, horses became less relevant. Closer home, MF Husain and Sunil Das are known for their dynamic depiction of horses. As life became more automated, the role of the horse has also changed. Modern representations have moved from basic to realist to romantic portrayals. I like to express their spirit as something that evokes deep emotion. To me, they are free sentient beings that communicate wisdom far beyond their earthly beauty.
What does nature signify in all this, besides inspiration?
The beauty of nature is reflected in all forms of art, inspiring sights, sounds, colour and texture. Each of us is constantly drawing something from nature. These words by Andy Warhol reflect best the relationship between art and nature: “I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anyone would want.”
How do you create your works, and what is your inspiration?
My work is always spontaneous. My subjects are drawn from experience. Once, during a visit to Ranikhet, I saw a temple with thousands of bells tied by people who had had their wishes come true. Something touched me about that imagery, and I sat in the gateway and sketched. When I started drawing horses, I learnt first to ride and understand them. This turned into a passion before I could portray their essence and spirit.
What are the recurring themes in your work, how does one depict horses without getting boxed in by the restrictions it imposes?
The recurring themes in my work are different subjects that connect me to nature. There definitely is a body-mind connection. I love drawing the horse as well as the human form. I like to portray the spirit of the subject. Horses are unpredictable and have their own individual personalities. Drawing them is not at all restrictive; in fact, I feel a sense of freedom and energy emanating from them that inspires me. To me, the horse as a free spirit, speaks to that part of our soul that longs for a connection with nature, with something larger and wiser than ourselves.
How should a viewer see your works?
There’s this thought by Emerson, that “nobody could draw a tree; or draw a child by studying the outlines of its form… but by watching for a time his motions and plays, the painter enters into his nature and can then draw him at every attitude.” I think it’s true for every participant of art, for viewers too, that you have to enter that world and not see it merely as a wall hanging.
Dere’s exhibition, The Spirit of The Horse, is on view at the Galerie Romain Rolland, Delhi on 14 & 15 March