"If it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions."
Sometime in the afternoon of my first day in Udaipur, the Frightfully Competent Guide managed to squeeze some hours into our already very pregnant schedule for a visit to an art gallery. 'Course it wasn't just any art gallery (we wouldn't have gone and seen it otherwise). It was a school dedicated to the high art of miniature painting of the Mewars, and it was located in a suitably quaint and charming neighborhood. We had to get off our car and head off into some narrow back alley which zigzagged in through the tall insula-form apartments which the city of Udaipur favoured. The institute itself was a lazy, solemn structure surrounding a small but delightful garden. The place was so Zen that I half expected to see some guy in a kimono standing over a sand pit drawing ripples with a rake.
An adequately effeminate art student greeted us on arrival and proceeded to give us a concise talk about the Mewari art of miniature painting. What I really want to know was why do guys in artsyfartsy trades like painting, hairdressing and fashion tend to be fluffy and vaguely fairy-ish?
You'd be interested to know that the silver and gold splotches on two separate trays in the bottom right of the above picture are really silver and gold, ground into fine powder. That's the sort of stuff they use to paint with. And for the other colours, they use a wide assortment of minerals like jasper, amethyst, onyx and turquoise; all rocks they found lying around the hills and mountains of the region. It keeps the paintings from fading, said Girly Man.
Here's a pair of finished work which I really wanted to buy but could ill-afford to,
... and Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. I don't think I need to tell you what the two halves of the white building in the background make.
They are about 3 x 4 inches each - depicted almost life-size in the pictures above.
The brushes the artists use for miniature painting harbour a single squirrel tail hair each at the tip, and it is a prerequisite that the hair must be plucked from a live squirrel (they'd be too stiff otherwise). Camel eyelashes are also used, apparently - and who knows what other exotic bits of animals go into making the rest of their art supplies.
Each minuscule stroke of the brush is painstakingly laid down with excruciating attention to detail with the aid of a magnifying glass. They would paint on either silk, wood, marble or ivory, though the latter is no longer in use as the central government had laid the ban-hammer on its trade or possession. Elephants in India heave a collective sigh of relief at that.
In the gallery, we were shown all the paintings which were for sale, and for the first time in many a long years, I actually felt like buying a souvenir which I cannot eat, drink or wear. Girly Man took out pieces after pieces to show us, citing the prices and the name of the artists who drew them as he was doing so. Most of us bought one or some, but for those who was standing stolidly by their budgets or was sitting tightly, waiting for something awesome to come along - well, Girly Man got some "Kama Sutra Specials" which he produced furtively from under a table,
I particularly like the top right one which depicts an Englishman and an Indian chick. I mean, if you stare at it for far too long like I did, you might even start to see how profound it really is. "The English Did Us From Behind" I'd call it. It's like one of those progressive, new age provocative art shit. Damn, I feel inspired. I'm going to draw a picture of some guy sipping a drink through a straw with a name tag on his shirt that says 'Arthur'. I'll call it "Art Sucks".
Anyway, I bought three (decent) miniature paintings arranged vertically in a single blue frame which I thought would go really well with the walls in my room in Malacca at a seriously reasonable price of I-cannot-remember-how-much. However, I do know that if I were to buy the same three pieces from some art gallery or auction house outside of India, they'd cost many, many, many times more than what I paid for. I'd show them to you but it's really bothersome for me to take it out of its bubble wrap package. They also gave me a free fourth piece, one depicting a tiny elephant as a gift but but I have it marking the page in one of my books, but I don't have time to go hunting for it either (I have at least 20-30 novels with me here in India at the moment so you must understand the kind of haystack I have here). I tried to get it laminated, but the guy at the xerox shop gave me a pained look and told me that it would destroy the paintwork.
Here's the part where I'll throw in a lame one-liner about regretting my purchase, and that I should have gotten one of the naughtier pieces instead.
As it happen, I really do regret it. Sure, I can hang the one I bought in my room, and try to impress anyone who sees it by giving a lecture on Mewari miniature paintings, their dumb brushes and their stupid stones (no offence) - or, I can just put up one of the porno ones and Let It Speak For Itself.
That's it, I'm buying one if I ever go back there.
Likes functional art,
k0k s3n w4i