By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi: The tag “expat artist” sits on them like misnomers. Meet this band of painters who are of foreign origin but have been carrying indelible images of India abroad through their fascination with the mysteries, faiths and colours of the Orient.
Indian multimedia artist of Dutch orgin Sterre Sharma, who made India her home in 1971, delves into Oriental spirituality and everyday reality to look for inspiration.
“All my paintings are inspired by Indian spirituality and culture,” Sterre told IANS.
She has painted anecdotes from the love story of Radha-Krishna, using the visual imagery of Vrindavan’s traditional peacock dance, and has interpreted the stories of Hanuman and the sacred Hindu symbol of ‘Om’ in mandala-like abstract compositions in her art.
The Hindu epic Mahabharata which she read after settling down in the home of her Indian politician husband, Satish Sharma, has been a life-changing experience.
She has been helping nearly 1,200 families of poor Indian performers from the slums in the capital to showcase the endangered Indian arts in Europe since 1992, besides her own international art shows.
“I wanted to be an artist when I was seven,” said Sterre.
British artist Olivia Fraser-Dalrymple inherits her passion for Indian art from her ancestor, James Baillie Fraser, who painted Indian architecture during the East India Company Raj. Olivia paints in the north Indian miniature style and picks up her subjects from the folk cultures and streets of India.
Olivia, wife of novelist William Dalrymple, said she uses an Indian vocabulary in her work. The fact that she started off as a linguist helps her approach her art as an interpreter – “to capture the meditative quality of Indian miniature art”.
The history of the British Raj, beginning at the tail-end of Mughal rule, till independence is littered with names of artists who were commissioned to document India – then the new jewel in the empire’s crown – for branding in Europe.
Post-Independence, East India Company painters like Thomas and William Daniell, James Forbes, John Zoffany, George Chinnery and James Fraser have passed on to history; making room for a smaller wave, who call themselves Indophiles, and paint contemporary India.
Spirituality remains their primary inspiration, but with new issues like sustenance, economics and perspectives.
“The avenues for foreign artists to show their works are difficult. They have to adapt to Indian sensibilities to relate to buyers. Galleries now look for foreign artists,” says arts promoter Anubhav Nath of the Ramchander Nath Foundation.
Indian Vaishnavism is young American artist Michael-Buhler Rose’s artistic muse.
Buhler, known for his India-inspired spiritual photographs, tries to put the West in the Indian context often through images of foreign women clad in saris.
The 32-year-old, who exhibited at expat gallerist Peter Nagy’s Nature Morte gallery last month with Olivia, hunts for ideas from “Indian scriptures, performance traditions and religious mores”.
Then there is Delhi-based American artist Zachary Becker.
“I came to India in 2009 to work for an art project for young inmates of Tihar jail in the capital, and stayed over,” Becker told IANS.
Becker, who works on the sights and sounds of the capital, including politics and migration, in multimedia, says he often appears in his own photographs of the city to drive a political message about unity.
India also helps him sustain as an artist unlike many Western nations, hit by the recent downturn.
The confluence tradition of East-meets-West paintings has been pioneered by Italian architect, art professor and spiritualist Nicola Strippoli, known by his Sanskrit name, Tarshito. He has been collaborating with rural artists and craftspeople across Indian villages from the 1980s.
Italy’s lasting love affair with Indian art finds expression in Francesco Clemente’s mystical Oriental art on Indian handmade paper.
Clemente lived and painted in India for several years during the 1980s and became the subject of a book, “Made in India”, compiled by art critic and wrter Jyotindra Jain.
“The Russian painter Nicholas Roerich, who made the Kullu Valley his home, can be described as the best example of this maverick group who chose to paint India away from their home,” a leading Delhi-based art writer told IANS.