The Interview : Madan Lal
(Rachna Singh in conversation with Mr Madan Lal)
The Wise Owl talks to Mr Madan Lal, an internationally recognized and award-winning contemporary artist, who works in acrylic and mixed media. Born and brought up in rural Punjab and settled in Chandigarh (India), Mr Lal is an alumnus of the College of Art, Chandigarh. He has been feted and awarded the National Akademi Award by Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi in 2017, Silver medal by Prafulla Dahanukar Art Foundation in 2016, Emerging Artist Award by Prafulla Dahanukar Art Foundation in 2015, Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi Samman 2019 and many others. His artwork is a part of collections of leading Galleries in India, U.K, Germany and the USA and also a part of private collections. He has been a part of innumerable National and International Workshops, art camps, group and solo shows in India and abroad.
Mr Madan Lal worked in various capacities with the Institute of Design for Handicrafts Punjab, Department of Industry & Commerce Punjab and Northern India Institute of Fashion Technology in Mohali (Punjab India). He also worked to support creative endeavours as Vice Chairman Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi and Secretary, Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi. He is currently Visiting Faculty at the Northern India Institute of Fashion Technology (NIIFT) Mohali (India).
Thank you so much for taking time out to talk to The Wise Owl.
Q. Our readers would like to know when you first realised you wanted to be an artist (Painter)? Was there someone in your family or circle of friends who influenced you or encouraged your penchant for art?
A. I was probably in Grade 9 or 10 when I decided I wanted to pursue a career in fine arts. I am from a small village, Talwandi Bhai in Ferozepur. My drawing Master in school inspired me to paint village women working on farms. At home, my inspiration came from my elder brother, Sh Roshan Lal who made portraits and sketches with graph techniques and fine pencil shading. It was, in fact, my brother who pushed me to join the College of Art, Chandigarh for a degree in Fine Arts.
Q. Looking at your work, I notice that they are a riot of colours. You use vibrant colours like peacock blue, parrot green, crimsons, ochre, magenta etc. These colours seem like you are celebrating life. Please tell our readers what these colours mean to you and why you use them.
A. The vibrant colour palette reflects my way of life. These colours can be found in the traditional embroidery work of Punjab called phulkari. These colours in fact mirror my culture and ethos. The peacock blue is symbolic of the five rivers of my state of Punjab i.e., ‘Panj’ meaning five and ‘aab’ meaning ‘river’. Similarly, the parrot green colour embodies the essence of agriculture, crimson and magenta signify colours of festivity and ochre gold is indicative of the ripe gold fields of wheat and rice. I have grown up in the midst of these colours, so it is natural that my work shows colours that I have unconsciously imbibed and assimilated as a child.
Q. Your works have a lot of animal and bird figures like bulls, parrot, peacocks. I suppose that is natural considering you were born and brought up in the lap of nature in rural India. Is there any specific symbolism associated with these figures that find a central pace in your creative ethos? And why anthropomorphic figures? Do they suggest the animal-human duality in human beings?
A. Yes, very true but with the passage of time meanings change. The birds and animals spontaneously evolve in my paintings. For instance, over time, the parrot and bull became the companions of the main figure. For me a parrot is the symbol of human love, so I have used it in my ‘Urban emotion’ series to symbolize that emotion. But the parrot also creates a cacophony and so became a symbol of urban noise in my ‘Urban Noise’ series. Similarly, in some of my work the bull becomes symbolic of a seeker as he journeys from past to present. In others, it is reflective of energy, power, human compassion and enlightenment.
My paintings based on anthropomorphic figures signify the journey towards light (as in enlightenment). You have rightly pointed out that the fusion of animal and human figures is indicative of the mix of human and animal instinct in human-beings. The evolution of man from a base animal took several centuries but man still has animal instincts.
Q. A lot of your paintings seem to be a part of a series. You have the Urban Emotion series, the Urban Mirage series, the Celebrations series et al. These suggest you like to work in emotional patterns. Is your painting a spontaneous expression of your feelings or is it a well-thought out process of creation? Please talk to our readers about your creative process.
A. My series are a spontaneous expression of my creativity. I believe that one thought or an idea cannot be expressed only in a limited number of paintings. Sometimes my involvement in a series is for more than two years. My first series was Maya and I worked on this series from 2000-2003. Similarly, inspired by sufi music, I did a series called Journey in blue from 2004 to 2005, Rass from 2006 to 07, Celebration from 2007 to 08, Dance Within from 2008 to 09, Journey with the bull and Urban Emotion in 2011, Urban Mythology in 2012, Urban Mirage from 2014 to 15, Urban Phulkari from 2015 to 17, Codes of Colours and The Swings from 2017 to 2019. My paintings are my poetry and what I experience from the school of life, I transfer into my paintings This is my creative process.
Q. I have noticed that in your Urban Noise series you have used a lot of parrots. How does a parrot become a symbol of jarring urban noise for you, considering that this bird is very much a part of a rural milieu?
A. I painted this series in 2015. This series encapsulates the noise of the city, the noise of human relations, noise of our own self (we are always egoistically repeating I am, I….am) arguments, complaints. Our mind, is like a parrot, constantly repeating everything we hear inside and outside. In a rural milieu, the bird was symbolic of sweet music, prayer and love. But the environment of the city has converted the soul songs to jarring noise.
Q. Your initial paintings were more abstract whereas your recent works have figures and elements such as circles, triangles, grids etc. Your Phulkari series are a case in point. Is that the influence of grids used in the buildings and lay out of Chandigarh by le Corbusier or is the use of geometric elements influenced by a western master like Picasso?
A. My initial work was very much abstract because my eyes were accustomed to turning inwards and examining what was happening inside my mind and soul. I transferred the abstract into colours, and forms that were really a true expression of my subconscious and the sound of my soul. However, in 2000 after some solo exhibitions in Chandigarh and Delhi and after being exposed to the works of other brilliant artists, my eyes opened to the outside and began to assimilate Le Corbusier’s architecture with its squares, rectangles, grids etc. The city then became my inspiration. As for the Picasso influence you are talking about, I would attempt to balance the space in my compositions, which is why perhaps viewers see an affiliation to Picasso in my work.
Q. Some of your works have titles like ‘Prayer’, ‘Journey Towards light’, ‘Journey with angel’, which suggest some spiritual influence. How did these influences seep into your work?
A. I am a morning painter and I have been painting very early in the morning. That time of the morning is the hour of prayer, it is the time when the entire universe, humans, birds, animals, express their gratitude towards a benevolent Nature for the grace of another beautiful day.
Q. A lot of people in the creative world have told me that the corona lockdown and isolation fettered their creativity. I notice you have a Lockdown series. How did your creativity respond to these difficult times?
A. The lockdown isolation taught us an important lesson. If we interfere with the processes of Nature, we will in turn be fettered by Nature. I feel that although the lockdown fettered us physically, it could not dampen our creativity. I sketched and painted a lot. I reinvented myself as an artist and my creative journey was more about connecting with my own self.
Q. I read somewhere that your favourite contemporary artist is Tyeb Mehta. What is it about his work that impressed and influenced you? Were there also any traditional forms of art that influenced you?
A. Yes, in 2008-09, I was drawn to Tyeb Mehta's compositions and colour schemes which I felt matched my new series ‘The journey with the bull.’ I felt a similar kind of energy in my work, the same kind of visual vocabulary and creative process. I especially liked the way Tyab Sir composes Buffalo as Devil in a masterly, very impressive fashion.
Q. You meld tradition and modernism. In the Phulkari series you meld the traditional art form with modern architectural elements. How and why did you choose this fusion?
A. Phulkari series was a revolutionary change in my journey. Incidentally, I was awarded the National Award by Lalit Kala Akademi New Delhi in 2017 for this work. I have worked for 20 years with the Institute of Design for Handicraft Punjab and was well connected with Punjab’s craftsman who made phulkari, tilla and did jute, plastic inlay, barras inlay, woodcraft etc. So, it is natural that my work reflects these traditional forms. At the same time, I was influenced by modern architecture of Le Corbusier. These two influences melded in my work. The geometric composition of the flower motif characteristic of phulkari and the Corbusier architecture with its grids and circles came together in the form of the Modern Urban Phulkari.
Q. Our readers would like to know how a normal work-a-day of a celebrated artist looks like.
A. My normal routine is totally dedicated to myself and my art. First, I draw a sketch in my sketchbook with the date and time after I go to my studio. As I have said earlier, I paint in the mornings, have been doing so for the last 30 years. I also walk and do yoga regularly. As I have been associated with Chandigarh Lalit Akademi and Punjab Lalit Akademi as Secretary or Vice Chairman, I also spend a lot of time organizing Art talks, exhibitions, Art camps etc. I am also guest faculty with National Institute of Fashion Technology, Mohali (Punjab). So, all these activities give me wings to fly from one destination to another destination.
Q. Now that you look back at almost three decades of being a dedicated artist, how would you define your life. Does being an artist make your life easy or difficult (I refer to material, creative as well as spiritual aspects)?
A. Good question Rachnaji. I am completely immersed in the Art world. I draw, paint, interact with friends and students. My energy levels are always high as I travel to various Art camps. I have participated in more than a 100 Art camps and Art symposiums. These three decades have been a celebration of my creative journey.
As an artist life is amazing and full of romance. Life is like a blank canvas, and it is up to an artist to create a good composition in every phase of life. The present is always challenging but you have to perform with ability and confidence.
Q. What advice would you give budding and aspiring artists?
A. For budding artist my first advice is that they must draw and sketch everyday with discipline. Drawing always adds wings to our imagination. They must also visit every art exhibition being held in and around their city as this will give a fresh dimension to their visual vocabulary and creative dictionary. Reading about and watching senior artists at work is also a great learning experience. I have always learnt a lot from my seniors in Art camps and Art workshops. It is also important to learn how to view a work of art, how to enjoy a painting.
Q. Is there anything special or a new project you are working on? When do we see your next solo exhibition and where?
A. I have been awarded a senior fellowship by Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) under the aegis of Department of Culture, Ministry of Culture, Government of India for my project ‘Baramassa & Gurbani’. I am working on this and hopefully I will exhibit in Chandigarh, Delhi and Mumbai in October 2022
Q. Before I wrap up, one last question. The creative world today has become very commercial. A lot of artists today create art with an eye on the marketplace. Art no longer seems to be just about satisfying creativity as it was many decades ago. What do you think about this changing ethos?
A. Very true. If you are a ‘selling artist’ then galleries promote you otherwise you have to create your own market. Many artists have no aesthetic, conceptual and creative approach toward art, they chose the easiest way which is to cater to the requirements of the market or customers. To meet this requirement, artists are dabbling in multidimensional arts. So, the artist is a painter, a sculptor, photographer, a digital artist and an installation specialist all rolled into one.
Thank you so much Mr Madan Lal for taking time out to connect with The Wise Owl. Here is wishing that you continue to paint your canvas with a creative kaleidoscope of gorgeous colours that add vibrancy to a sullen and unhappy world struggling with a pandemic.