We took a walk in the visually lush world of Scottish artist Olivia Fraser’s The Sacred Garden exhibit at New York’s Sundaram Tagore Gallery, a space dedicated to showcasing art that merges the East and West. Olivia’s hypnotic and painstakingly perfected chakras and lotuses seemed to levitate onlookers in the concrete jungle searching for more zen. We spoke to the artist who splits her time between Delhi and London, England about her creative process and how influences of Mughal miniature art, yoga and living in India have shaped her work throughout the years.
My art is Slow Art: it is the reverse of this hectic, speeding world we live in and it provides for me, at least, a wonderful and essential counterpoint.
J’AIPUR: Your work has been shown in exhibitions all over the world but The Sacred Garden is your first solo exhibit in New York at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery. How did that come about and how does it feel?
OLIVIA FRASER: A couple of years ago, my London gallerist, Conor Macklin from the Grosvenor Gallery, suggested to Sundaram Tagore that he should have a look at the work I was doing when he was next passing through Delhi. Sundaram then got in touch and, after seeing my studio, immediately asked if I would like to be part of his 2015 Venice Biennale collateral exhibition called ‘Frontiers Reimagined’ in the extraordinary 16th Century Palazzo Grimani. Following on from that, he then invited me to do a solo show with him in New York. It’s been the most extraordinary year and I feel extremely lucky!
J’AIPUR: What initially drew you to the miniature style of Indian painting which this work draws upon?
OLIVIA FRASER: I fell in love with miniature painting when I first visited the National Museum in Delhi back in 1989. I was thrilled by the gem-like colours, detailed brushwork, iterative patterning and burnished flat surfaces. That was an instinctual external attraction, but I was also attracted to the confidence of the iconography, the symbolism, the meanings behind the use of colour, shape and infinitely fine line. Seeing the Maharaja Man Singh’s Jodphuri paintings from the early C19th — exhibited at the Freer Sackler as the “Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur” in 2008, I felt I was witnessing something that felt profoundly modern and relevant to our contemporary world. Themes inspired by the scriptures have always been used throughout art history but this was a particularly Indian vision, painted with an Indian art vocabulary and yet it had universal resonance.
J’AIPUR: You’ve incorporated geometry and mathematical symmetry to produce Indian motifs of lotuses and chakras that involve a lot of repetition and fine details. Describe the time and process involved to create such disciplined work.
OLIVIA FRASER: My art is Slow Art: it is the reverse of this hectic, speeding world we live in and it provides for me, at least, a wonderful and essential counterpoint. As a traditional art form, miniature painting involves a long painstaking process. First, you prepare your handmade paper ensuring it is primed with a thin layer of khariya (a white chalk pigment found in the Aravalli Hills around Jaipur mixed with Arabic gum). Then you prepare your drawing on butter paper, a transparent plastic tracing paper. I work out all my images, symmetries and patternings on this paper, creating my own templates for the more repetitive work. The next stage is to transfer this image onto your paper using tools that Renaissance artists would have been familiar with. Then you prepare your colours, mixing the pigments with Arabic gum and you block in the first layers of colour. Then you burnish the painting. This heats up and fuses all the pigments and helps bring out their sparkling, polished stone nature. After the surface is flat and smooth, you do your lining work with a fine squirrel brush which ends with a single hair. Then it is the shading work or prataj. The painting is burnished again and finally you add your gold leaf work for which there is a whole process too.
Read the full interview in our print edition, J’AIPUR 0.
Interview by Rupi Sood
Photography courtesy Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York
Olivia Fraser, an artist of incredible skill, has married the ancient and modern to produce "The Sacred Garden", a series of paintings of an almost otherworldly beauty.
My subject matter is about a search for an inner peace. Subject and practice coalesce for me as I find the act of actually creating these works with their iterative detail and slow process necessarily involves a form of patience, concentration and contemplation very akin to the tools one uses for yoga.Olivia Fraser