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Art Review

Enchanted by Nature

by Vaishnavi Ramanathan, Independent Curator

Dharshana Bajaj is a self-taught artist whose teacher has been nature. Drawn to nature and creative forms of expression since a young age, in the last two decades of her artistic career the two have merged to nourish each other. Implicit in the way she approaches both these aspects is the notion of the feminine. She sees nature as a feminine creative force that is spiritual, healing, magical, and open to change. This interpretation shapes her work methodology and visual language in many ways.

Observing Dharshana’s works produced over the last few years, one can see a great variety in stylistic language, imagery, and approach. There are organic abstracts, life studies, autobiographical narrative paintings, and semi-abstract works. In terms of visual language, some of her works use colors as the primary expressive elements, while there are others where line takes precedence. This diversity could be attributed to two reasons. Firstly, it reveals her preference for artistic plurality. Secondly, it is because as the artist herself acknowledges, she is in the process of evolving her art. To her credit, in an age when the desire to arrive quickly precedes all other concerns, she is remarkably unhurried in her approach. Inspired by nature, which has its own rhythm, the artist is ready to go through an organic process of evolution producing works that are varied in impact. Through this slow but sure process of growth the artist is en route to finding her artistic identity.

As an artist who also sees herself as a learner, Dharshana’s works are characterized by an openness in content and work process.  Key to her work process is the time she spends in the midst of nature, walking, meditating, and exploring. The spiritual insights she gains during this time create the conceptual foundation for her work while also providing her with a rich mine of imagery, which she registers through studies, memory drawings, and photographic references. Sometimes inspired by an image to create a painting and at other times propelled by an idea, which she fleshes out with appropriately sourced imagery, her approach to art making is fluid. Nature informs her work in other subtle ways, too. Her work process is one that involves constantly nurturing the image; she adopts an iterative approach, working and reworking her images over a period of time until she arrives at a form that suitably expresses her ideas.  

Observing her journey over the years, it is evident that Dharshana, like many other artists, has journeyed from the realistic portrayal of form to using reality to express herself. In this journey toward self-expression, she uses various visual media (watercolors, oils, mixed media, pastels) and writing to enhance and complement each other. However, the artist does not see her work only as an outlet for personal expression as she sees the potential for change at a macro level through art. Primarily, she uses her art to directly or indirectly draw attention to environmental issues and to advocate for man to live in harmony with nature.

The central philosophy of her work is the oneness of all creation. In her opinion, many of the problems we face today are because we have come to see ourselves as apart from rather than as part of nature. The loss of connection with nature has wreaked overt and covert damage, leading to the destruction of the environment and also of the loss of the spirit of intuition. In contrast to this fractured approach, quantum physics, a subject that she is drawn to, speaks of the interconnectedness of all creation and ultimately of the oneness of the universe. Through her works such as “Mark Making” she expresses these ideas. Mimicking the way seemingly different creations are all composed of atoms that are in constant flux, she creates varied forms constructed out of the same visual element — in this case, leaves, an image that she explores in various ways through her art. Through this, she speaks of the interconnectedness of the whole and the part, of the inside and the outside, and of the self and the other.

Her work is further enriched by her exposure to the non-dualistic thought of Advaita philosophy. The idea of the unity of creation was also reaffirmed by the personal insights she gained during her meditation sessions. Therefore, with a spirit of humility that characterizes her entire work, in her “I am that” series she declares that she sees herself in various manifestations of life, be they small or large. Through this she takes on plural identities, artistic and otherwise.

Conceptually, quantum physics, Advaita philosophy, and the concept of Gaia or the Earth Mother guide her thought process. However, the impulse that truly propels her toward art is the sheer joy of creating an original image.  For her, the satisfaction of mark-making, applying colors, and building forms is of primary importance. This aspect comes to the fore in her landscapes where she exploratively evolves an image through the process of applying colors with broad brush strokes. A similar sense of joyous playfulness is evident in her organic abstracts where she creates rhythmic forms inspired by the forms of the natural world.

Nature inspires Dharshana’s artistry and in turn, she uses her creativity to give vision to her imagination of nature as a concept. In paintings such as “Jenny” and “Elsa” she creates portraits of nature, attributing each representation with a different name and unique form. Given that her relationship with nature is intensely personal, she sometimes expresses it using private metaphors and references. In works such as “Born Brave”, “I love climbing trees”, and “Nina”, she includes images of her family members and indirect references to the environmental heroes she looks up to. Vividly colored, these works also draw us due to their open-ended quality.

Dharshana’s present exhibition is a diverse fare and this makes for an engaging viewing experience as one never knows what one will encounter next. Furthermore, this exhibition is a milestone in the artist’s evolution because her current works are at a stage just before they mature into entities of substance. However, the form her works will eventually take is not something the artist herself can predict for she lets nature intuitively guide her.  

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