Delving Into Kavita Issar Batra’s Art

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I caught up with Singapore-based emerging Indo-British artist Kavita Issar Batra as she and Marie-Pierre Mol, Intersections Gallery’s owner-cum-curator, were setting up her 2nd solo show in the latter’s exhibition space.

Following the success of her debut solo exhibition, “Of Time, The Elements and their Essence”, of abstract paintings, her coming “Queen of Sheba: Singapore Sidewalk” show displays photographs, monotypes and one oversized mixed media painting to highlight her creative process – one that starts with spotting, observing and collecting natural and urban elements during her morning walks.

It is a daily labor of love she remembers enjoying as a child – her mum, calling herself Queen of Sheba, would task the young Kavita with countless treasure hunts for pebbles, flowers, leaves and other botanical specimens during their long walks together. And they were quests made ‘noble’ as the Queen, as mentioned in the Bible, Quran, Jewish Aggadah, and Kebra Nagast, is commonly believed to have come from the very rich kingdom of Saba, now part of present day Yemen, to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem.

Sometimes Kavita is so mesmerized by what she now observes as she strolls the sidewalks in her urban neighborhood in Singapore, she takes a photo on the spot. Yet, most times her montages are composed by combining textures, forms and colours of whatever she has been moved to pick up along the way. And she has been sharing them all, since 2012, with a growing number of followers on Facebook; creating connections not only with family and close friends, but with the whole world.

As she believes nature is too perfect to be represented, her morning walks, and her responding moods and emotions to her surroundings, inspire her abstract paintings. These works, too, must strike a chord with all who view them as she has collectors in Singapore, India and Australia.

And the conversation I had with her and Marie as they got ready her 2nd solo exhibition illuminates why:

 

Me:

So what draws you to a particular site as you walk along?

Kavita:

I have no idea… I have been thinking about the walking process. We walk pretty much the same set of roads everyday because it’s just our neighbourhood…just different combinations and permutations… sometimes one way; sometimes the other way. And every time it’s different. There may have been rain. Or maybe it’s very hot. It’s all very different what you see on the pavement.

Me:

So it’s not a colour? Or a texture?

Kavita:

It just depends. I really can’t tell you what it is that will draw me. Like for example this morning… I ended photographing this leaf. And this leaf reminded me of Gustav Klimt and his work. Now it was just a leaf lying on the side. You see how similar the patterning is?

Marie:

This is a montage on Klimt.

Me:

So it links back to memories of somewhere?

Kavita:

Could be. But I’ve passed hundreds of wild cinnamon leaves. And I do find them quite attractive because they tend to look a little bit like the map of the world… where you do the longitude and latitude. And often the texturing that comes onto them. You get the different lights and the darks… But I was probably drawn to this (leaf) because of the circular pattern… the colour… I don’t know… it made me think.

Me:

You’ve shared that it brings back childhood memories with your mum.

Kavita:

Yes!

Me:

Was that what got you looking at the ground in the first place?

Kavita:

Not consciously. No. I mean I’ve been walking now for years. I always walk because I don’t run. And once I have the dog, of course it’s definitely that I have to walk everyday. But even before it’s something I find very therapeutic just to do. And before I used to look at the trees. And the tree branches and trunks used to get me when I first moved to Singapore.

Me:

It’s something that attracts most people who have first moved to Singapore.

Kavita:

Yes, when you’re driving, you see these gorgeous shapes. But four years ago, when we moved to this house, I started walking these pavements. And I was actually thinking, “Gosh, it’s going to be boring walking the pavements because it’s all urban.”

But it just got me because suddenly these colours, shapes and textures and things were just jumping up at me. And the first montages were literally all these things I’d picked up. And they were almost just in my hand, and I would take a photograph just to save this bunch today. Then over time, I don’t pick up very much now actually… Most of them I’m doing just where they are and as they are.

Me:

So why the evolution?

Kavita:

I don’t know… I seem to be looking more and more at the pavement as a backdrop, as a canvas and adding to what I see.

Me:

Would what you have done for your first art exhibition have moved you subconsciously?

Kavita:

It’s almost three and a half years I’ve been doing this, pretty much everyday no matter where I am. I wake up in the morning, I just want to walk and walk. It’s just part of my DNA at the moment. I’ve changed. But when I’m walking, it’s what ever comes.

Me:

Has the (additional) art training you’ve done with (James Holdsworth and David Kelly in Singapore) influenced you?

Kavita:

Of course. They’ve all come in my evolution, in my journey. That seems to be what I need most – in serendipity or whatever. When I moved to Singapore, I met James. And with James, it was a rigorous start with pencil drawing, with “till you’ve gone through all the stages you can’t be let loose”. And that’s fine, because you need that discipline. But he also recognized that I work best when I’m playing with material. That’s what really gets me. So I started with him working with emulsions… my earlier work is very much based on that, and that was coming to a point.

Then I met David. And David was very much about using, more again, processing, which is what I like. And it’s about allowing the materials to play with each other so you step back. You’re not actually controlling the process. You’re facilitating it.

Me:

He might have liberated you to looking at the pavements?

Kavita:

I was already doing that. Between James leaving and meeting David, the pavement looking theme has already started. It just gave me new ways of seeing… Funnily enough I was just thinking the other day: the first montage I actually did was very early on when I went to see James. On his pavement, there were these leaves scattered. And I took this photograph (and) I used it for my first business card… And that was like six, seven years ago.

Me:

So the montages that you built subsequently, how have they been transformed?

Kavita:

I don’t know… They are certainly very much about where they are. Where they fall, the way they fall. Rather than necessarily picking them up and actually creating something.

Me:

So these would be photos of actually where the ground is?

Kavita:

These two are.

Me:

Talk to me about them.

Kavita:

These are just off Queen’s Road. There’s a corner on Queen’s Road, and there’s a house with a bush growing over the side of the wall. (And) there’s a little step on the pavement. And this is just literally taking a photograph of what was on the ground there. And it had rained, so it was sort of quite dark. And the (fallen leaves) were looking quite like they’re wet.

Me:

So it’s about the rain changing the colour of the ground.

Kavita:

It certainly makes quite a difference to what you see. So this is in that area. And this (second photo) is actually another pavement. And it is actually a composition at home. And it is an earlier work. And this was literally finding these three bits of metal, which I actually got over here. I picked them off the ground and carried them home and put them against a piece of work I was working on.

Me:

So what made you decide on picking them up?

Kavita:

I’m like a kleptomaniac. The bits of wire – I like the weight of them. I like the textures.

Marie:

And the background (of the photo) is a painting?

Kavita:

Yes. And (I) brought (the wires) back to the studio and the (painting) I was working on at the time. (I) just put them against it and took a photograph.

Marie:

It becomes difficult to be sure what is the painting and what is the natural element, which I guess is the object.

Kavita:

Yes. I think that’s what I’m finding more and more. It’s that just the pavement itself is like a canvas. And it changes.

Me:

And I guess that’s why you like the textures and colours and grains on the pavements, because it mirrors your art.

Kavita:

And my artwork – they mirror each other. I’m trying to create those kinds of effects with my paintings.

Me:

You’ve mentioned that nature is perfect and that’s why you’ve had to move into the abstract.

Kavita:

Yes, what’s the point of me painting that (as exactly as I see it)? I can photograph it. If I painted (like that) I’m not adding to the discussion. But if I paint the way I felt, and some of what takes to me.

Me:

So you’re not into hyper-realism at all?

Kavita:

No. I feel that particularly earlier on, like the botanic art – it was the only way to record what something looked like. And I find it incredible that someone had the skill to draw and paint in such a way that someone looking at it could actually imagine what the real thing looked like. It had a place. But now, where you have photographs as well, personally I don’t feel that I would be adding to anything by doing that.

Me:

So what do you add when you move into the abstract?

Kavita:

I add a different way of looking at nature and things around us, and responding. And it’s almost like a diarizing mime motion. So rather than saying it out loud, I paint it. My earlier paintings would be more literal responses to certain events, like the rape in India. I did a painting on it as it upset me so much it was my way of responding to it.

Me:

So this exhibition is to show your process – of what happened for your first solo exhibition?

Marie:

Yes. It’s an invitation to be in Kavita’s studio and to know about her creative process… (as) a way… to understand who she is through her art and how she works. And how she likes to share through her work.

Me:

Do you feel very exposed in some ways?

Kavita:

Well yes. In some ways with this one, I don’t feel on firm ground quite the same way as I did with (the exhibition on) my paintings, which I feel more comfortable and confident with. I mean these photographs – when I took them – I have no idea of it becoming big in itself. It’s almost like keeping records of what I see. And it’s my notebook. So someone else will draw in their book and write. I record these images and I put them onto Facebook.

Me:

So if there’s a sense of vulnerability, why did you decide to go ahead?

Kavita:

Because for me, the other part of this whole thing is that incredible sense that we need to look at the environment differently – to locate ourselves… Maybe because I’m in Singapore, (which) is a very urban environment. And London was too before this, but we had Hampstead Heath really nearby. So it feels more organic in some ways – it’s not so airbrushed and clean. So maybe when I moved here, this was my way of reconnecting with the green, the organic. And it made me realize even though we live in these concrete areas, there is still so much green, and so much that we can learn and just chill, look back.

Me:

It might be that very thought that helped you decide where you’re staying now too.

Kavita:

Yes, very much so. When we moved to Singapore, I had said to my husband, “I can’t be above the tree line when we live in an apartment”. (But) we were in the sixth floor when we moved in. And it was like being in a tree house, because we had these trees right to the balcony. And it was amazing to watch the squirrels as they were coming and going.

It was a different perspective on the trees, looking up and looking down at them from that high. And it makes you situate everything… Maybe it’s also the point in life where I’m at. I feel a bit like these bits that are changing, and are being worked upon by time, and by the elements. We’re all in mid-life. So it’s maybe again my way of trying to sort out my own response to my growing older.

Me:

And the outcome is?

Kavita:

And the outcome is I feel much more relaxed in where I’m at because it’s a natural journey. And just as all these bits change, it’s interesting to see them. And I feel maybe we’re also in that interesting juncture in life.

 

Thus Kavita invites you to follow her on a treasure hunt epitomizing our life journey:

“The bits of bark, leaves, twigs, roots, shoots and flowers I am drawn to on the sidewalks are talismen of hope. They mirror colour, patterns and textures seen in the wider macrocosm and provide inspiration for all our inventions.”

 

Exhibition: “Queen of Sheba: Singapore Sidewalk”

Artist: Kavita Issar Batra

When: 30 June – 28 August 2016

Where: Intersections Gallery, 34 Kandahar Street, Singapore 198892

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