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Ompal Sansanwal’s Meditative Paintings on Trees Wins All-round Praise

In Arts, News
April 29, 2024

Wide-eyed admiration greeted National Award-winning artist Ompal Sansanwal’s solo exhibition on “meditations on trees”, titled Jiva, that opened in Bikaner House here on Saturday evening.

The exhibition of around 60 of Ompal’s paintings is his first solo outing, after a hiatus of 15 years.

In his painstakingly crafted and detailed paintings of trees, the long roots and branches heavy with leaves take on the shape of different stories that the artist tells, including mythological ones, or are just human-like trees with eyes, nose and mouth.

The acrylic and pen and ink on canvas or watercolour and pen and ink on canvas pieces are striking for their intricate treatment and colours. Curated by noted art historian and scholar Uma Nair, the exhibition is being hosted by Black Cube Gallery, which marks its debut at Bikaner House with Ompal’s paintings.

The exhibition, designed by Black Cube Gallery director Sanya Malik, is being held as the world is celebrating Earth Month in April.

‘Jiva’ was inaugurated on Saturday evening by Ratish Nanda, renowned Indian conservation architect and CEO of Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), who also launched Ompal’s book ‘Meditations on Trees’ penned by Uma Nair, and published by Black Cube and Aleph Books.

Ratish Nanda said he had “enjoyed the art exhibition very much” and commended Ompal’s work as “incredible”.

Uma Nair, speaking on the occasion, said: “When you look at Ompal’s work, you know that he could not have done these works if he is not immersed in the subject…His works are hymns to humanity, they touch you in a way nothing ever has before.”

Sanya Malik of Black Cube praised Ompal’s works and his “unmatched technical prowess”.

Tracing his love for trees, Ompal said during his childhood his mother would take him to the woods behind their home in south Delhi’s Mehrauli area, where his school was located. His classes were held beneath a tree. “My story with trees began from there. I used to think that though the bagichi has mango trees and jamun trees, I would find the peepul tree most fascinating and beautiful. I would look for the eyes and nose in the tree. Later at the Delhi College of Art I studied the peepul and banyan tree.”

“I meditate through my painting of trees…My paintings take a lot of time, but I enjoy it thoroughly,” he said.

Later, Sanya Malik presented a copy of the coffee table book ‘Meditations on Trees’ to Ratish Nanda.

Former Director-General of National Gallery of Modern Art, Adwaita Gadanayak, admiring the paintings at the art gallery, said that Ompal and he would study together under a tree and that “nature is the biggest teacher”.

“Ompal has done a deep dive into trees and used it as a mechanism for his journey.… When he enters his trees it is his meditation,” he said.

Piyali Dasgupta, Programme Director, Bikaner House, in her comments, said: “We want exhibitions that create ripples. We want to showcase great artists who are not known. Ultimately, we want to serve the arts in the best possible way. ‘Jiva’ is a very important show, it has an incredible message for the universe. Trees are so precious.”

Another noted artist, Shonali Durga Chowdhury, walking around the exhibition, said she loved the way Ompal has highlighted nature. “All his works are very intricate, and detailed, which is not seen very often these days in the art fraternity. The detailing shows how much of a meditative experience it has been for him.”

Well-known heritage photographer Manoj Arora added: “I was amazed at the maze-like effect of his paintings, almost like a thick network of branches. This sense of perfection is what makes him a master. Each work is a masterpiece.”

The exhibition saw the presence of more than a hundred art enthusiasts, with each one expressing wide praise for Ompal’s works.

Born in 1964, Ompal is the recipient of the Lalit Kala Akademi National Award for painting in 2002 and the 1991 All India Award, by the Rajasthan Lalit Kala Academy.

Jiva is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. till May 3 at Bikaner House, Art Gallery Main Building.