Artists were cameramen of those days, says Sachin Kothari, of Fine Arts School, Udaipur, of Mewar Art. “They accompanied the king wherever he went, and would instantly paint scenes from these outings.”
Mewar art, a popular miniature art form from the 16th and 17th centuries, characterized by bright colours and mostly religious forms in the earlier years, included snippets of royal life from around the 18th century.
It is this art form that Kothari, 62, is working hard to preserve. He works with youth from tribal and rural regions around Udaipur, and helps them get a footing in this traditional art. It is not an easy task to get trained, he says. His program runs for five years, and students are given a stipend during this time.
So far, he has trained over 50 students, and unfortunately, only 10 or so are still practicing the art. “That’s better than nothing,” says Kothari.
One of them is Mohanlal Negwal, 45, who came to the school as a student nearly 12 years ago. Now, he works with Kothari, and creates the miniature paintings the school is famous for. Other artists like Surender are also part of Kothari’s artist group.
Mohan, a farmer, visited Udaipur often, and during one of these visits, walked into the school. He was then looking for some additional income, and joined the course. After three years, he started working on projects with Kothari, and now, he says he would not do anything else.
“It chooses you, art. Just like the halwai puts in ghee, sugar, and badam, and takes his time to make the sweet, art takes time, but the end result is amazing.”
As people move toward modern themes and newer pastures, Kothari sticks to traditional themes, only changing the medium. Earlier the paintings were done on ivory and on paper, and many of Kothari’s work are on silk.
One of the most eclectic pieces of work his school has brought out is the Mewari and Pichwai artwork made on vintage postcards.
“The paper is very good to work on—it is acid-free,” says Kothari. Only on asking him more does he tell us the process: his team collects postcards and old accounts books from older parts of Udaipur—the palace and the wholesale market, where these things are regularly disposed of. The medium is prepped and the work then begins.
It is not as easy as just dipping the brush in the paint. The brushes are handmade—from squirrel hair—and the pigments too—from different coloured agates.
The process of painting can take a few days, depending on the skill of the artist.
Mohan weighs in on why there aren’t many takers for this art. “Patience. That is what is missing today. People want to take the lift to the 10th floor, not take the stairs, which is what art is,” he says.
It’s not just the artists, though. Kothari rues the fact that miniature painting does not get its due in India: “People ask why the price is high for such a small piece!” A lot of his clientele are from other countries, but he wishes more people in India appreciated their own history.
“It will take a lot of education to get people to appreciate traditional arts,” he says.
But try he will. With the help of artists like Mohan and Surender, it just may be possible.