ART ON TRUCKS
Critic Write Up
"The power of art is that it can connect us to one another, and to larger truths about what it means to be alive and what it means to be human" - Daniel Leitin
With its glamorous facade and fascinating undercurrents, art of Aditi Saigal definitely has that power to engage. As a critic, it always excites me to come across a repertoire of work which transcends its visual aesthetics and connects to me on a deeper, more intimate level. Aditi Saigal’s work succeeds to do that with much élan. The vivid and colourful patterns provide an aesthetic appeal which draws us closer to the canvas, so that we can eventually discover its subterranean messages. For someone like me, who revels in the power of visual language, it is a sheer delight to decode the multiple layers in her work.
What is even more intriguing is that Saigal’s inspiration started with something unusual - a heavily decorated truck typically found in the frontier borders of India. When she first came across these majestic vehicles she saw something more than just whimsically decorated carriers of goods. About this experience, she says, “As I delved more into the elaborate imagery of this indigenous art form, a deeper understanding of perhaps what fascinates me started to surface. A truck driver carries on his duty as he travels through long arduous terrains. His vehicle of work also becomes his vehicle of life. There is therefore an intense desire to uplift his spirits through Art, and the beauty that it brings”. This need to celebrate our lives through beauty is universal. As physical bodies travel through the human dimension of time our various life experiences get imprinted on our consciousness, just like the decorations on those vehicles. Saigal chronicles the unique journey of our extra-ordinary human lives in a visual language, which goes far beyond the apparent decorative aesthetics of 'truck art'.
The dexterity with which Saigal choreographs her compositions, could perhaps be attributed to the skills which she picked up in her initial years as a practicing architect. Although she is not bound by geometry, she uses it with precision and clarity. The underlying form is a truck, which over the years have taken many avatars, reflecting the artist’s various experiences of herself. Sometimes they are the “beasts of burden” carrying their own weights, like in her painting “Self-Weight”. Sometimes they are wild and unstoppable machines on the road, like in “Stop Me if You Can”. Often they take the form of luminescent fireflies or “Jugnoos”, shining through the darkness, like in “Mother and Child”.
Much of the seductive quality of Saigal’s art lies in her astute use of colour and pattern. She uses colour with abandon yet carefully balances them. Her style of adding an element of three dimensionality- through movement, perspective or texture - is also a way to hold the viewer’s gaze. As our eyes navigate through the canvas, we can intuitively sense that each stroke denotes an emotion, each symbol a message and each shade of colour – an experience. At this point, the painting reveals itself as a personal journey of a seeker.
Saigal discovered her life-time commitment as an artist through her first oil on canvas, painted almost a decade ago, titled “Quest”. The title is interesting to me, for I believe, it is this quest for her higher self that continues to be the driving force for her, as an artist and as a human being. Every aspect of her visual language reflects a deeply personal and spiritual exploration. In her painting, titled “Temples Within”, the driver’s seat becomes the shrine. A driver running a vehicle is a karma yogi in act of worship through his own work. Likewise, living our lives with authenticity is the only prayer through which one can attain salvation.
“Whoever wants to know something about me–as an artist which alone is significant- they should look attentively at my pictures and there seek to recognise what I am and what I want.” – Gustav Klimt
Being inspired by the Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt, it is not surprising that motifs and patterns form an integral part of Saigal’s visual idiom. Although some of them were inspired by truck imagery, they have imbibed new sacred meanings in her canvas. The ubiquitous motif of the “eye” here denotes the all-knowing enlightened state of being. The flags tied to the trucks take a much more celebratory form here, representing the indestructible human spirit. The indigenous spiral representing path of consciousness is used extensively. Some of the patterns that find their way into her paintings go back to her childhood memories of motifs on her mother’s sarees. Saigal has also developed her own imagery. There is a recurrent fused motif of lotus and swan, representing goddess Lakshmi. Sometimes the truck itself form the leitmotif in her compositions, lending a unique hieroglyphical element to her paintings, like in “The Family Sofa” and “Cryptic”.
I find that in Saigal’s latest painting titled “Carriers”, there are some interesting departures from the earlier formats. There is a minimalistic approach in using colour and pattern which gives it a different aesthetic. Instead of having a large presence in the composition, the truck now appears smaller, but more than once. As it passes through the tunnel of life’s experiences, it comes out from the other side, completely transformed. It seems to me that, as the artist is evolving and her own thoughts are getting more distilled; her visual language is getting more abstracted. One can sense that form in her language is slowly rendering itself to formlessness.
Saigal’s choice of medium also reflects her attitude towards her practice. She likes the slowness of oil because it allows her to cherish the process as much as the outcome. It is the meditative act of immersion that fulfils her the most. Even as a child she would often be lost in her own world, recounting her make believe stories through self-made illustrations. Today she can clearly acknowledge that Art was her natural calling. Within a short period of time Saigal has achieved remarkable success – both in commercial and academic world. Her work was exhibited in the recently held India Art Fair, 2018 at Gallerie Navya. Multiple works of the artist are in the permanent collection of Glasgow Museum. She has participated in several group shows. Her works are also in many private collections around the world.
It is fascinating to see the honesty, commitment and passion with which Aditi Saigal explores her art. Critic Vince Aletti had once mentioned that a muse can be a reflection of the artist’s desires, anxieties, dreams and needs. Taking inspiration from an everyday object Saigal explored her art and began her quest to find her highest potential – as an artist and as an individual. While the destination is same for everyone, it is the learnings from our unique journeys that make us extraordinary individuals. As Robert M Pirsig had quoted in his book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”:
“ Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive”