New Delhi: Cities, roads, people and lifestyles in the metros are edging the idyllic countryside out of the canvas of Indian contemporary art. Most artists in India begin with nature and landscapes before moving to abstract studies of cities and human forms. But now artists say the complex textures of life in cities and the architectural variety are offering them wider creative options.
Haridwar, Varanasi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi - the cities of historical contrasts - are central to artist Paramesh Paul`s canvases. He chronicles cities in the light of events and histories they are associated with.
Mumbai, for instance, is painted in the context of the horrors of 26/11, while Varanasi comes across a vision on the Ganges. The soul of Kolkata is captured in its old temples while the capital is represented by layers of history.
The exposition, "Reflections of Quaint Cities", opened in the capital this week.
Similarly, Delhi and its evolution is the theme for 37 compositions by 24 artists in "Developing Delhi", an ongoing showcase curated by art critic Suneet Chopra.
"Not the planners, but the migrant labourers decide how the city should grow. We have captured different perspectives of the capital by a wide range of artists, including those from China and the US. The exhibition has a non-celebrity element and the artists have used ordinary people to document its journey," Chopra told reporters.
American artist Gregory Thielkar, who has been camping in India since September 2010 on an American scholarship, is recording the history of the Grand Trunk Road Project with sketches, photographs and narratives of his impressions about the road.
Built by the Muslim ruler Sher Shah Suri in the 15th century, the historic road is India`s urban lifeline. The artist has put togther nearly 50 photographs and skteches of his journeys on the Grand Trunk Road from Delhi to Kolkata.
"I wanted to make a visual and textual document of how India has renovated the historic road and the 500 wells along it. Roads are very important to both America and India and I want to know how roadways delineate and impact landscapes," Thielker told reporters.
For young artist Satadru Sovan, "The city and the enveloping cyber space are fuel for creativity".
He paints gothic colonial buildings and young people talking about their urban habitats through social networking sites on the internet. His forms - beautiful human beings and buildings - flow in waves of undulating colours across space.
"My art is about cyber space, changing urban lifestyles and how easily we make relationships on the internet. The people appear virtual - and more heartless. Even the architecture flies," Sovan told reporters.
Senior artist Ved Nayar, whose multimedia works synthesise inanimate sculptural forms with digital images, says this affinity to urban landscapes on the new canvas expresses "a desire to relate to the immediate culture".
"Contemporary art has one common factor. You have to be part of your local culture and have a global cultural identity because the world is becoming smaller. But you have to remain Indian in your creativity," Nayar told reporters.
The green and picturesque countryside with its lolling valleys and streams dominated Indian art for several decades even after independence, despite the efforts of progressive artists.
The legacy of landscape painting in early 20th century India can be traced back to the East India Company painters, who documented India and its villages through their realistic art.
The Bengal school of painters like Jamini Roy and Kshitindranath Mazumdar and Mumbai progressive F.N. Souza extolled the beauty and tensions of the countryside on their canvas. Leading contemporary artist Paresh Maity still falls back on landscape.
But cities are now making their presence felt.
Artist Kathryn Myers, a professor of arts at the University of Connecticut, says she "loves the contrasts of the backstreets, uptowns, rhythm, sense of drama, light, shadow and space that cities offer to artists".
Myers, the curator of an exhibition featuring 10 young Indian Fullbright artists at the American Centre, captures "dank homes in the squalid alleys of Varanasi against the bustling shrines on the Varanasi river bank".
An exhibition of art and exhibits "India@100" at the India Habitat Centre, on the other hand, paints a futuristic picture of independent India and its cities when it turns 100 in 2047.
"Indian contemporary art driven by cities and people is reflecting what is going on in India and abroad driven by the cities and people," Baroda-based artist Prathap Modi said.