A descendent of Raja Ravi Varma, Jay Varma showcases his paintings that breathe new life into the panchakanyas

The paintings are an ode to the powerful women in his family — his mother, the artist Rukmini Varma, and his great grandmother, the last queen of Travancore — Sethu Lakshmi Bayi
Paintings by Jay Varma
Paintings by Jay Varma

Jay Varma’s new collection of paintings is an ode to the powerful women in his family — his mother, the artist Rukmini Varma, and his great grandmother, the last queen of Travancore — Sethu Lakshmi Bayi. A descendent of famed artist Raja Ravi Varma, Jay showcases his artwork at Gallery G in Bengaluru this weekend. Titled The Primacy of Five, the collection casts a spotlight on the  pancha-kanyas or the five important women from Indian mythology. 

Every woman
It is believed that hymns dedicated to five women from the Ramayana and Mahabharata — Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara, and Mandodari — destroy all sins. The artist fondly reminisces how he was introduced to these myths through his great grandmother, Sethu Lakshmi Bayi. “We used to go to her house and sit next to her, and she would tell us stories from epics. Every day she would tell us about one chapter. She used to narrate these stories in great detail, and we were absolutely transfixed and engrossed,” Jay says. In The Primacy of Five, these five characters are depicted in new light. 

They are more real and more modern, boasting identities separate from their roles as mothers, daughters and wives. Jay believes that his work has its own unique style when compared to Raja Ravi Varma’s, even though he does take inspiration from him. “Stylistically, I would say, it is very different. My colour palette, the way I deal with my compositions and my subject matter are very different,” shares the artist who has also dabbled in photography and graphite works. The women in Jay’s paintings are bold and liberated. Ahalya’s piercing gaze captivates the viewer, while Draupadi is a young woman, full of radiance and curiosity. “I’m glad you noticed that,” Jay shares, adding, “I have tried to give these women as much emo-tion and as much importance as I can. I was exposed to powerful women during my childhood. My mother is an artist, so I draw a lot of inspiration from her. She has so much creativity and I really admire that.” 

Jay Varma
Jay Varma

Bold legacy 
Carrying the legacy of someone like Raja Ravi Varma is not easy. Jay admits he finds it difficult at times. “Raja Ravi Varma has influenced so much — all the art we grew up with and even our culture. We are all in some way influenced by his imagery,” he says. Jay feels that unless his work is up to a particular standard, it will not hold up. “So I have tried very hard to make sure that the paintings that I do have the same standards. But yes it’s surely a heavy weight to bear and I hope at some point, I will be able to do justice to that,” he signs off. 

April 17- 30. At Gallery G, Lavelle Road


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