How Kuldeepak Soni is keeping his family’s legacy of Pichwai painting alive through his art

Soni and family’s works will be showcased at Gallery Time & Space in Bengaluru in an exhibition called Sadiyaan
Kuldeepak Soni
Kuldeepak Soni

Kuldeepak Soni is the third generation Pichwai artist in his family. “I learnt everything from my father and grandfather who are masters in the field,” he tells us on a phone call from Bhilwara, Rajasthan. The 33-year-old has a passion for the art form and is working hard to keep it alive for future generations. He dabbles in the traditional form of art, as well as experiments with more contemporary designs. His fans are many. His paintings are in Amitabh Bachchan 's house. "And even Radhika Merchant has my painting in her house,” he shares. He heads to Bengaluru this week for a group show titled Sadiyaan – an exhibition of Indian Traditional and Folk Art. The exhibition is co-curated by Gallery Time & Space and ArtenBlu.

Family Legacy
Hailing from Bhilwara in Rajasthan, Soni grew up under the tutelage of his grandfather Shilp Guru Shri Badrilal Chitrakaar, a National Awardee in Miniature Art, and his father Sharad Soni, who also won the National Award. “When I was 11 years old, I started learning the art form professionally. There are many different styles of Pichwai paintings, and we practise all the styles. There is a Deccan style, Kota Bundi style, Nathdwara style and many more. We make all of these,” he shares.

His grandfather started practising the art from a very young age. “When my grandfather was young, his father sent him on apprenticeships to various craftsmen, from potters to painters. He started with painting signboards, but when he was introduced to miniature painting and specifically Pichwai, he found his calling. His Ganesha series won him the National Award. Later he also did restoration work for famous collectors. Here in Bhilwara, ours is the only family that practises the art form, the rest of the town is an industrial area,” Soni tells us.

Soni’s grandfather passed away two years ago at the age of 98. But he says that his father is still his guide. “If I am stuck somewhere and or have any doubts, he is the one who helps me,” Soni adds.

Contemporary touch
In this show, Sadiyaan, both Soni’s father, as well as his brother Naveen Soni, will be showing their works. There are more than 25 paintings. “Since we are from the third generation of painters, we have also tried something new. Some of our paintings are contemporary. They are an amalgamation of Pichwai motifs but with more modern designs. Those have become very popular now,” Soni explains. Traditional Pichwai paintings are depictions of Shrinathji, a form of Lord Krishna. They originated in the temple city of Nathdwara (close to Udaipur) and were hung up in the temple behind the idol. Hence the name too: “Pich” meaning behind and “wai” meaning hanging. The usual compositions focus on Shrinathji with intricate miniature details at the back. But in Soni’s more contemporary pieces, there are stark, or distinctly modern patterned backdrops, and the focal figure is not in the centre.

But while the compositions are modern, Soni still uses age-old materials and techniques that have stood the test of time. “I use paints that are all-natural and stone-made. White is made from zinc oxide, red comes from red mercury stone, blue comes from indigo and so on. These natural colours have their own brightness and character. They never fade and can last up to 100 years,” says the artist whose work is also being displayed at the newly opened Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre in Mumbai. All the paintings are made of cotton cloth.

Sadhna Menon the founder of Artenblu says, “Kuldeepak Soni is an exemplary artist. His dedication, precision and skill is evident to anyone who views his works. Trained by his grandfather and father in a traditional style of Pichwai, and yet he is not afraid to experiment and bring contemporary forms to Pichwais.”

Soni’s efforts to keep the art form alive are not only restricted to showcasing his paintings far and wide. In his home region, he trains college students of those in need of a job and they are employed in the workshops. “We teach them the art form and pay them for their work too. This way we ensure that the art form will be practised for generations to come,” he sums up.

Details: Until May 29, 11 am to 7 pm. At Gallery Time and Space, Lavelle Road

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