Of paintings and stories that lie within


Sometimes my stories flow best as blended hues on canvas or paper, because the drift of paint over uneven handcrafted texture, the deflection of the brush, the willful traversal of watercolor that has its own spirit, always have had a very organic way of telling stories that exist all around us.

A white canvas, a palette of oil paints, the smell of linseed oil and turpentine prompted me to create a painting after centuries. The banter of my brushes with the canvas found an unfolding story. Figures of a man and a woman took shape, slowly dancing to a Mexican melody played by a man seated next to them. The woman wore a green dress with a red sash and the man wore an elegant black suit and hat. They swirled and swayed to the beat of the music but seemed detached.

Once the paint was dry, I took the picture to a framer to get a desired border. I believe that a border always embellishes a story. The elderly person who owned the quaint little shop sat behind a desk, framing a collage of old black-and-white photos. He turned his gaze to my painting and asked me with his crooked smile, “Your image tells a story, as they all do. Is not it ?

An art lover

He seemed to be an art lover and probably found an attentive audience in me and continued in his nasal, Hindi accent, showing me some paintings, the size of postcards. The first was Norman Rockwell’s “Delivering Two Busts”, painted in 1931 at the height of the Depression.

The neat brushstrokes show a crestfallen delivery man, cradling two busts waiting to be delivered. A newspaper lay carelessly near his feet after a failed foray into the “employment” section. It got me thinking about the lives of delivery people, racing against time all day just to earn a pittance. The artist had this supernatural gift of recreating the poetry of a man’s daytime life.

The second postcard he showed me had a poignant story hidden inside, a pair of “Praying Hands” by Albrecht Durer. A story that I would like to share with you. It was an ink and pencil sketch, created in the early 16th century. According to the owner of the framing workshop, this was part of the series of sketches that Durer drew for an altarpiece in 1508. The drawing only shows the hands of a person praying, the sleeves are folded and are visible inside.

The painter lived in a small village, near Nuremberg, in a family of eighteen children. Her father worked hard to feed them. However, two of the children wanted to pursue their talent in art. They knew very well that their father could not afford the lessons.

Too damaged to even hold a drink

So they made a pact. They would flip a coin and the loser would go to work in the mines and support his brother, the one who would go to art school. Albrecht won the coin toss and went to the academy while Albert stayed to support him.

Unfortunately, when the first one returned, Albert’s hands were far too damaged to even hold a glass, other than a brush, due to the hard work in the mines. It is believed that Albrecht painstakingly brought his brother’s hands together with his palms, in honor of the sacrifice he gladly made and never regretted.

My visit to the shop lasted a few minutes longer as I “read” through more paintings, thanks to the entertaining cameraman and returned home with a heart enriched with tales that the artists carefully blended with pigments from color, in their palettes of life.

My effort continues to transform seemingly banal anecdotes into works of art of multiple splendor, as did Pablo Picasso who always believed: “Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into a sun “.

Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Gurgaon, India. Twitter: @VpNavanita


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