Welcome to the house of canvases, crayons, and colourful creative corners. A home away from home in the posh Rajbagh locality of Srinagar is designed into a mini art centre where Deepa Soni is finding a mutual source of expression to paint for ‘peace’ and ‘positivity’.
The house resonates with the art vibes, with colours and their smell dotting the corners.
A canvas hung in one corner of the living room is about a boatman in the famed Dal Lake interiors during the fall. Another canvas is about children warming up during the chilly winters. Yet another portrait of a woman with a smile in subtle colours reflects the interplay of emotions between different subjects on the canvas. This boldness of theme juxtaposed with innovative use of colour and strokes is artist Soni’s forte. A peep around this beautifully done hall of Soni’s residence introduces one to myriad colours juxtaposed against pieces done in various colour schemes.
Describing herself as a cop-wife, spiritual, humanist by nature, and a fine artist by passion, Soni while narrating a journey of a common artist like hers says, “If you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain.”
“Art is a passion to me. It is my lively interaction with nature and society,” explains Udhampur-based artist Soni.
She studied Fashion Technology at the National Institute of Fashion Technology and later worked with some well-known fashion designers in Delhi. She is also a self-taught artist. Art is something that has come to her as a passion and she self-taught herself by remaining steadfast in producing some remarkable works. Soni says that digital art was different from original paintings as one finds a lot of inspiration online.
“For today’s kids, there is so much to learn which was not the case during our times. You can simply go and click on YouTube and watch the content of your interest. Usually, I choose a theme based on a photograph I may find and develop it by adding my ideas and style,” she explains.
MOTHERS OF MOTIVATION
Soni recalls how her mother and later her mother-in-law proved to be a great source of inspiration for her and her artistic works. She gives credit to these two women for bringing out the artist in her. Soni says that in her childhood she would paint and forget. However later she realised that her mother had maintained that treasure for her.
“I wouldn’t even know what I had drawn. Later, I came to know that all that work of mine was very well preserved by my mother. She would push me to paint regularly,” she recalls. “Later when I got married, I had to skip my passion for some time because of the busy schedule at the house. However, my mother-in-law was so keen to see my work on my art scene. She would prepare a ground where I had no choice but to paint.”
Soni who originally hails from the Panipat area of the northern state of Punjab migrated to Udhampur in the Jammu region. Her forefathers had migrated to Panipat from Multan (Pakistan) during the partition. “We have so many memories of Multan. My grandmother still keeps on talking about that,” she says. “My art has something to do with the aesthetics of my grandfather. I am told he would like to do calligraphy and also sign in Urdu with some artistic signatures.”
“In my school days, I had access only to pencils and watercolours. Due to the versatility and transparency of the medium, watercolours became my favourite,” she recalls. “An art teacher helped me excel in this field. He encouraged me and taught me the nuances of art. My parents also supported me and helped in shaping my career as an artist.” Soni says that it was during her childhood days, that her mother discovered an artist in her.
“She was the only person who continued having trust in me that I will do something different with these colours,” she says.
Soni uses several techniques to portray the beauty of nature, people, surroundings, and emotions on her canvas.
“I want to create a fondness in the minds of the beholders to love nature, whether it is a landscape, people, or faith,” she says.
For most of her paintings, Soni takes direct references from site visits or refers to photographs shared by friends.
“For painting a conceptual subject, the teachings of our great philosophers are the inspiration,” she says.
ART MY LIFE
“Art is my life. It transcends me to another world when I sit in front of the canvas, I forget everything else. For me it’s a passion,” Soni says. “All my work is done during the second half of the night when I am done with my family chores and attending to children.” Elaborating on the art scenario, she says that art was about telling the story of one’s life.
“My art is a way of how I speak to the world around me. Art is about telling the story of one’s life. It includes social life as well as fantasy worlds and unfulfilled dreams,” she says. “Due to my husband’s professional life, we keep travelling to many places as part of his new assignments. When I travel or even when I think, many things catch my mind’s eye, which I try to bring out through my paintings.”
Soni says that even during her leisure time, some ideas pop up in her head.
MEDIUM OF MEDITATION
“Yet, at times, it can be quite tiring to sit for a long time and plan for something new and explore some new mediums,” she says. “For me, it is a complete form of meditation and relaxation. I try to sit for a painting even if it is too late at night.”
Soni has many canvas paintings to her credit and has sold most of them. She has carved a niche in the world of art with scores of online and solo exhibitions.
Soni has also been showcasing her work at various events across Jammu and Kashmir and many government-sponsored events and has won accolades for it.
She has participated in exhibitions organised by the Jammu and Kashmir Academy for Art, Culture, and Languages (JKAACL) and the Department of Tourism among others. Her trademark has been the ethnic culture of Jammu and Kashmir, which is visible in her works. She has displayed her talent on canvas. Her paintings revolve around designs and portraits of different aspects of the ethnic culture and life.
She has also participated in a few online exhibitions, which according to her have generated an immense response for her work. Soni appreciates the trend of upcoming artists portraying Jammu and Kashmir’s cultural legacy and traditions and conveying the beauty of their places around. She also teaches students online to show them the way to their true potential.
She observes that many people tend to like only paintings that they could easily relate to or understand, rather than explore and appreciate other dimensions.
“It’s somewhat like judging a book by its cover,” she says.
“Audiences must communicate about artworks with the artist. They must also explore the artist’s thought processes in a bid to explore and expand their horizons,” Soni says. She appreciates the feedback given by the audience and suggestions for new themes.
“My audiences teach me more. I have had an amazing journey in all my exhibitions,” Soni says.
Referring to Basohli painting as one of the most amazing art schools in the world, Soni says, “Basohli painting is a craft, which has to be learned. It needs a lot of patience and dedication. I learned it from my art teacher in school. My school teacher, S S Biloriaji is one of the amazing artists of Basohli paintings.” She says that Basohli painting is a reputed school of miniature paintings known for its vivid, evocative colours, bold lines, and deep-set facial patterns.
“This style of painting saw its best years in the 17th and 18th centuries. Basohli paintings are considered the first school of Pahari paintings, many of which have evolved into the much more detailed and widespread style of the Kangra painting school. The Basohli paintings had obscure beginnings, although Raja Bhupat Palis is widely credited as its founder,” Soni says.
She says that she always focuses on expressions in her paintings.
“I love to paint with oil, watercolour, and acrylics. There is a sizable collection in my artworks depicting Dogra, Kashmiri, and Ladakhi culture,” Soni says. “I never think about any particular subject before making a painting. It comes from my heart to the canvas.” She says that she always loved the rustic, slightly worn style of canvas and that element of an artisanal hand.
“It's so inherently chic. I have made some new artworks, inspired Kashmir, and preserved some mini artifacts of Kashmir, abstracts, mixed media art, and self-framed them,” Soni says. “The aim of art is not to represent the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”
TRYST WITH RESIN ART
At Soni’s residence, one can find massive works of resin art – an art form that she has been trying lately and is enjoying doing.
She says that resin art had experienced a burst in popularity within the last few years and she was excited to try this form of medium of art. Soni says that resin by itself was a viscous, flammable substance that could be either organic or synthetic.
“Organic resin is often produced by conifer trees such as pine, spruce, and cedar, as a way to protect slow-healing injuries from insects or disease. This art form is quite interesting and I am happy after seeing a few of my works,” she says. Soni advises aspiring artists to bring out the true and faithful meaning in their works.
“Art should not be taken for granted or pursued just for money,” she suggests. “Art is a step ahead of that. It has a role in the education of helping children become themselves, instead of being like everyone else.”
Major works in the mixed medium depict Soni’s subtle use of colour and a strong sense of curves and strokes.