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In her studio, artist Smita Jain becomes an interpreter of memories

For the Gurugram-based artist, the studio is a space of reflection and meditation. There, she mulls over events and experiences of the past to interpret them in her paintings

Smita Jain in her studio
Smita Jain in her studio

At the Visual Art Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, there is an evocative painting on display, titled ‘Amidst the Mist’. Nebulous forms can be seen shrouded in the fog. One can make out hints of towers and other built structures. However, it is what the painting conceals that adds a sense of mystique to the narrative. The visual stands out for the kind of layering and textures that the artist, Smita Jain, has achieved. The painting is part of her solo show, ‘Past and Beyond’, which has been curated by Aakshat Sinha and is on view till 8 May. Memory plays a huge role in Jain’s work, bringing together her recollections of a childhood spent in Ara, Bihar, of her grandfather bent over a watercolour painting that he worked on night and day, of her travels around the country, and more.

Gurugram-based Jain is a textile designer by profession, and the kind of motifs and colours she uses alludes to that. “An avid traveller, each trip has helped her with creating a style of architectural abstraction where the landscapes or cityscapes she paints capture not just the architecture but also the ambience of the location. Through her acrylic paintings, she tells stories that she heard while there in person. The vibrant colours reflect the space's life and vivacity without depicting any human or animal figures in the compositions,” states the exhibition note. Jain achieves the textures through thick impasto techniques for which she uses printing blocks, stencils and spatula. In an interview withLounge,she elaborates on the events and experiences that have informed her work, and her relationship with her workspace:

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Could you elaborate further on the role of memory in your work?

I was always inclined towards art and design. After completing a degree in textile design, I got married. However, I wanted to delve into art deeper after that. So, I decided to paint. I have always been inspired by architecture. Hailing from a land-owning family in Bihar, I had lived all my life in a haveli, which was architecturally so beautiful. Added to that were my travels across the country. My father was always taking me to places like Ajanta Ellora. The memories of those places have remained etched in my mind. Whatever I create stems from my experiences. Those are my interpretations of memory.

There are no human figures in your work. Yet the architecture tells stories of the people who dwell within…

Everybody has stories from around where they live. I try to bring those emotions out in my painting. I let the structures reveal the stories within. I don’t need human figures in my work.

Describe your current workspace to us

My studio in Gurugram is a big hall, located in the basement. It is a huge space, which gives me a bird’s eye view of my work. When I paint there, I go through my paintings numerous times. It’s not like I start a work, finish it and then move on to the next one. I often work on four to five paintings together. I paint for a few days and then take a break. Then I go back and start again. My studio gives me a lot of time to think and meditate over the process.

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'Amidst the Mist'
'Amidst the Mist'

How would you define your daily relationship with this space?

This is my latest studio; the earlier one was in my house. The space is an extension of my thought process. I never stop thinking about my work. Sometimes, late at night if I am up, or early in the morning, an idea strikes me and I mull over it. I don’t have a fixed working schedule. I paint whenever I feel like. My studio allows for that flexibility.

Could you talk about some of the eureka moments that you have had in this workspace?

Earlier I would mostly paint Indian heritage buildings—timeless, beautiful forts. But it is in this space that I started doing cityscapes and abstraction. I remember this painting,Rays of Gold,which I was struggling with. I visited Ranthambore, where I took a lot of photos. The reflection of the golden grass was so beautiful. That moment really stayed with me. But that glow was simply not reflecting in my painting. I kept trying, adding layer after layer. After some 10-15 layers, that glow emerged. That was a truly wow moment for me—a deeply satisfying process.

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What is that one thing that has stayed in all your studio spaces?

The spatula, I can’t part with it, I can’t paint without it.

Who are your biggest inspirations in art and design?

I have always loved Vincent Van Gogh’s work since childhood. He too used to paint from his memory. The other artist that I look up to is Ram Kumar. The kind of textures and strokes he achieves is so masterful. I have studied his work and life deeply and that has seeped into my subconscious.

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