A brief Introduction

One Person Shows :

Shridharani Gallery Delhi , 1975 ; Rabindra Bhavan Gallery Delhi , 1979 ; Gallery Arts 38 London , 1979 ; Jehangir Gallery Bombay , 1980, ‘82, ‘84 ; City Hall Gallery Ottawa, 1981 ; Chapter Gallery Cardiff , 1982 ; October Gallery London , 1984, 1988, 1997 ; Ethnographic Museum Stockholm , 1984 ; National Museum Copenhagen, 1984 ; Art Heritage Delhi , 1985, ’88 ; Cymroza Gallery Bombay , 1985, ’89, ’94, ’98 ; Collins Gallery Glasgow(touring exhibition in U.K.) 1991 ; Rabindra Bhavan Gallery Delhi , 1993 ; Sakshi Gallery Bombay , 1996 ; and Bangalore ; Arks Gallery London , 1997; Fine Art Resources Berlin , 1998; Foundation for Indian Artist Galerie Amsterdam , 1998; CIMA Gallery Calcutta , 1999; Bose Pacia Gallery New York , 1999; Academy of Fine Arts and Literature Delhi , 2001; Cymroza Gallery Mumbai , 2002; Indigo Blue Gallery, Singapore, 2005, OED Kochi, Veda Gallery Chennai, 2013; Paper Works Solo at Academy of Fine Arts and Literature, Delhi and Emami Chisel Gallery Calcutta 2015.

Group Shows :

Participating in group shows of paintings, graphics and drawings since 1974. Participated in first Indo-Greek Cultural Symposium and group shows in Athens and Delfi, 1984; Participated in group shows of Indian painters sent by National Gallery of Modern Art Delhi to Fukuoka Museum, Japan, 1984 and ’85; Participated in First Baghdad Biennale, 1986, Cuba Biennale, 1986 Algiers Biennale; Bharat Bhavan Print Biennale 1986.

Asked to put together exhibition of Women Artists for Festival of India USSR, 1987, and visited Moscow. Invited to China to visit museums and art institutions, 1991. Invited by USIS to tour 7 cities in the United States, 1992. Participated (and invited by Max Mueller Bhavan) to ‘Encounter’, parallel to Kassel Documenta, 1992. Selected for Osaka Print Triennele, 1994. Participated in Asian Art Show, Hiroshima Museum Japan, 1994; Group show in Saytama Museum Japan and Glenbarra Museum Japan. Participated in exhibition ‘Imagined City’ at Museums of Modern Art in Brasilia, Sao Paolo and Rio de Jenairo, 1994-95; Noma Book Exhibition, Tokyo, 1995; Indian Women Artists, U.K., 1995; Indian Women Artists, National Gallery of Modern Art Delhi (Cocurated by Gayatri Sinha & Gallery Escape), 1997; curated exhibitions ‘Still Life’, ‘Landscape’ and ‘Image of Women’ by Sakshi Gallery Bombay; Bradford Museum Exhibition, 1997; CIMA Gallery Calcutta, 1997-98; ‘Tryst with Destiny’ at Singapore Museum of Modern Art, 1997. ‘Gift for India’, Sahmat Delhi; Executed large installation in Kassel for Project Gruppe Stoffweschel, 1997; Rotunda Gallery Hongkong, 1998; Indo-Austrian group shows in Austria and National Gallery of Modern Art Delhi and Bombay 1998; Art Forum Gallery Singapore and Australia 2000; Indian contemporary art shows in Los Angeles, Singapore and San Francisco 2001; Smithsonian Washington 2001; Asian Art Museum, San Franscisco, 2007; Museum of Modern Art in Singapore, 2007, and Seoul 2008; Ueno Royal Museum Tokyo (through Tao Gallery); Beijing Biennale, 2010; Louvre Carrousel Gallery Paris, 2010 and New York Public Library, 2010; Venice Architectural Biennale 2014; Beijing Biennale 2015. Executed two large murals for India International Trade Fair, New Delhi, 1981. Executed first Indian Mural on ‘Environment’ with German artist Sonke Nissen in Delhi 2000, (non commercial) and on ‘Time’ in Hamburg, Germany, 2000. 5 non-commercial murals on Environment in public spaces in Bangalore (non-commercial). Mural on tiles on the outer wall of SAARC Secretariat in Kathmandu, 2009.

Museum Collections:

National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru; Chennai Museum, Chennai; Chandigarh Museums, Chandigarh; Ethnographic Museum, Stockholm; Kunst Museum, Dusseldorf; Bradford Museum, Bradford, U.K.; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Glenbarra Museum, Japan; Singapore Museum of Modern Art, Singapore; Deutsche Bank, Mumbai and Chandigarh; Rockefeller Collection, New York; Kapany Collection, San Francisco; Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; Museum of Contemporary Art, LA; Jehangir Nicholson Collection, Mumbai; Birla Akademi Collection, Calcutta; Peabody Essex Museum, Boston; H.K. Kejriwal Museum Collection, Bangalore; Dhaka Museum; Bengal Foundation, Dhaka; Hiroshima Museum; Rockfeller Collection, New York; Dhaka Museum; College of Art, Delhi; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Brooklyn Museum; Bihar Museum, Patna.

Awards and Honours:

Received All India Fine Arts Society Award 1985. Received Research Grant from Lalit Kala Akademi for painting in Garhi Studio Delhi 1984-85. Commendation Certificate in Algiers Biennele. VI Treinnele India Gold Medal for Painting, 1986. On Jury of National Exhibition, 1989. On Jury of Republic Day Pageants 1990, '91, '92. Nominated Eminent Artist by Lalit Kala Akademi. On the Purchase Committee of National Gallery of Modern Art, 1991-92. On Selection Committee of Republic Day pageants for Ministry of Defence, Govt. of India, 1995–98 . On Advisory Committee of National Gallery of Modern Art Delhi, Lalit Kala Academy and Sahitya Kala Parishad 2001. Participated in the first ‘Nature and Environment’ International workshop organized by Lalit Kala Academy, Max Mueller Bhavan and Japan Foundation, 1995. Commissioned by Hiroshima Museum to execute a large work for its permanent collection on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Holocaust, 1995. Filmed by BBC, Star TV / Doordarshan, Stockholm TV, CNN Hongkong, Canadian TV. Work featured in several books on contemporary Indian art and Who’s Who’. Pocket book by Roli, published in 2001. Founder Member of Academy of Fine Arts and Literature, at which her paintings support vocational education of 150 underprivileged girls run by her mother writer Ajeet Cour since 40 years.

Article on Arpana Caur

Rites of Time:

The female figure sits against a torrid landscape of colour, yet another emerges as a symbol of resistance against industrialization and exploitation. Arpana Caur's imagery comes through more like a testimony that eulogizes the triumph of time over modernism. Like any passage that exults and exists through its own ambience as well as its philosophical traditions-here is an artist who places her legitimate concerns and conflicts in an inspiring manner of a visual aesthetic.

Working in her spacious studio that looks across New Delhi's skyline, Caur steers herself to her own island of calm. One senses a cerebral artist who is dictated by a lightness of being-because Caur is quintessentially the observer of human life- the great narrator of tales- the artist who wants to constantly break the frame to see things differently and come out with an unpredictable phase. As she unravels her works-she ponders on the magic of happenings, of what they do to people, of identities, of tragedies, triumphs, and most of all the unassailable human spirit.

Working in her spacious studio that looks across New Delhi's skyline, Caur steers herself to her own island of calm. One senses a cerebral artist who is dictated by a lightness of being-because Caur is quintessentially the observer of human life- the great narrator of tales- the artist who wants to constantly break the frame to see things differently and come out with an unpredictable phase. As she unravels her works-she ponders on the magic of happenings, of what they do to people, of identities, of tragedies, triumphs, and most of all the unassailable human spirit.

This phase then charms out like a glittering and haunting epic. it reflects great love, loss, and the music by which our lives play out the coda. But her work is also about cities and people whose extraordinariness is contextualized by the familiar framework that we instantly recognize. The female figure then becomes the narrator. Her voice is her expressionism it is at once expansive, intimate, soulful and sensuous. Whether she be at crossroads of at a stilted point in her life, she marks the course of divergent phases. Caur plays with images that go back in time to generations of bygone eras. She also weaves into that plot an image of the urban consumerist culture. What results is a consecration of the unique and the alien. Her harmony too reflects that singularity-the image in question, whether it be a traffic light, the folk idiom of Warli or Godna for even the rustic old village belle-the image becomes the autonomous self-sufficient symbol of struggle and strength.

Her canvases present alternating visions.The everyday intimacy of a woman embroidering('Web Of Life')- another group huddled together under an umbrella that melts into the skyline('Shelter') or even the twin-figured men sitting in introspective isolation-all hearken towards the depths of her own reminiscing nature where memories walled in for years suddenly come flowing out. If her hallmark is contour, then color is her forte. But into the realism of her contour she externalizes a mental process of abstraction which reverses the very nature of distancing oneself. The neon Deity appears both in the canvas and the collaborative works-there are notions of an indelible nature here which range from the earthly to the ethereal-while we distance ourselves from it, we are forced to strike parallels with Buddhist ideologies and actually traverse that orbit

>What occurs is a quaint emotion of a tireless tenor, which celebrates the abstracting quality of form. The material quality of viscosity is worked in to give an emotive assimilation. The discerning eye notes that this artist works on the abacus of a legacy- one that pays tribute to traditional art forms, as well as folk idioms. Even if the female figure dominates and determines the essence of her sensibility, this artist has rare understanding of early 16th -18th century miniatures. The Pahari tradition specifically serves a comparison in terms of construct. However, she subverses the spatial distributions so that the resultant turmoil and strength both exude out naturally.

For instance, 'The Embroiderer' personifies the image of her own mother sitting absorbed in the process of her sewing while the ruined ramparts form the historical background of the portrayal. The terracotta tinge harks back to the Mogul ages, and the small numerous vehicles that become part of the cloth indicate the modern automated age of pollution. That centralized image recurs again in 'Letters to the Past'-here the modern age is reflected by the typewriter while, the black core reappears on top to be contrasted against the white letters that twirl up.

Whether she works in on binary positions or on singular images the metamorphosis occurs of the sheer physicality of the human body which is rarely attired in garb other than the intrinsic color. The color she juxtaposed onto the collaborative works which she began in the 1990s with a folk artist Sat Narain Pande. The act of co-signing became a major bridge that brought together the artist and the craftsperson. Here too, in the few works you can immediately pick out her elements that stand out against the mute palette of the godna. Interestingly, godna was a tattoo art that was practised on the bodies of tribal women to enhance their beauty-it was only a decade ago that this art was transferred onto paper-the skin coloration was brought in by dipping the sheets in cow dung wash-while there are a number of such works here, there is also the canvas('Rites of Time') in which Caur paints the Godna motif herself. The rippled tenor and the heady feel of multiple illusions is a resonating imagery that she creates.

What remains with you is the riot of colour-this can be felt in the paper gouaches too-the colour value is equated here too- light, air and space-you can sense it in the tactile symbolism of the faces-whether it be Buddha or the three generations of men in a family or just the outlines of the trees and the pots. It is her heightened sense of contour and color that she activates to reflect an order of perception-through the textures, strokes and the built-in background she retains an organic beauty. Sometimes you wonder if she believes in the co-existence of opposites-the bisleri bottle becomes the lone detail amidst a number of pots-the contrast of the two ages is a subtle reference to the changes in genre, not forgetting the earthy lasting quality of the pot that has a vintage essence of antiquity.

Another intrinsic detail that recurs is the hued meandering of the river the deeper and lighter tonalities reveal the surrealist artscape of high modernism while the basic coloring of the Queen's Necklace in 'Between Dualities' personifies the impressionist standpoint. I have often wondered how the artist is able to move from an awry stillness to a state of flux-where the same rational aesthetics are denied to arrive at a novel core. In any case whatever be the image there is always a neo-realist tendency that seeps in-to give way to an abstracted surrealism-as in 'Tree of Suffering, Tree Of Life, Tree of Enlightenment'. This oeuvre then becomes Caur's affair with the dualities that exist in the rites of time. The point of departure and overlap both co-exist with each other. The collection on view becomes a comprehensive array of heart-stopping images-the typical Indian terra firma becomes the fount of her imagination-the source of her own savagery and the breaker of her own heart. However, the humanism in it is not to be denied-the paradox and passion, the explorer of the terra incognita, and the intrinsic ability to reveal her own universe a little more for the viewer makes Caur an artist of meditative impulses and an exclusive lingua franca. Like the women who hold you with their gaze and the act of holding up their scissors, Caur too draws you into the throes of cultural identities and iconic impressions.

- Uma Nair

The Passion With Time:

'What, then, is time? When nobody asks me, I know it. But when I try to explain it to someone, I don't know it, This quotation from the Father of the Church Augustine is frequently mentioned when the phenomenon of time is discussed. Art has differing access, explanations and presentations for it. In antique and medieval times, for instance, naive narrative sequences of pictures are formed, sequences of scenes are collocated in a single picture, particularly in the 14th and 15th century. Famous for this is the Medici-cycle in the Louvre Museum in Paris by Peter Paul Klee, Miro and Magritte did deal with the phenomenon of time many times; in particular surrealists like Dali, Max Ernst and others up to Delveaux depicted different time-layers as one single unit. Arpana Caur affiliates to this prominent school of time-explorers. 'I' m obsessed with the phenomenon of time,' she said once, and her pictures are witness to this obsession in many ways.

It seems we realize motifs in her paintings seemingly known from classic art. Scissors are a frequently repeated symbol and remind us of the Fates, antique goddesses of destiny, who cut the thread of life when time is due. The Norms, then, spin the thread, quite like many women toiling the distaff in Arpana's pictures. Train-tracks cross through mythical landscapes. Traffic lights are phases of order and timing. Everywhere you'll find the river of time, from which powerful plants emerge or twisted dead trunks and branches submerge. A mediating yogi, oblivious of time and space, stands on one foot and ponders ascetically over spiritual eons

However, Arpana wouldn't come up as truly grand philosopher of painting when sufficing in such motifs, sets of classic scenery. She pervades the phenomenon with quite a different intensity. Indian experience and conception of time differs from that of the western world. There, time tied to karma and fate, which is renewed permanently and appears in varying complex forms; here: a teleological conception, time as a steady stream aiming at one goal. The idea of Yuga, the Indian world-era, encircles the chance to create time and to recant it. In myth, fish-shaped Grand Makhara belches time as a lotus-flower and retracts it. God Vishnu appears differently in each world-era, to save it, to protect it from evil. But then he retires again to energizing slumber during an in-between-the-eras, in a no-time.

Arpana's pictures haven't elaborated ostensibly on this theme, but cannot be received without. In her painting The Lady Swimmer from the cycle The Legend of Sohni, the realistic swimmer is shown against a black background, in which she merges and which engulfs her like a parting matter. Black as experience of firmness and static is counterbalanced by the river of time, passing behind the dark surface in rippled waves. A light splits the flow of motion realistically and concrete to a Stop of discipline. The picture of the mediating yogi lures the spectator from proper surrounding into a timeless space. Arjuna is shown in the great rock-relief at Mahabalipuram immersed in timeless space and so does the meditator here. Flowering trees surround him and enlighten everything a-live in glowing colours. But beneath him: the black river, with floating branches, translucent, withered, almost bodiless. The yogi is moved far from this world, no signs of sex, no emotions discernible on his almost transcendental face. He is kindred to figures of Buddha, which Arpana painted and drew in obsessive affection. Her figures recall sculptures from the Gupta-period: round, clear, full of spiritual power and bodily perfection. The enlightenment of Buddha, the thundering experience of Gautama Siddhartha in search of redemption, is portrayed by Arpana by contemporary means: like us drawing energy from the electric plug, the enlightenment of Buddha is experienced as plug-in. Energy, spiritual power and the world of growth and organics determine the active men in the pictures of Arpana.The women she portrays are influenced by the artistic activities of her mother, Ajeet Cour, a prominent author who writes in Punjabi; they are set to their fate and the tissue of the world. They weave and spin, they divide with organizing scissors the streams of time and narration, they are norms, fates, goddesses of destiny at once.

The activity of her great paintings of females is not limited to religious-philosophical significance but extends always into social and political significance. For example, in one of her recent paintings a walking woman leaves the precinct of her home in order to march away into the open, into the green, into active life. Yet she is startled as tradition impedes her daring steps. The situation of Indian women, and women in general, becomes intelligible and clear by a timeless presentation.

Arpana's visual narrations for several decades formed a block: the concrete versus the abstract. Arpana has always insisted in telling about thoughts and actions in her paintings. She follows thus the tradition of sequences of tales as they are presented in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and also in the Punjab where she comes from. The way she tells stories is kindred to modern Indian-English literature as conceived by Salman Rushdie and Vikram Chandra. However, inside the Indian art circle and in the international world of painting Arpana represents an autonomous quality. She mixes different layers of time, linking them to differing methods of painting. Graphic elements are joined with illustrative and pictorial ones. Each of them aims at a different frame of presentation. Abstract and realistic merge without blending. Form and colour gain importance. Smoothness and styling of the bodies lead to a level of abstraction in the concrete, which we experience in a similar way only in ancient Egyptian art. No wonder she shares the predilection for large eyes, ever mirrors of the soul.

Only few artists of the present Indian art scene have such an eminent influence and are present in all important art-centers of the world. Arpana's paintings are to be found in England, Japan, Germany, the United States, and, of course, in India, in all major Museum collections. Her positive, always active and social oriented oeuvre obtains energy from an immense pleasure in pictures and narrations bonded to time and space. Secular and spiritual aspects blend.

In Faust by J.W Goethe the protagonist conjures the Spirit of Earth; the latter, in describing himself, defines almost the genius of Arpana: 'So I am producing on the dashing loom of time, thus creating God's living raiment.'

- Ernst W Koelnsperger, 2004 Translated by Dr Ernst Fuchs.

Day and Night :

Time or the passage of time, with its numerous metaphysical and mystical connotations is a complex theme to translate into a visual image. While Time can be experienced, lived, realized and accepted, its elusiveness as an imageable concept makes it a challenge to transcribe or define. Beyond the sensorial the ‘passing of time' can perhaps even be sensed through the changing pattern of our thought.

Arpana Caur first cut across 'time' when she started painting the series titled Samay (time) in 1988, using scissors as a motif vis-à-vis the thread of life. This is where her preoccupation with the notion of time and its philosophical and spiritual interpretations began. The over-scaled scissors was presented as an overbearing symbol that echo ancient texts and stories reiterating the belief that Yamaraja cuts the thread of life when it is time to leave. In her art practice, Arpana assimilates her spiritual affiliations and devotional aspirations; 'time' is of utmost significance as it is tied to one’s karma (actions) and moksha (redemption). The philosophical is then linked to the everyday where answers to the mysteries of one's existence are sought, with the real and the illusory, the temporal and the eternal, life and death, all becoming pertinent.

For Arpana, a mundane theme such as Day and Night becomes a desirable subject to paint as it resonates with the inherent dualities of life, such as darkness and light, beginning and end, appearance and disappearance, birth and death. The repetitive everyday phenomenon of day changing into night and night into day, makes us conscious of the physical passage of time, its continual shift from one end to the other. If life is seen as a space between two boundaries, then day and night symbolise the ceaseless eternal rhythms that form the backdrop against which the fragility of life, depicted by a delicate and vulnerable thread can be seen. Personified as female figures, this imaginary depiction highlights the inseparability of day and night by making them appear simultaneously. It also evokes the notion of death hovering above life. Blind to the needs and hopes of individuals, the time flows ceaselessly; it can neither be paused, reversed or revised. An earlier depiction titled Embroiderers addressed the weaving and withering of life personified by the chase between the scissors and the thread.

Pictorially, the large canvas has the night as a shadow chasing the day, with a nuanced contrast of darkness and illumination. Arpana's pictorial strategies mastered over the years employ the saturated black as the ground, while the striking composition uses an economy of visual elements with repetitive figures, simplified iconography and limited symbols to create an expressive subjectivity. Through its restricted palette, the painting has acquired a serene composure suited to visual contemplation.

– Roobina Karode