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From copycats to new stylists

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By Pradip Saha
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- HEADLINES about Ranthambhore sanctuary in Rajasthan are usually about its vanishing tiger population, but it was recently featured in the news for a very different reason. Artists from villages neighbouring the tiger park came to New Delhi's Taj Mahal Hotel to display their creations of the majestic big cats.

The exhibits, arranged beautifully amidst a profusion of potted plants, were organised by the Ranthambhore Foundation, a social organisation in Sawai Madhopur, adjacent to the park.

The artists, members of the Ranthambhore School of Art, put on display watercolours on canvas and silk and charcoal drawings on paper, featuring the tiger in different shades, moods and lights. Vibrant colours and detailed backgrounds vividly portrayed tiger habitats and lifestyle.

Founded by the Ranthambhore Foundation, the art school helps local artists, who formerly would only copy photographs, to improve their artistic techniques and earn more by freeing them from having to deal with dealers and middlemen in Jaipur. The paintings, which fetch prices ranging from Rs 1,500 to Rs 10,000, have ready buyers. The earnings from the exhibition are reinvested in obtaining new materials, stipends to the artists and assistance to villagers displaced by expansion of the national park.

Stylistically, the painters have virtually created a new school of art, which blends nature and realism with the perspective of miniature paintings. The style is still nascent, as the realism is governed by wildlife photography. Most of the artists have used photographs as references and some of the canvases even portrayed the tiger in compressed perspective, which could have been achieved only through a telephoto lens.

Despite the common overall style, each of the artists has a unique style. Imanuddin's large canvases turn natural backgrounds into dreamlike settings, whereas Purushottam Nirala's watercolours show a strong influence of Rajput miniatures. Ram Sahay Meena experiments with perspective and distance and Vishnu Kumar's charcoal drawings portray tigers in bold, unhesitant strokes. Standing by their paintings marked with "sold" stickers, the artists reminisced about their craft and life and displayed with pride the fact that they have all come a long way from merely copying photos for Jaipur "art" dealers.

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