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The Pioneer
Friday, April 18, 2003 

After 35 years of painting landscapes in oil and watercolors, her trip to Japan changed the whole course of her art work. Artist madhu Jain is perhaps the only artist in the country who combines the ancient Japanese art of Nihonga with Indian motifs. Hailing from Rajasthan, she paints the vivid colors of the lehengas and the vivaciousness of the turbans of the state's folk.

" Nihonga is the most popular art form in that country. When I visited Japan in 1994, I was impressed by the queue of spectators that extended from the ninth floor (where the gallery was) to the roadside," she says. She enrolled into a Japanese language school so that she could be conversant in the language of these experts. Later, she joined an art school to gain the knowhow. " for one whole month, you are taught how to hold brushes. These can hold a lot of water and thus have an extremely pointed tip. The trick lies in the pressure with which the sable hair brush is held so that the leaf or bamboo stick is made in a single stroke," she says. She demonstrates with her hand pointing out a tip, letting it go slack and seizing control again to make a whole leaf.

Talking more about the difficulties, she adds," It uses colors made out of crushed stone, powdered into 10 gradations of thickness. The lighter the color required the finer is the powder. There are 1500 different rock powders derived from natural minerals, shells, corals, and even semi-precious stones on handmade paper . Silver and gold leaf is also used." Is it not similar to the technique used by miniature painting artists? Like Buddhism, it is an outcome of our country. Although `Nihon' means Japan and `ga' means painting, the style was borrowed from India in the sixth century." says she.

Before Nihonga, Jain had to learn the sumi, the technique of Indian ink painting. " you burn pinewood with rapeseed oil. The carbon produced is moulded into a stick which is rubbed on to the suzuri (an iron plate) with water to produce black ink. "

She imports her paints and paper (called washi paper which comes in a roll and acquires a flat stiffness once wetted) from Japan so that she remains true to the original technique. "layers of paint have to be given to get the correct shade as well as the three dimensional effect on to the painting. If I use Indian handmade paper, it is sure to crumble under the weight of so much rock paint," she says.

Jain has still not tried putting gold flakes on her paintings because they stick out and become impossible to frame and transport." The gold powder needs to be cooked to prevent it from turning black. As the gold "vark" the artist has to stop breathing when he/she sticks it on to the painting because Japanese gold leaf is the finest in the world. The powdered colors have to be mixed with resin (which has to be boiled, prepared anew every three days)and hit a 100 times to make them soft. It is further made into a dough after adding water," she tells us. Perhaps the only simple part about this technique is the availability of frames and glasses. "The Japanese have the standard `go' size which is equal to one post card. The market has every size available."

Jain has held a number of charity exhibitions in Japan to contribute to the cause of the Kobe Earthquake and the Nagano Paralympics for the disabled people. Her paintings have also been reproduced on cards printed by HelpAge India. She loves painting the "innocent and compassionate - looking camels" in the Rajasthan desert although she tells us about the cruelty of the animals which are "capable of killing their own masters by crushing their heads in their mouth."

Her recent works, titled Pathar Ke Rangon Se" are on exhibit at the Habiart gallery starting today. On till April 25.           

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