Charan Sharma is a painter of prayers, creating canvases that are hymns of joy and devotion. From humble beginnings in Nathdwara, Charan has graduated to a luxurious lifestyle in Mumbai, metamorphosing at work from traditional renditions to contemporary stroke-play. He is today much sought after by elite collectors and his works adorn the homes of the ultra-rich.
They say no one paints Lord Srinathji quiet as well as Charan Sharma. Is that true?
No, not true. Srinathji is a form of the Hindu god Lord Krishna. Srinathji has been painted, with love and veneration, by my family for generations … by my father-forefathers as they were masters of miniature art for the last many decades. I have seen Lord Srinathji expressed on canvas in many different styles. And have been blessed by Him. I showed one of my father’s Srinathji works to Nita Ambani. She loved it and commissioned me to make one for her. That is where He gave me the strength and talent to create Him. There is no one best creator of Srinathji. Every rendition of Him is divine.
If you are the best depicter of the Lord, then why paint anything else but him?
I was brought-up in Nathwara which is situated in India’s north-western state of Rajasthan. It is located in the Aravalli Hills on the banks of the Banas river in Rajsamand district. I have seen the great Lord created in almost all mediums. From stone idols to metal sculptures to pichhwai art to silver and gold statues. The great Lord has an aura which exudes joy and happiness. Whenever the urge arises, I rise to the occasion, and paint Him. But creatively, it gets too repetitive working with just one theme. I like exploring new avenues and try doing new series of work every so often.
Tell us about that phase of your career when you were doing puppets?
Life of an artist is similar to a traveler; you keep on exploring new places, learning new cultures and imbibe new languages. In Rajasthan I saw traders selling puppets outside empty havelis of Marwari businessmen. The puppets were displayed everywhere from the entrance gate to hanging on the walls. Which in my interpretation was a bit of fantasy. These were empty homes now inhabited by these puppets. I thought as the moon takes charge the puppets will come alive under the stars, and dance! They will make love, they will fight, they will quarrel. I started to bring them alive with my brush.
The puppets were mere cultural symbols or did they connote more?
They connote a million expressions every time you see them. Every country has its own style of puppets. From Japanese to Italian very puppet carries a local message of the culture, the local ethos, actually the civilization itself. The puppets symbolise the land where they are born. The significance of Rajasthani puppets is that they are very colorful and signal a unique positivity which energises and inspires me.
Why this fascination for Buddhist themes in all your current works?
As I said in my previous answer: every artist has a journey … what I observe reflects in my works. I started with stones and pebbles; moved to gates, pillars and doors; and am now settled at the feet of Lord Buddha. I feel painting the Buddha gives me divine satisfaction.
As ‘give-back’ have you ever considered training pichhwai artists to get them into the mainstream?
The pichhwai artists is a group of very learned people. They have very rich knowledge of Hindu mythology. Their form of art is a real treasure; and the living culture of our traditions. They are happy where they are placed. They don’t want to be in the forefront of changing times. They live for their art and changing their station in life is not right for them or for the preservation of these ancient arts.
In art circles they say Charan Sharma has the biggest collection of FN Souza. Is that true and how come?
I first met F N Souza around 40 years ago. I admired him not just for his talent, but for his humanity too. We painted each other’s portraits exchanged ideas. He was a real master and did what he thought was correct. I have his genuine paintings which I keep as a blessing from him.
(Mukul Rai Bahadur is an art lover, collector and critic. He lives in Mumbai and works in a media company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Pictures courtesy: The Kailasham Trust & Mukul Rai Bahadur