I first met Delhi-based Seema Kohli in Prague two years ago. We were together at an Art Camp. I was most impressed by her sharp-strokes, her surrealism and her speed. The elaborate gold in her paintings make them rich, impressive and impactful. And, treasures for a life-time.
Seema, the painter, gives wings to her women. Is that empowerment? Or is that fantasy?
Life is not a ride on an even road; it is uneven, yet multidimensional. The perspective keeps changing. Reality is surrounded by fantasy. I believe in dreams as an artist, and visualize them on my canvas. I fantasize … about empowerment, liberation, freedom … for feminism, in fact the entire human race.
I do talk feminism – its autonomy and integrity – but that we intrinsically get from civilization. So I am not a feminist of yesteryears but a woman of today. I don’t want to overshadow the opposite gender, but to create space for all.
Your works are mystical and spiritual. Is that just creative rendition or personal philosophy?
It’s a personal philosophy. My family was very spiritual and I was raised that way. As a child I didn’t know what religion I belonged to, so the quest started very early. The quest to find yourself within you.
All this kept my childhood busy and indulged, till it became a form of personal expression. I coded my language to convey what you see as my art.
Your colors are vivacious and flamboyant. Have you ever considered a different palette?
I work on various mediums; I work on monochromes. I like using pure colors. I don’t like to contaminate colors. I want my works to breathe with purity. I even do sepia, B&W. I like experimenting, taking challenges as they keep me going, and my art alive.
Why so much use of gold in your works?
I start my works with a small prayer to the Lord of Luxury and Master of Truth, the Greek goddess Venus. I paint with Her blessings and therein gold signifies purity and all that is true. The color of Sun is gold; the path to success is gold. I started using gold in my works just a decade back. Last year I did a solo show, Golden Womb, in Mumbai. It was appreciated by a lot by art-connoisseurs.
Artists are born, or can they be made?
Becoming an artist is like love. When you’re in love, you want to spend extreme time with your lover. My first love is art, so I spend all my time breathing my works. So it not birth but love that makes an artist.
Increasingly one sees you create a ‘surround’ around your solo shows. Is that showmanship or hype?
This question is best answered by my galleries! I let them do whatever ensures the success of my shows.
Tell us about Seema Kohli, the artist, as different from the human being.
Whatever I am as an artist, I am as a human being. I really enjoy travelling to places which are close to nature. My son is based in Goa and we have a home there. I travel there often. In fact, last week too. Before that I travelled to Rajasthan and Madhya-Pradesh for over a week.
Earlier this year I spent time in Bali, residing in a sanctuary which is a one of its kind experience. Nevertheless, I feel it’s not the place but the peace of mind that matters. If we have a calm mind, then even in the middle of a bazaar we can attain harmony.
I like spending time with my children, my canvases and myself. I talk to my children every-day-every-moment as it keeps us connected to each other.
I am always busy: starting my day with early morning walks, to yoga and the gym, and working on my art. The only regret I have is that the day is too short to successfully complete all tasks.
Artists you admire? Superstitions you hate?
I admire Somnath Hore and KG Subramanyan. They have deeply contributed to Indian art; but along with art their lives too were very inspirational. I don’t believe in superstitions.
(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 email@example.com).
Pictures courtesy: The Kailasham Trust; Mukul Rai Bahadur