In ancient India, miniature painting flourished under the patronage of many emperors and kings. However, the art of miniature painting, which was once widely popular, celebrated, and the artists flourished, slowly began to fade away.
But there is one miniaturist who has played a significant role in preserving and propagating the rich heritage of miniature art even today. Padma Shree-awardee Jai Prakash Lakhiwal learnt the intricacies of this art from his father, who was trained by the famous miniaturist, Ustad Feroz whose forefathers were painters in the Mughal court. “Miniature as a kind of art is almost like meditation. It takes long hours of dedication for artists to come up with one painting,” shares Lakhiwal.
And now, this self-taught artist has collaborated with international design brand, Kohler for the India Artist Edition - an endeavour to create a product that celebrates Indian cultural heritage. Lakhiwal seamlessly has blended miniature painting art into this household utility object - a limited-edition sink called “Quila” that effortlessly doubles up as a work of art.
“With India’s rich history in art, we finally thought it is time to introduce the artist edition in India and pay homage to Indian traditions and art. With this edition we want to acknowledge Indian artists and bring India’s rich heritage traditions through art in bathroom spaces. Jai Prakashi ji’s several years of dedication, hard work and learning of the miniature paintings from different gharanas, left us with no question but to go with the best,” said Salil Sadanandan, president, Kohler - South Asia, Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, as he explains this unique project.
Art by Lakhiwal is traditional in every sense - be it his immaculate borders or the human faces he paints. The viewer is drawn into exploring the various details the artist depicts, all of which are heightened by the sink's expressive forms and vibrant colours.
In our interview, Lakhiwal and Sadanandan discuss the significance of this collaboration for traditional art forms in modern India, the evolution of miniature painting, why it is important for patrons and brands to support art forms, and more. Read the edited excerpts below:
1. What makes miniature paintings interesting, how is it different from other traditional arts?
Jai Prakash Lakhiwal: Miniature paintings are fine-looking handmade paintings which are part of the traditional arts. Although the paintings come in small sizes, what makes them different and more interesting is the intricacies it’s made with. The brushwork is so complex that one may need a magnifying glass to capture the minute details.
2. Tell us about this project with Kohler. How did you come up with the idea and conceptualisation?
Lakhiwal: Since the beginning, Kohler delved into an in-depth process, which included conducting a 10-day workshop with leading folk artists of India where a detailed brief was given to each artist. As my expertise falls in miniature paintings and styles of Kota and Kangra, we decided to go ahead with the illustration of the glorious past of the Rajputs. The painting portrays the magnificent Rajput forts through the playful activities of the royalty and is visible across the tamed and untamed landscapes where birds and animals are enjoying the spring season.
3. Why did you decide on Rajasthan and the Kangra region to draw the story?
Lakhiwal: I have dedicated several years to learning, understanding, and mastering the unique styles of multiple schools (gharanas) of miniature painting. The years of exploration made Kota and Kangra the most suitable to tell a story.
4. There is an intrinsic work detail in miniature paintings, how did you achieve that in a household object, like a sink?
Lakhiwal: It was an elaborate process. The artwork that is created in a two-dimensional medium needed to be translated onto a three-dimensional object. The brand scanned the paintings and converted them into lithographs which were transferred onto the ceramic surface, and this is how the bespoke functional element came into existence for the bath space.
5. As a long-standing supporter of the arts, Kohler works with artists and designers around the world on a variety of household objects. Why do you think collaborations like these are important and significant?
Salil Sadanandan: India’s diverse arts and crafts, traditions, and folklore, speak of the country’s rich cultural heritage. Emerging from different corners of the country, the artists employ diverse methods and techniques, which results in unique and distinct pieces. By the very virtue of being handcrafted creations, the product turns into a rather priceless appeal and of inimitable quality. And today, these age-old arts and crafts are finding expression in contemporary contexts, articulated in ways that preserve their authenticity while enabling them to evolve. In doing so, the artists and craftspeople, who are fundamental in keeping these traditional art forms alive and making them relevant for the current times, are also being brought to the forefront.
Collaborations like these are imperative today as they do not just put Indian art on the global map but also provide artisans with a platform to showcase their talent and prevents the time-honoured arts and crafts from fading into oblivion.
6. How do you want to see the world of miniature painting evolve?
Lakhiwal: People have now started giving value to art and therefore I feel miniature paintings will keep on evolving with time. Nowadays, art is making its space in unconventional areas like bathrooms and Kohler India is helping artists and craftsman-like us to bring our art into focus. This collaboration has given a platform to artists as well as paid homage to the rich culture and heritage of India. An initiative like this by Kohler India will help keep the artform alive and seen in every other household. The initiative doesn’t compromise the quality of the art form and at the same time, gives birth to a bespoke functional element.
7. Any message for all the aspiring artists out there?
Lakhiwal: It is important to keep our culture, tradition and heritage alive. I am immensely happy that I am able to inspire the new generation to take up painting as a career. It always gives me pleasure to see youngsters' enthusiasm and dedication to the arts. I believe that our country has always been rich with traditions and arts and collaborations like these bring these intricate and exemplary artforms into the limelight. I feel aspiring artists need to stay true to their art and should be devoted, rest everything will fall into place.