Dec 27, 2009

An Ode to Raja Ravi Varma

Raja Ravi Varma was among the very famous Indian painters from the 19th Century. His work is considered the most "hung" and "auctioned" in India. A lot has been said and written about him. He is one of the major milestones in Modern Indian Art Arena. We cannot speak about Indian Art without the mention of this Icon.

I am a huge fan of his depiction of women and his overall passion for Art. He was the first artist to have created the notion of an Indian beauty that wasn't specific to any one part of India. The depiction of figure and face that is the traditional image of the Indian woman we see today is a Ravi Varma trademark. Being a well traveled and a well read artist, he was able to fuse Indian and Western techniques to come up with his unique kitsch style. 
He was recognized as a child prodigy and was endowed the title "Raja" by his uncle, The King of Travancore - Raja Ayilyam Thirunal. Raja Ayilyam Thirunal saw ravi varma's charcoal drawings on palace walls and recognized the talent in his nephew. His formal art lessons started when he was 6, he was later trained to use water colours by Rama Swamy Naidu, Travancore's Palace-artist. Three years later, British Painter Theodor Jenson took him under his wings to train him in oil painting. Varma won the first prize in Madras Art Exhibition in 1873 and then another prize in Vienna in 1876. This brought him an international recognition.

His paintings and techniques were said to be highly influenced by western art and artists of his times. Despite all the criticism his work received (when he was alive), it is amazing to see that his versions and interpretations of the Hindu mythology are popular even in the 21st century. Every consecutive representation of Hinduism in print, movies and the theater are all inspired by Ravi Varma's paintings.
 Goddess Saraswathi
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Goddess Lakshmi

It was during the late nineteenth century that the modern Indian Hindu iconography was finding its place beyond sculptures and murals in Hindu temples. It is interesting to note that traditional hindu pooja rooms (at home) had small brass/silver or gold idols at the altar. Unlike all the picture frames which are a common thing as of today.

Raja Ravi Varma is said to have pioneered the picture printing press by setting up India's first ever Lithographic press in Mumbai. He was foremost among artists to print hundreds of copies of his famous paintings. He brought religious icons and murals to the masses, there by bringing in the concept of Industrialized art to India. However, it is rather sad that only a portion of his work has been printed till date.

He was also known to have been criticized for commercializing production of pictures of gods and other mythological subjects.  While researching for critical interpretations of his work, I came across this movie trailer - Rang Rasiya. This movie is said to be a biographical sketch of this famous artist. It is a nice depiction of this Artist Prince....As some one aptly said -He is a Prince among Artists and the Artist among princes.

Although, I had started out writing this article about him, I found this video (in hindi) and had to share it here. As they say pictures speak louder than words, I felt that this video would be able to showcase the artist better than what I could write. 
Source: youtube

It is interesting to see that he used his art as the most influential medium of visual communication in a socially and culturally fragmented Indian society.  It must have been a strong force in motivating people during political canvassing in British India. Apart from the political and social influence, his paintings had an impact other art and dance forms of Kerala. For example, in 1960's, Mohini aattam guru Satyabhama made some changes to the attire and hairstyle of mohini aattam dancers. This was to give this dance form a distinction from other South Indian dance forms - Bharathanatyam or Kuchipudi.

Here is a wonderful collection of his Oleographs:

Dec 16, 2009

Wood and Metal furniture - done right

There is something very clean and neat about metal and wooden furniture. I inherited a hand made table from my grandfather. I am so proud of this table cos he designed and crafted it all by himself. It was made in the late 80's and has been used for multi -functions ever since. I like having black (or nice chrome) and wood pieces at home.

TV stand - Thatha

Use of metal brings in lightness to the furniture, provided it has been designed and made well.Nothing floral or curvy works for me...however a hint of leaves and flowers may be ok.

I wanted to collate a set of pictures of metal and wooden furniture - all done right. Time and again, I go back to Scandinavian style furniture as it appeals the most to me. American Designers in the Post world war, mid 20th century did their very best in popularizing clean line furniture and establishing a indelible era in design time line - The mid century modern era. More on the eras in future posts! In the mean while, I wanted to share a few furniture pieces which could work well in a modern/contemporary, a shabby chic or an eclectic decor.

Chrome and wood display unit / book shelf
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 How about this beautiful bassinet for your baby
A mention of MCM and how could I not write about George Nelson's chest of draws

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Nelson's Slate bench which works well as a coffee table, foot bench near the bed or as a seating by itself
Living room featured in apartment therapy...Nelson bench used as a coffee table here

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Another display cabinet by Nelson for Herman Miller...

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 A whimsical sofa
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A classic designed by Charles ray - an exhibit at brooklyn museum

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This little curvy Tuscan style coffee/center table may not be exactly my style..but i thought it was cute...however, the sharp hook look scares me (a definite no no with kids around)


What about this retro looking plywood and chrome sofa and chair

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Slate bed - low lying and very contemporary
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A very pretty looking set of nesting tables made from reclaimed burma teak

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Finally.... Ikea's Antnas breakfast table and chair for tiny spaces

Dec 14, 2009

Sun, moon and the stars!

I love using celestial elements as a part of decor. Its that time of the year when people bring in stars, snowflakes, glitter and sparkle into their living rooms.

Time and again, I have come across home decor theme and accessory based on Sun god. And I have liked them all.  I keep admiring bronze accessories for the Garden. Here are a few "SUN" themed things and ideas I liked.

Sun and the strong winds - An outdoor wall art

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A very pretty pewter - just whimsical

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Though not a Sun themed accessory..I liked it - A 3D star lantern
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Blazing Sun shaped copper frame

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 A colourful wooden wall plaque

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A vintage sun themed tile

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Found a funky Sun themed pebble mosaic in a bath room

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Isn't this a pretty tile (theme) for a kid's bathroom

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Another Sun mosaic work done in a patio

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A beautiful backsplash - a brillant DIY by the home owners (an apartment therapy house tour find)
And finally Madhubani paintings of Sun God (at home)

Latest addition to my Sun based accessories collection is a tiny copper chime (ma-in-law got it from Banaras).

Mystery and legends associated with celestial objects have always been a part of human civilization and recorded history. Every ancient civilization in the world has regarded Sun as an energy source and respected it as one of the elements. Hindu rituals and beliefs are all based on the Sun, the moon and everything celestial.Egyptian Kings were said to have performed rituals to appease the Sun.

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The Aztec Calender and the Sun Stone used by the Mayans

Mysteries associated with anything celestial fascinate me..:)

Dec 13, 2009

Thank you Kaleidoscope

I am Elated!!! Preeti Prabhu mentioned this blog of mine in her creative space - Kaleidoscope . She is a very creative girl, who finds beauty in everything around her - (her description about her blog is so true).  I am honoured that she found beauty even in this research centric design blog of mine!! I am glad that she likes to stop by my blog and takes time out to comment on my posts. I am thankful to all who visit this blog and leave their valuable comments. This motivates a "baby blogger" like me to continue writing.

Preeti made my day!!!

Dec 12, 2009

Channapatna toys

Plastic toys do not charm me as much as a simple wooden spinning top could.

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I was guilt ridden every time I went shopping for toys for my nieces and nephews and friends' children. The amount of plastic and other non-eco-friendly material which go into the value chain troubles me a lot.

Plastic toys end up being landfill and will stay there for a million years to come. If not in the landfill, they reach some water source to break down into minute pieces, harm marine life and thereby enter the food chain. Given these reasons and my strong desire to promote handicrafts from everywhere in the world, I started researching for eco-friendly options.

Solution came in close to home in Channapatna. I looked for pictures online and then realized that I had played with an entire "kitchen set" as a child. It was bought from a small shop in bengaluru. My tops and even teether were channapatna toys but from a shop in tiruchy. I was glad it was a part my childhood. I still remember storing those toys in hand spun palm leaf baskets after my play time.

Palm leaf woven baskets featured here are called Kottan and are from Chettinaad in Tamil Naad..More on this later :)

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The packaging must have made these toys doubly appealing :). I also had a skipping (cotton) rope with colourful wooden handles.

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Although a lot has been written and published, I was surprised to hear that hardly a few people (surveyed mostly people from all parts of India) dint know about these child friendly and non toxic toys.

Best part about channapatna toys:
  • They are made of wood - that makes them naturally germ resistant
  • Vegetable and natural dyes make it lead and chemical free. (a major relief compared to Chinese toys with potential for call backs)

Channapatna toys...A brief history

Channapatna is a small town between Mysore and Bengaluru. It is around 60Km away from Bengaluru city. My amma says we had been to that town and thats where we bought my toys. Wiki mentions that channapatna toys were patronized by Tipu Sultan. It is said that he had invited artisans from persia to train local artists/artisans in making wooden toys.

A woman working on a hand lathe
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Artisans work on hand driven or motor driven lathe machines to mould and craft these amazing toys from simple logs of wood. Here is a video from youtube courtesy: If you notice, none of them is wearing any protective gear. What worries me is their exposure to wood flakes and saw dust and respiratory issues they may face there off.

Traditionally, ivory wood, rosewood and sandal wood were used to craft these fine toys as these wood varieties were locally available and their fine grain beautifully highlight the hand craving and moulding. Conservation laws led to a ban on use of ivory wood. Rose wood and Sandal wood being very expensive did not remain a profitable option anymore. Increased demand for these toys in the domestic and international markets has led to use of neem, cedar, pine, teak, hale or any other locally available cost effective soft wood.

Craftsmen crave out these toys on seasoned wood and colour them by using lacquer and vegetable dyes. Green, red, black, brown, orange, yellow, violet and cream are th commonly used colours.Major sources of colours are plants and minerals. For example the basic yellow is obtained from turmeric, and blue is extracted from Indigo Plant. Here is a video from you tube..look at how the artisan is applying laquer based colours onto a spinning top;

I sourced these pretty picture in the during my research online..aren't these toys well made and charming.... :)..I have my eyes set on these for my children (though they aren't here yet ;-) )

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Looking at the above picture..I wish one thing could be different - plastic packaging :(.  There are a hundred different greener options to package these toys. One of them being Palmyra boxes and cases.

Other products

Decorative and utility items including flower vases, bowls, salt & pepper shakers, napkin rings, wall-panels, pen holders, Sports and educational aids, and Jewelry.
Plight of the toy maker

This craft was in decline until in 1964, when Karnataka Handicraft Development Corporation stepped in to set up a facility  with lathes for these artisans. As of today, most of these lathes are under utilized as these artisans hardly make any money.  Karnataka state government has been trying to promote toy making as a small/ mid scale industry in this region. Advent of cheap plastic toys and accessories has made a definite impact on demand for wooden toys and goods. Most of the businesses ae family run and owned,  making artisans' direct access to consumers a difficult thing. Most artisans sell their wares at Cauvery  for a marginal profit.

Despite a great demand for these toys, artisans are still living in deplorable economic conditions. I saw a website (selling these toys in the USA) quote exorbitant prices for these toys. ($$$$$) It pains to see middle men make money and benefit actually not reaching the artisans. I found this interesting video on youtube..thought i'd share it..This is a video shot by a young man on his visit to channapatna...I wanted to share this show the lack of interest for this profession among the younger generation. Although it is heartening to know that they want to study well and branch out, it would be nice if some agency would do genuine work to support artisans and their families.

Disadvantages of increased demand

Although it would be great to kids play with handmade toys rather than mindless fisherprice stuff, excessive demand would have its cons.

Adverse affect of increased demand for wooden toys
  • May lead to deterioration of quality of final product
  • increase in illegal felling of trees (raw material)
  • Increased use of packaging material (read plastic and styrofoam)
  • mass production and shipping mean more green house gases
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    I am stuck at this point for most things in life. I see every child around me live in excess and have a room full of toys. Catering to this kind of demand definitely has a serious impact on the planet, however environment friendly the thing in question may be...If I go this way with my thoughts - God save my kids!!

    Dec 11, 2009

    My Early Years

    I love cane furniture and wooden furniture with jute and cane accents. A well made cane/rattan furniture gets that breezy feel indoors. I prefer love seats and arm chairs to a three-seater sofa. Simply because it is difficult to get three adults to share a single sofa (thats what I observed). Love seat occupies less space as such and allows for two people to sit comfortably and also allows you to get flexible with your seating arrangements. I love cane as it is long lasting, needs minimal maintenance, and most importantly (for me) is environment friendly.

    The first ever cane piece to come home was a Cane jhoola (swing), my parents' gift to me so that I study for my class XII It seems like the swing has been with us for ever. I need to thank my parents for allowing me to have a say in design decisions at home. They have struggled to provide me and my brother everything in their means. And that however, did not include a well furnished home. We had an old Black and White TV which beamed erstwhile DoorDarshan channel 1 (nostalgic), iron folding chairs for our guests, and floor mats for us to sleep on. We dint have a study table until my brother came to Class XII. Our family meal happened on the floor with us sharing happenings of the day. No regrets about anything though! We have been a totally dysfunctional, normal our share of financial hardships and emotional stress thereoff, have made me what I am today. I believe in conservation, reuse, wanting less and living with  minimum. It was not until I graduated from Business School, that we could divert our resources to decorating our house with things within our reach. I married and moved out, so did my brother, and memories remain with us.

    Seems like I got too emotional with this post...Havent been able to handle somethings lately. Until next time... take care

    Dec 10, 2009

    The Wicker and Cane Confusion...

    People tend to use rattan, cane and wicker interchangeably. Here is a quick bite on what is what.

    Rattan gets it name from the Malay name - ROTAN. Rattan, though a palm, grows like a vine and creeps on the ground and on vegetation.
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    Where as bamboo can support itself and grows tall wiht leaves on the top
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    Unlike bamboo, which is hollow from with in, rattan grows as a solid stem.  Rattan is so strong that it can crack a hard wood stick into two. Most martial art forms make use of rattan sticks.

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    Rattan doesn't crack or split when exposed to elements /extreme conditions. While bamboo is cylindrical and hollow, and tends to split with exposure to temperature changes and humidity. Just in case you plan to buy whole bamboo stalk furniture and accessories, follow this simple rule "The larger the diameter,  weaker the stem ". The most common use for bamboo stalks - fencing and outdoor/indoor decor.

    Cane is the name given to a rattan stem which can be processed, steamed and bent to make furniture pieces.

    Cane strips are rattan peels used to bind cane furniture pieces and also for caning.

    Patterns generally used in caning


    A beautifully canned wooden chair
    It interesting to note that there is no material called Wicker! The method of weaving, bamboo, grass, rattan or any other fiber into furniture and accessories is called wicker.

    Off late, we come across all weather wicker furniture. It just means that plastic/resin yarn has been woven into furniture pieces. I intend write more about rattan and bamboo and their uses in furnishing in my future posts. I bought a pair of cane and jute accent lamps recently and am using them on the night stand. Herez a picture of one of them...Isn't it lovely!

    Dec 9, 2009

    Hand Painted Terracotta -by our inhouse artist

    I was meaning to write about my  sister in law (brother's wife) for a long time now. She is a sculptor, mural artist, painter and a classical dancer all rolled in one petite package. Being an Oriya, who came into our tam-bram family, she has tried blending festivals and rituals from both cultures. One such occasion being the Golu / kolu for Dassera Navarathri. She did some amazing DIYs. Herez a peek into her work on terracotta stuff bought from a roadside vendor.

     Hand painted Rajasthani musicians set

    Kulfi matka got a facelift

    She gave a glazed look to the Radha Krishna idol and painted the cow using different colours to make it pop

    The tiny resin idol made the arrangement look so cute.

    Golu / kolu arranged by my amma. My SIL painted the white bedspread (used as a background for the steps)

    My Ma-in-Law 's Kolu

    I intend to write more about her Thanjavur paintings, her work on different media, and 3D murals in my future posts. Until then...see ya
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