On 10 February 2022,, three experts convened to celebrate the launch of Delhi–based designer Vikram Goyal’s recent publication, Shringara of Shrinathji. The book (with text by Pushtimarg scholar and artist Amit Ambalal) is a resplendent compilation of miniature paintings gifted to Goyal’s ancestor Mehta Sahab Pannalalji, then prime minister of the princely state of Mewar, around the turn of the 20th century.
According to Ambalal, the collection (reproduced in rich color and full scale) was commissioned by the Tilkayat (sectarian leader), head of the Nathdwara temple, Govardhanlalji (1862–1934), and executed by famed chief temple artist, Sukhdev Kishandas (1853–1925). The paintings would have been given to Pannalalji in appreciation of the family’s devotion to Shrinathji and generosity to the temple town at large.
The three speakers—Goyal, Sharan Apparao, founder of Chennai-based Apparao Galleries and organizer of the discussion for TAP India, and Dr. Madhuvanti Ghose, Alsdorf Associate Curator of Indian, Southeast Asian, and Himalayan Art at the Art Institute of Chicago—explored the increasingly blurred lines between traditional and contemporary and art and craft, emphasizing the importance of establishing artists’ identity and authorship.
Shringara of Shrinathji: From the Collection of the Late Gokal Lal Mehta
by Amit Ambalal. Conceptualised by Vikram Goyal. Ahmedabad: Mapin, 2021.
According to Goyal, one of the most remarkable things about the collection of paintings in Shringara of Shrinathji is the modernity displayed in these devotional paintings. We must keep in mind, he explained, that the works were completed over a century ago, when such elements would not have yet have been recognized as modern at all. He highlighted geometric prints in the backgrounds—stripes and squares, a herringbone pattern, and the stark minimalism of black and silver monochrome paintings.
Left: Shravana Krishna 9th Shringara dedicated to Tilkayat Govindji (1729–1774) with a Laheriya (tie-dye) Pichvai backdrop.
Right: Ruperi (silver) ghata painting of Pausha, Krishna 4th with Shringari Goswami Damodarlalji (1897–1936) with a Silver Pichvai at the back. Collection of the Late Gokal Lal Mehta.
Apparao then showcased a few artists who have similarly fused traditional Pushtimarg elements, especially related to pichvais, with contemporary painting. Several artists originally from Nathdwara re featured here. Lalit Sharma’s large canvases use architecture to create an air of grandeur, while his son Kapil Sharma’s magnifications of Shrinathji imbue his works with drama and intrigue.
Left: Shrinathji by Lalit Sharma. 3 x 4 ft. Oil on canvas. 2015.
Right: Omnipresent by Kapil Sharma. 30 x 30 inches, 2015. Digital print on Hahnemühle fine art archival paper (edition of 3).
Goyal, too, has incorporated characteristics of pichvais into his art. Motifs like lotuses and peacocks feature heavily in his early work. His recent work includes collaborating with metal artisans to mimic the pichvai design through the medium of brass. (Note the lapis lazuli rendition of Shrinathji here.)
Nathdwara Wall Panel by Viya Home by Vikram Goyal. 60 x 120 in. Brass with lapis lazuli inlay.
When Goyal’s work blends the visual elements of the Pushtimarg aesthetic with design, he exemplifies a broader trend of art and craft converging. Goyal is renowned on the global stage already, but even on a local level, artisans can be seen crossing over into the classification of “artist,” noted Apparao. The Indian government’s recognition of “master craftsman” on some is discernably a step forward. Ultimately, more patronage of the artists, including representation in galleries worldwide, is needed.
The concept of “craft” calls to mind something both utilitarian and transactional, contrasting with the comparatively elevated status of “art,” where the artist’s identity plays a critical role in determining value. The idea of authorship was a key motivation behind establishing the Artists of Nathdwara collective, so Apparao’s sentiment resonates strongly.
As the panel concluded, Ghose mentioned that many of the Artists of Nathdwara also have extensive family collections, passed down through generations alongside secrets of the trade. Several affiliates of the Artists of Nathdwara are leading efforts to make these extraordinary family archives available to the public.
Yale University, Class of 2020