Shruti Nelson is a Baroda-based artist whose paintings have always focused on the fantastical and the magical. In her early works, the creepies crawled right onto the artwork frames as did the winding vines with monstrous leaves. Now they find their way onto silken stoles, which were seen gently fluttering in the breeze at “The Whispering Garden”, Shruti’s latest solo show held between November 9 and December 4 at the Artisans Centre for Art, Craft and Design, Mumbai. Curated by Jasmine Shah Verma, the exhibition largely concentrated on paintings on textiles designed as wearable art. Shruti extensively explored natural materials, including different kinds of organically produced textiles, organic vegetable dyes, and colour fixing processes. In addition, there were also watercolors on paper in two sizes, and a few sculptures as part of the show.
Shruti has been experimenting with wearable art for many years now. Attending a workshop with the late textile artist, Tansukh Mahicha, in the 1990s, had ignited her interest in working with textiles and she kept it alive with regular upgrading of information on the techniques, skills and presentation. She then experimented, quite successfully, with painting on thick canvas which she tailored into skirts and jackets and presented in her last solo show. In more recent years, she has collaborated with her long-time gallerist and friend, Jasmine Shah Verma, to create a line of functional art such as cushion covers, with her images.
Moving to painting on stoles has been comparatively easy technically, as the unisex stole (a dupatta with a much smaller width and length) is painted much like a scroll. Spontaneous flourishes of the brush and a muted palette bring alive Shruti’s world of flowers and birds, sharply delineated in emphatic lines, subtly alternating between the naturalistic, the imaginative and the absurd. However she spent months and weeks experimenting with natural pigments and colours that she made herself to work with, as they served a double purpose – they should not run when washed or fade with use, and not interact negatively when in contact with human skin. These colours and dyes have come out in the most unexpected ways – especially the madder root, the indigo, the hibiscus and flame-of-the-forest flowers and the eucalyptus leaf – giving the textiles unusual colours and a luxurious feel.
Shruti has also tried her hand at sculpture this time, creating a few small wooden pieces which were then coloured by hand. The watercolours feature her trademark style of fusing different images, overlapping them, playing with perspective. This show also saw her experiment with a suite of smaller works, sometimes put together as a single set, that explored a single image in intricate detail. While Shruti is a hard-working artist and continuously endeavours to explore new mediums with great attention to detail, there continues to be a kind of freshness about her work, a gamine charm that viewers relate to immediately and therein lies her strength.