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Artist Profile1
Peeping into Angeli Sowani’s thought processes
Painting for her is a highly personal and meditative process of creation through which she distils and clarifies her feelings and reactions to the people as well as events around. Long before she picks up a paintbrush, the emotions and moods behind her work gain a distinct form. The canvas tells a tale, which shapes organically rather than taking form as a planned composition. To the artist, the satisfaction of witnessing her thoughts getting visually translated into painting is a fulfilling experience.

This is how inspirations and the aspirations behind Angeli Sowani’s work can be encapsulated. Born in 1959 in New Delhi to an English mother and Indian father, she was brought up in Agra. In hindsight she feels that this multicultural background and a peculiar family environment have played a significant formative role in her shaping as an artist.

After studying graphic design and illustration at Ahmedabad’s National Institute of Design (NID), her global sojourn began in 1988, taking her to several countries, including Hong Kong, Thailand, Nepal and the UK. Each geographical transition filled her mind with a moving or motivating experience. It offered her a new enriching landscape - the sight of bloody sacrifices to deities in Nepal; the Ancestor paintings, seals and votive papers burnt in sacred offering to the Gods in HK; or the Buddhist imagery and usage of gold leaf in Thailand – the varied experiences left a permanent imprint on her sensitive mind. A case in point is her ‘Duality’, ‘Mantra’ and ‘Ancestor’ series (1997- 2002).

Each new voyage into unfamiliar terrains led to heightened sensitivity and enhanced curiosity. She has stated: “I found myself engulfed and enthralled by new visual imagery, stimuli and differing practices. Assimilating and internalizing them over time acted as an inspiration for my work. While the East led to a reinforcement of Hindu and Buddhist imagery and symbolism, the UK provided a sharp contrast in terms of color, light and even subject matter. The vibrant colors, the hustle & the heat of the Orient gave way to the mellow textures and light filtering through the cathedrals’ stained glass windows. Her first London show, entitled ‘Identity in Abstraction’ (2004), underlined an apparent change in her choice of palette and motifs. The artist has revealed: “I was inspired by the flagstones and the interplay of light and shade in the interior of the Cathedral and the tree-lined streets of Winchester.”

She points out that her awareness and perspective of contemporary events in the recent years has largely been shaped by the media coverage. For example, the tragic consequence of the Tsunami, the horrific Iraq war etc – inspired her ‘Out of the Blue’ (2005). A keen sensitivity to current events is visible in recent works, including the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008, highlighting spontaneous reactions to such tragic events.

Multiple influences and inspirations thanks to her exposure to different cultures, rituals and religions are blended into a harmonious construct of serene expression and deep meaning in her work. Her ‘Limits of Their Existence’ reflected her response to the people as well as situations impacting her day-to-day life, simultaneously centered around the symbolically complex Kalachakra Tantra. Among her other selected solos are ‘Out of the Blue’, Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai ‘Identity in Abstraction II’, King’s Road Gallery, London (2004); ‘Identity in Abstraction’, The Rotunda Gallery, Hong Kong (2002); ‘Figures in Abstraction’, Jehangir Gallery (2001); paintings at Taj Art Gallery, Mumbai (2000); ‘Faces and Figures’, The Rotunda, HK (2000), among others. Her significant group exhibitions include 'Anglo-Indian Express', Grosvenor Gallery, London; 'Think Small', Art Alive Gallery, New Delhi; 'Progressive to Altermodern: 62 Years of Indian Modern Art', Grosvenor Gallery, London (all in 2009)

Her recent noteworthy series of works at Grosvenor (November 2010) was well received. ‘Vaahan’ (meaning ‘carrier’) symbolized to her the medium through which passion and thought were brought together. By employing the medium of fire, she tried to challenge the viewer to introspect over the delicate balance of our lives and the fragility of being. The artist elaborated in her note: “I do not want my work to fit into a neat ‘slot’ or ‘style’ or to tell the viewer what to think. I prefer to push it into unexplored areas and leave it for their imagination to unravel the meaning. I have taken this thought further by using industrial paint, paper collage, religious threads, Tibetan prayer flags ... and a blowtorch. Watching Mumbai burning on Nov 26, 2008, was when I first took a blowtorch to canvas, each burnt mark in my mind a life lost to the ongoing violence. Ideas poured out as I explored this new medium. I started to scorch the canvas and check where the patterns would lead me and see how far I could push the material before it was destroyed.”

Even in destruction, she found, there were fresh creations as shapes of flames, whorls and birds emerged, cut from the charred canvases. The intense focus the process demanded had a calming, almost meditative effect on her. She realized how vulnerable material is when touched by fire – an apt metaphor for the fragility of the contemporary life. Underlining the virtues of her art, writer Nigel Cameron mentions, “Her painting language is understated, implying rather than stating. This particular quality of her painting grips us with its profoundly suggestive qualities.”

In essence, Angeli Sowani’s work comments on the uncertainties of the creative process, pointing to different states of mind and peeping into the transition that takes place between these.