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Artist Profile1
A spotlight on Ram Singh Urveti and Jangarh Singh Shyam
Interest in India’s exquisite and rich tribal art form is beginning to grow not only within the country but also among art aficionadas globally. This is giving rise to many new stars on the horizon of contemporary Indian art.

One of the prominent names drawing the art world’s attention is Ram Singh Urveti. Born in 1970, like most other tribal artists, he had had no formal education in art. In fact, when he happened to paint on canvas for the first time, colors haphazardly spilled and spread. It was neither a very encouraging beginning nor a very memorable experience for him, as the artist stood gazing at the work, wondering where it all had gone wrong. However, it was Jangarh Singh Shyam's mother who soothed his frayed nerves and calmed him down. Her prophetic remark then was: "The way the colors have spread over this canvas, your work will also spread all over the world." And how right she was, as it didn’t take long for him to create an indelible impression on the art world!

In fact, Ram Singh Urveti imbibed and honed artistic skills under Jangarh Singh Shyam. It was just a matter of realizing his potential and he did so with aplomb. His extraordinary career was set on the path of excellence after he received a mention in the 41st National Exhibition by the Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA). This was in 1998, which marked the beginning of a success story, as he subsequently received many honors like the South-central Zone Cultural Centre Award for Tribal Art (1998) and the Kalidas Award in 2001. ‘The Night life of Trees’, his collaborative documentation done along with Bhajju Shyam and Durga Bai, received the Bolognaragazzi Award from Italy.

An expert practitioner in a wide variety of mediums for more than a decade and a half, his work has been displayed in prestigious exhibitions like ‘Chamatkar’ courtesy CIMA art gallery, Kolkata; ‘Eternal Voyage’ and ‘Pravah’ courtesy the Indira Gandhi Museum, Bhopal; ‘Artists from Madhya Pradesh’ courtesy Bharat Bhavan in New Delhi, to mention a few - apart from a series of solo and joint show, including the ‘The Ancient & The Contemporary’ recently held at the Institute Of Contemporary Indian Art (ICIA), Mumbai.

Ram Singh Urveti’s canvasses resemble a harmonious realm where the animals are invariably in pairs and the sun and moon happen to be two sides of each other. His practice reflects the fact that he is very much in touch with the contemporary world. The talented tribal artist's first love is trees that abundantly appear in fabulous forms in many of his paintings. For example, in one of them, you can notice a swamp deer's horns extending to transform into a tree.

His rapidly rising stature is indicative of the aura and appreciation that the Indian tribal is now enjoying. And part of the credit goes to Jangarh Singh Shyam, rightfully credited for initiating the process of globalization as far Indian tribal art is concerned. He elegantly transformed his tribe’s oral tradition to captivating paper and canvas works. A recent show of Gond art at New Delhi based Art Alive Gallery was aptly titled after him. It brought together four highly talented Gond artists, namely Durga Bai Vyam, Bhajju Shyam, Mayank Shyam and of course, Ram Singh Urveti. Seeing their works was like entering a world far removed from ours.

Belonging to a tribe from the state of Madhya Pradesh, Jangarh Singh Shyam was a protégé of Bharat Bhavan founder and prominent artist J Swaminathan. In a short span of life, the talented artist formed the new visual idiom, a legacy now being carried forward by his family. The enriching visual representation with the fascinating figures, intricate patterns and vibrant colors was pioneered by him over two decades back, before he died in 2001 under tragic circumstances at the remote Mithila Museum just outside Tokyo. It was unfortunate though, that he was deprived of any tangible material gains during his lifetime as was the case with many other tribal artists. His works did not fetch more than a few thousands rupees in spite of the fact that seasoned collectors in different countries expressed amazement over his natural talent.

His canvases though, are experiencing revival and recognition, giving the late artist his due. The Sotheby’s auction of South Asian Art in New York in 2010 featured a canvas by him, first for any folk artist from India. It was ‘Landscape with Spider’ that fetched $31,250 (Rs 14.5 lakh) at the auction. The price tag more than doubled the earlier record for a piece of tribal art (Jivya Soma Mashe’s work had fetched a record price of $13,600). Tracing his life journey, a catalog essay noted: “J Swaminathan traveled with him to Bharat Bhavan, and encouraged the young artist to experiment with both new (and traditional) materials and techniques. Often depicting the natural world, his menagerie is a vibrant, playful and mythical creation. His clever dots, delicate lines and lively menagerie of animals catapulted several artists to the façade of the MP state assembly building." Last year (March 2010), another 28” x 47” canvas work went for Rs 6.4 lakh at Sotheby’s auction in London against its estimate between Rs 2.3 lakh- Rs 3.2 lakh. Herve Perdriolle sold two of his paper works to help the late artist’s widow, drawing interested buyers at Rs 7 lakh and Rs 8.4 lakh, respectively.

And going by the indications of rising demand for tribal art at auctions, the prices are only going to rise, and this indeed might be a good time to buy a bit of it and own the abundant talent available in form of artists like Ram Singh Urveti and Jangarh Singh Shyam.