Revati Sharma Singh is an interdisciplinary artist, working between London and India for the last 23 years and her quest has always been about the great divide between hunger and abundance around the world.
Using clay, handmade sterling silver, 18 karat gold, cast metal, tapestry, embroidery, pigment and paints, Grains have become central to her work and fractal like repetitive compositions are the basis of her artistic and spiritual practice.
A regular contributor to the LAPADA Fair, Saatchi’s Starata Art Fair, the Affordable Art Fair, london and singapore, Masterpieces Art Fair, london, Art Monaco and the Venice Bienale where she has been invited to take part twice.
She is fast gaining a reputation as an international artist and her frustration at not being able to transform injustices has awakened in Revati a new, more political angle to her work. Today much of the artist’s work carries a very strong social message.
My work finds its verse in memories of my days at my grandmother's tea estate, nestled between the mountains in a tiny village called Darang, in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, a state in Northern India.
It is my spiritual home that renders my aesthetic.
It is my spiritual home that renders my aesthetic.
One of the most important concepts ingrained in me from my wandering days in the hills is that of freedom. Freedom from dogma and religion, freedom from closed mindedness, freedom to choose my influences, and freedom from fitting in.
I don’t believe as a creative person one has a single style through all of one’s works.There is an ever-present desire to evolve and learn and hence a continuous evolution of style.
Layers of surfaces give meaning to the depth of understanding and emotion below. Nothing is ever in a vacuum and nothing is ever truly lost. Even if it can no longer be seen, it is right there under the surface. My works are made up of these layers. Sometimes many layers that you only catch a glimpse of how the work started and how it evolved. The process is what is important for me. No painting is ever finished, like nature is never finished. It grows and collapses and gives of itself time and time again. Every time you look to a landscape you may think nothing has changed and yet... little buds emerge, flowers wilt, foliage matures and there’s something new just waiting to blossom. Change is the only constant. I want my paintings to evoke that feeling, look closely and you see something new everyday, something you hadn’t noticed before, something subtle but present nonetheless. Something now but also of the past and of the future.
I think we all need a purpose greater than ourselves to live up to. For me it’s a reverence for the earth.
A world so tender and fragile and simultaneously strong and insurmountable. I want to capture that in my works. I want it to have a vulnerability and yet be incredibly powerful.
My love affair with the pottery first began when I was 14. That summer, I lived with and learned from the great potters, Mini and Mary in an artists village called Andretta in Himachal. I spent hours turning the wheel with my foot and creating little pieces of magic from the earth. The rest of my time I spent walking around the fields on my own.
I didn’t realise it then but I was hooked for life.
After my BFA at Delhi college of art, I’ve done years of painting and installation work. First as a portrait artist and then a figurative artist. Then giving into the Vibrant chaotic landscapes that dotted the cities I lived in, depicting the contrasts and the drama. The energy and life that throbbed through it. A visual tsunami of cityscapes slowly gave way to abstract earthy landscapes.
It’s almost like it’s taken me 20 years to finally come home. To understand and know who I am at my very core.
The mountains keep calling out to me. I close my eyes and transport myself to a place of solitude. A place where I was born and reminds me time and time again of who I am when I’m lost. Where there is only quiet and truth. In the stillness, I find all my answers.
The clear air, the blue sky, the beautiful light, the sounds, the colours, the spectacular landscapes, it inspires me to create from nature.
Away from the chaos of city life, the fragrance coming from the winding little paths of freshly wet earth after a torrential shower. The streams gurgling away sometimes so clear that you can see the stones and moss and twigs below, if you are lucky tiny little baby fish and dragon flies and sometimes rough and angry and muddy taking with it everything in its path.
The leaves sometimes rustling in the breeze catching the sunlight and looking like a million stars in bright sunshine and sometimes throwing themselves at you with such power that you feel like you are being slapped by the wind.
The endless fields of golden crops, the lush green carpets of the tea bushes, the soft touch of baby saplings and the fragrance of hundreds of plants growing together.
And one tumultuous shower or forest fire later and everything’s finished. Months of hard work all gone to naught. But in that emptiness also a feeling of being full.
And a submission to the power of nature. A reverence and an understanding that what comes must go, what grows must die and in that there is a rhythm that we cannot deny.
I let what happens on the canvas happen, I have an idea of what I want to do and the colours and mood I want to evoke, the message I hope to convey and then something happens that completely changes the course of the work and I submit to it, I let it flow... it knows more than I do.
Everything is in duality. Everything a contradiction. And yet everything in harmony.
I love color, for the first time, I’m making my own colours using natural pigments and glues. Stunning lapis lazuli and beautiful malachite, earthy raw sienna and brilliant yellow. The colours make me wild. I love the lushness and the strong sensual experiences it evokes in me. For me colour is a flavour, it has a fragrance, a meaning, an effect. I love the deep contrasts that take my breath away. I don’t want to be bound by a particular style or medium and there is a synchronicity that speaks through all my works. It’s the essence of my being.
But more than everything, I love the light. I love the soft white light of the early morning sun, the strong scorching light of the afternoon sun and warm loving glow of the setting sun. I love how it transforms everything it touches, making even a tiny grain, a little leaf or a mound of earth so precious. I love the play between light and darkness. There is a depth and layering that go far beyond.
You don’t grow on a defined path, you need heart break and pain with strife to help you transform yourself and once you get on the other side of it without becoming hard and staying kind you learn a little bit more about life. To grow and to improve you have to be there at the edge of uncertainty. To not know but to somehow believe. I believe art has power. I believe it has love, strength and passion and it has the ability to transform.
I have a strong desire to be ethical in the implementation of my work, to not succumb to what is expected but to be courageous and have the integrity to do what I believe in. I have to chart my own path, I have to find my own way, my own language. And this I found in the language of grains, the language of food, the language of hunger and that of abundance, it’s the language we all speak despite our differences in race, colour, class or religion. It is these differences that make life colourful. It is in the contrasts that light shines even brighter. It is a language that needs no explanation, It is the oldest language in the world.
It reminds me time and again that despite the contradictions, in essence, we are one
EXHIBITIONS & PROJECTS
Personal Structures | European Cultural Centre
59th Venice Bienale 2022
Italia Docet | Laboratorium
56th International Venice Biennale 2015
Masterpiece Art Fair | London | 2017 | 2016
Lapada Art Fair | London | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011
start Art Fair | Tanya Baxter Contemporary| London 2014 2016
India Art Fair | New Delhi |
2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012
Art Monaco | Tanya Baxter Contemporary | Monte Carlo 2014 | 2012
Abu Dhabi Art Fair | Aicon Art Gallery 2017
Affordable Art Fair | London | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011
Affordable Art Fair | Singapore | 2014
Olympia Art Fair | Tanya Baxter Contemporary | london | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012
Oxford International Art Fair | 2016
Cambridge Art Fair | 2016
Russian, Eastern and Oriental Fine Art Fair | London |2010
Kala Ghoda Art Festival | Mumbai 2010 | 2009
Ritz Carlton Hotel | Bangalore | India Taj Hotel | London
Celebrating Art in Dubai (2) | Raffles Hotel | 2014
The Mandarin Hotel | Hong Kong | 2013
Indira Gandhi International Airport 2012 | 2013
Auction for Surabhi Foundation | 2013
Card-o-logy | Mumbai | 2013
Nvyā Art Gallery | New Delhi | 2013
Edelweiss Palette | 2013
Painting for launch of Westpac| India | 2013
Celebrating Art in Dubai (I) Raffles Hotel | 2013
2013 Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai, 2012
Treasure trove | Jai Vakeel Auction | 2012 | 2011
LET ME LIVE | Art Auction | New Delhi | 2012
Art London | London, 2011 | 2010
Jai Vakeel Foundation | Mumbai | 2010
Card-o-logy | Samsara Art Gallery | 2010
Art and Soul |Group Show | 2009
Edelwiess Pallate Art Walk | 2014 | 2016
Śarvā Śūnyatā | How does everything emerge from nothing
Start Art Fair | Saatchi Gallery | London 2021
Nāsadiya Sūkta | the creation myth
being from nothingness became
Start Art Fair | Saatchi Gallery
The Earth Song | Grains of antiquity
Gallery Art & Soul | Mumbai 2019
Where it all began | Grains of Antiquity
India Art Fair | New Delhi 2018
Of everything and nothing
Aabru Art | Grace Belgravia
Chemistry of Colors
The Chase Center | London 2015
Jostling for Space
Gallery Art n Soul | Mumbai 2012
Between the Lines
Art n Soul | Mumbai 2010
India | Kings Road Gallery
Yatra | Dover Street
Central to Sharma Singh’s work, be it her abstract paintings or installations, is an exploration of the nature of human society, and the ways in which people interact with each other. This awareness came in part with the trips she would make as a child from her home in Mumbai to the family’s ancestral home in rural Himachal Pradesh, in north India. The stark difference between the bustling streets of Mumbai and the serene villages of the region had a strong effect on her, and a comparison between with the chaos of Indian cities and the house and its surrounding hills, soon became the topic of much of her earlier work featuring abstract landscapes.
A significant step in Revati’s development as an artist was realised during a spell in Singapore. Living outside of India for the first time, she would explore the city and its art galleries incessantly, becoming a particular admirer of the works of the Indonesian impressionist master Affandi, whom she cites as another important influence to much of her painting work. The success of her first ever show, held in the Raffles hotel in the city, was also, Revati recalls, the point at which she realised that she could use her art for good. She began donating a percentage of each of her paintings sold to charities based in Indian cities – something she continues to do, most notably with her contributions to the Magic Bus Foundation’s annual charity auctions.
But while her time away from India had inspired her to produce art, her return to her homeland would awaken in Revati a new, more political angle to her work, and today much of the artist’s work carries a strong social message. Her relocation to the fashionable Mumbai suburb of Bandra in 2007 allowed Revati to see the city again with fresh eyes, and to take what she cites as perhaps the most crucial step in her development of her art itself. She recalls seeing the view from their sea-facing apartment and being struck by the fact that it included both the glistening apartment blocks of the city’s rich and the sprawling slums lining the roads below. She determined then that her art should become her way of showing the issues that faced India’s crowded and challenged society, and a critique of her homeland soon became a central theme in her work.
This stance coincided with a shift in medium, as Revati turned to found objects and large-scale constructions for what would be her first installation work, titled How Long can you Stand it?, an immersive piece targeting the issue of sanitation in Mumbai. Balancing a serious critique on the issue with an playful approach to the taboo – audiences were challenged to walk around a maze constructed in part with colourful buckets from Indian lavatories – Revati sought not only to address the situation but improve it as well. By the close of the festival, she had gained sponsorship from a number of corporations to help fund the construction of modern toilet facilities in several of Mumbai’s largest slums.
Revati’s next large-scale installation represented another shift in ambition, this time with the politically charged Mera Desh Mahaan? Translating as ‘Is My Country Great?’, the piece was worked on by the artist daily, changing its form over a five-day public exhibition. In the work, Revati’s critique was widened from Mumbai to the whole of India, referencing historical battles for freedom and equality from the 1857 Uprising to the Indian Independence Movement. Modern Indians – deemed to have ‘inherited a free nation, not fought for it’ – were challenged to re-evaluate their views on the country, as the artist questioned the morality of an economic system that perpetuated the existence of super-rich and super-poor.
Further analysis on contemporary India came with Revati’s first solo show in India, with the exhibition Between the Lines representing a thought-provoking reconceptualisation on the ways in which communities are connected. Using strong colours and sharp, linear strokes across numerous connected frames, Revati explored the nature of what she describes as the ‘lines’ found in everyday life. These, she explains, can be the lines that connect us or those that divide us – from the physical lines that make up the grilles barring off city-dwellers’ windows to the unseen ones that separate those same residents by caste, creed or colour.
Fast establishing a name for herself internationally, Sharma Singh was invited to exhibit at the 2011 Art Monaco fair, which she did with Running on Faith, an installation featuring a life-size cycle rickshaw. In the work, Revati turned her focus more directly toward the religious context of modern India, targeting the concepts of faith and karma as manifested in an overweight, gold-coloured passenger being pulled along by a emaciated, grey-blue rickshaw driver – the latter’s thin body covered in tiny artworks of Hindu icons. The challenge here was against the passive acceptance of the status quo, often cemented through religious dogma, and the interweaving of caste and religion that shows itself so cruelly on Indian streets.
Revati’s styles and techniques have developed constantly, from her earliest works featuring landscapes, to the abstract and installation works of recent years. For the 2015 India Art Fair she produced a cross-over between her painting and installation work, with an arresting piece entitled Misconnections. Combining the bold colour and thick brush strokes typical of her impressionist style with modern, functional iconography in hash-tags and ‘at’ symbols, Revati explored the paradox of modern communication – asking how, in a world constantly connected, we can become so disconnected.
2015’s Italia Docet | Laboratorium marked Sharma Singh’s first appearance at the Venice Biennale, with two multimedia installations drawing on the work of renowned Indian philosophers Rabindranath Tagore, Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. The first, entitled 1915-2015 His Garden, One Hundred Years Later, is based around a 1915 poem by Tagore that addresses an unknown reader a century in the future, musing on the poem’s ability to transfer thoughts and emotions through time with words alone. This theme is taken up and brought into the 21st century by Sharma Singh, who, combining found objects with dried flowers, glass, nails and cloth, among others, looks ahead to the next hundred years of art.
The second installation exhibited at the biennale draws on the 19th century religious thinker Sri Ramakrishna, and his disciple Swami Vivekananda, and again seeks to transfer historical philosophies into the contemporary. This time it is Sri Ramakrishna’s critiquing on the dogma of religious traditions, in which followers of different faiths are taught to stand apart from each other, that forms the basis of the work. With a number of rich, 14-carat gold grains forming star-like patterns across a series of raised black blocks, at once apart yet conjoined, the piece reflects Revati’s modern call for religions and traditions to complement, not contradict, each other.
Her passion for creating art and challenging moral themes have seen her become a regular contributor to the LAPADA Fair, Saatchi’s Starata Art Fair, the Affordable Art Fair, london and singapore, Masterpieces Art Fair, london, Art Monaco in Montecarlo amongst others.
2015’s Italia Docet | Laboratorium marked Sharma Singh’s first appearance at the Venice Biennale.