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FRENCH ARTIST AND INDOPHILE, ARIANE MERCIER, WAS CAPTIVATED BY EXHIBITS OF THE BIKANER SCHOOL OF MINIATURE PAINTINGS IN PARIS. HAVING ATTENDED WORKSHOPS IN BOTANICAL PAINTING IN PARIS AND LONDON, WITH THEIR EMPHASIS ON SCIENTIFIC EXACTITUDE, SHE WAS DRAWN TO THE WORK OF MAHAVEER SWAMI, PRACTITIONER OF THE MUGHAL MINIATURE AND A SOPHISTICATED DESCENDANT OF THE BIKANER SCHOOL. MERCIER WRITES OF HER EXPERIENCE IN “CROSSING OVER”.
Published in International Gallerie Vol. 10 No.1 – 2007
Fascinated by the world of colours, as a child, I would spend hours in contemplation of flies, frogs, plants, and pebbles… As an adolescent, I was able to link these images to tales of travellers who criss-crossed the world, and reading Pierre Loti, I dreamed of India. Much later, in the studio of an Iranian professor, Abbas Moyeri, in Paris, I first attempted the miniature style of painting and worked at it for many years. To keep my wrist supple, my teacher gently tied my fingers so that my hand felt lighter.
It was only at forty-five, that I was able to leave for India to meet Mahaveer Swami whose fame had reached Paris. He had been exhibiting there since 1991. Descendant of a dynasty of miniature painters, he followed the tradition of the Bikaner school, famous for the refinement of its style.
Specialising in painting animals and the plant world, his work corresponded directly to my interests and he facilitated my working with him every year at his ancestral home in Bikaner.
In India, everything seemed worthy of observation: karelas, grains, limes, pomegranates. The market and shops were an endless source of inspiration.
Bikaner is known for its sweetmeats, which overflow in pastry shops and whose colours evoke stories of the Arabian Nights. To me, these sweets seemed perfect in their geometric form and structure.
Thus, the sugared cubes, the purple salt crystals from Pakistan, the roots of candied ginger, the tiny sweetmeat balls, silver cardamom grains, became for me new objects wherein I particularly looked for a minimalism of form.
I also began noticing the geometry of architecture in the city. Square white houses with walls of soft pink, lime and sun-faded blues made a strong impression. For me, a deep correlation seemed to exist between the walls and rectangular sweetmeats of the city.
I wanted to be able to capture the colours and sensuality of these materials. Whenever I dip my brush into a pool of pale turquoise or in a wash of tender pink, I get the impression of being, at one and the same time, a cook, an embroiderer, a jeweller. It gives me immense pleasure to experiment with materials. But from action to repletion, it’s only a step. Repetition became my norm.
I also explore Shiva-Lingams.. their abstract, vaguely oval forms. With Shiva-Lingams, one enters a world of a thousand and one colours, one enters a divine game. Thus, In India, I am constantly discovering nuances and meanings that are reflected in my work.
And accompanying me on this journey of discovery and learning is my vigilant teacher, Mahaveer Swami. I have crossed my European boundaries to discover rhythm and beauty in Indian miniature art. Our collaborations will shown in Paris, Mumbai and Kolkata and we hope that together, with our brushes made of squirrel hairs, we can travel still further.