As we enter artist Charan Sharma’s residence in Mumbai’s Swami Vivekananda Road, we are welcomed by his genial wife, Nimisha Sharma, who as a devoted companion and associate to her husband, handles all aspects of his career, leaving him to concentrate solely on his paintings. Their plush, minimalist apartment, however, wears no semblance of the Bohemianism that one would expect in view of the fact that both husband and wife and even their only son, Pratik, are extremely talented artists. But the art connect becomes almost instantly evident, as one’s attention is drawn to a row of gleaming paintings along a wall of the spacious living room, which are artworks from Charan Sharma’s latest collection, Aksharaa. The collection, we are told, will be up for display at a week-long exhibition at Mumbai’s Jehangir Art Gallery from October 22.
Art in the genes
As an artist, Charan Sharma needs no introduction to India’s contemporary art world. Hailing from a family of temple artists in Nathdwara, Rajasthan—his father Motilal Sharma was a pichwai artist, while his grandfather Kubiram Sharma is said to have pioneered the art of gold embossing of Nathdwara paintings—he found himself surrounded by temple art right from the time he was born. His predilection for art showed early too. “Art has been in my genes. I played with colours and brushes as a child, and from an early age I wanted to be an artist,” says Sharma.
Journey to name and fame
Having later acquired a master’s degree in drawing and painting from the University of Udaipur in 1974 and then studied graphics at Mumbai’s renowned Sir J J School of Arts, he gradually evolved into an accomplished artist over the decades and now has numerous solo and group shows around the world to his credit. His paintings have been sold by reputed auction houses and art brokers like Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bowrings, and his works have drawn accolades from various quarters, including revered artists like F N Souza, who once said, “In Charan’s paintings—many of them are masterpieces—there is a sense of wonder, mystery and magic, which only a master’s brush, like a magic wand, can conjure.” It’s no surprise then that Sharma’s paintings grace public and private collections around the world.
Given his Nathdwara background, some of Sharma’s very first paintings were of Lord Krishna. From the divine, he later moved on to more earthy themes like pebbles along a river bed that passed through his hometown. These, Sharma reminisces, fascinated him, inspiring him to portray them on his canvas by giving each one a distinct personality and making them speak, in order to communicate his story through his brush.
From the loneliness of the river and the pebbles, Sharma’s journey next took a turn and ventured into the solitude of the dilapidated ruins of the palaces and havelis of Rajasthan, the regal architecture reminding him of the resplendence and romance of a bygone era.
A course in vipassana meditation shifted his focus to a different realm altogether after that, as he searched his soul in silence to find solace and shelter. Heeding the ‘Buddham Sharanam Gachchami’ call and inspired by Buddha’s sermon ‘Charaivaiti Charaivaiti’ (Keep going, keep going!), his rising career found direction and he turned to the Buddha for a subject. “I visualised his immense presence in my surroundings,” says Sharma. Inspired further by trips to various countries where Buddhism was a live religion, he chose the Buddha as his next subject. “There was no other way to pay obeisance to the great master than to paint him,” adds Sharma. And with that, his trilogy of Buddha paintings followed.
In the first of these sets, titled Enlightenment, he paid obeisance to the great master by painting him with his brush, as he visualised his presence in his surroundings. “For me Buddha represents a sublime state of consciousness, and my paintings invoked the ‘Buddham Sharanam Gachhami’ chant, inviting my audience to seek refuge under Buddha’s guardianship,” explains Sharma.
The second set, titled Upasthithi, was about a step forward in the Buddha encounter. “Rather than painting the mentor, I started using my brush to portray his devotees—the monks—showing their backs to the here and the now,” says Sharma. “It demonstrated the satiation of being want-free and feeling the Upasthithi of the great sage in their surroundings.”
The last of the three sets in the trilogy, titled Anushthan – Invocation, encapsulated the messages of enlightenment and upasthiti and submerged them in the divine ambience of meditation and contemplation. The collection stirs feelings of compassion and calm, enabling one to experience solitude in the midst of noise and commotion.
A focused artist
Though many have acclaimed Charan Sharma’s works in many different words, as for the man himself, all he has to say is, “I pour my emotions and depict the image skilfully in each of my paintings.” His wife, Nimisha, however, is more expressive. “Charan is a master painter who has been highly skilled from an early age. Being well-versed with the techniques of miniature painting and pichwai, his knowledge of the craft is immense. Also, he is very focused and his works are straight from the heart and transparent,” she says. The two, incidentally, have been sweethearts since their J J School days and continue to be. An innovative artist herself, Nimisha Sharma has worked with eminent artist Krishna Reddy at the New York University and assisted Francis Newton Souza (F N Souza) during his most productive years.
Charan is a master painter who has been highly skilled from an early age. Being well-versed with the techniques of miniature painting and pichwai, his knowledge of the craft is immense
The mystique of words
Talking about his inspiration behind his latest paintings, Aksharaa, which translates to ‘words’, Charan Sharma reveals that he truly believes that the finer nuances of logic can only be explained through words. Seen from another perspective, the paintings seem to have a mystical feel about them, with gold leaf embossed words in intaglio standing out from the canvas, offering a tactile dimension to them that invite touch.
Away from the world of art, Charan Sharma loves to cook and is passionate about photography. He also loves to travel and explore new places and draw inspiration from the vistas they offer. Simply put, he loves life.