If there’s one thing that becomes immediately apparent as you browse through artist Premila Singh’s paintings, it’s the feeling of happiness. Her use of bright and vibrant colours conveys a sense of optimism and gentle joy that’s much needed in the time we live in.
This, she tells me, is purely intentional.
“I think all creative people, not only artists, need to leave something behind for posterity. So it’s very important that it gives joy to people because that’s their duty. It could stay on as a part of the city skyline or maybe just hang on the wall of a house, but it has to evoke a positive feeling,” she says, “Artists in India, whether young or established, usually try to gain recognition by showcasing their works in museums. So they try to make art which I like to call ‘contorted art’. I sometimes wonder if that’s the kind of art we want to leave as a legacy for our children. My art is not for museums and I’m least interested in fame.”
Singh’s art philosophy might not aim towards recognition, but her work has been exhibited across the world at prestigious platforms like the exhibitions organised by Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and UNESCO.
The exposure to different art styles and artists gave her a new perspective on art and even ended up being a big turning point in her art journey. “I was in Lithuania where I was invited by UNESCO for a collaborative meeting between the organisation and the Ministry of Art and Culture Lithuania. I was there with 11 other international artists and I was representing South Africa there and the other artists were from the US and other European countries. It’s through discussions with them that I got a fresher perspective on abstract art. Abstract art has no boundaries. Nothing restrains your output. For me, it was an important turning point because that turned me towards an abstract style of artwork.”
One of the reasons behind her ability to convey joy through her canvases is that her art is not bound by any rules or conventions. She admits that she’s never had any formal training in art, a fact that used to bother her earlier but she understood how freeing it was years later. “I was extremely keen on going to J.J School of Art (Mumbai). But because I was good at academics, my father wouldn’t hear of it. It’s sad but I have no regrets. I could not go to an art school and I did my Masters in psychology.”
When I ask if her study of psychology helped in her art, she agrees. “See, psychology helps you in life. It helps you understand yourself. To be an artist or a creative person, there has to be a certain amount of introversion. If you can’t understand yourself, then you cannot understand the world around you. If you’re mixed up inside, the way you perceive the world also becomes mixed up. Sometimes geniuses also emerge from this space and sometimes your work goes down the drain because you don’t have a full grasp on who you really are. Psychology also helps you understand the people around you and their behaviour. Your maturity levels and your understanding levels grow with that.”
She might not have gone to a formal art college, but she tells me it was clear that this was the path that she would take because of her earliest brushes with art.
“My earliest recollection of art is from when I was four or five years old,” she recounts fondly, “My father was in the army and he was posted in a small town in Assam called Silchar. I remember there was a male attendant there and his daughter used to make little statues of clay and I would paint on them. Also, my mother had gotten me a box of crayons and she had a perfectly white table cloth and I remember sketching all over it. But my mother was a very kind woman. She never got angry. She was a very gentle person.”
She continues, adding, “I’ve been continuously sketching and painting. I’ve never had any formal training in art but I paint with a passion now. Even in school, I could be found scribbling on the margins and I’ll get distracted very easily. I would doodle and scribble on every surface I could find!”
One of the most important things that help her keep a fresh perspective towards art, and even the world around her, is the fact that she’s a morning person. “I’m a very heliotropic person! I come alive with the light and start drooping when the sun goes down. In the morning, I’m at my creative best. This really affects my work!” she says.
Singh, who says nature and her time spent in countries like South Africa inspire her artwork, credits her “bright and bouncy” artwork to her very uncomplicated outlook towards life. “Fresh perspective comes from a fresh mind, won’t you agree? If you have an uncomplicated attitude towards life. If you know what your goals and desires are and what the people around you expect from you and vice versa, then your perspective is always fresh.”
Her time in Southern Africa also inspired her to write a book, called A Country Forgotten: Zimbabwe, which is a fictional story set against the real-life socio-political conflict in the country. “I had spent some time there and was very badly affected by the plight of people there. I was there in 2001 when the Twin Towers fell in the US. Everyone was concentrating on New York and the Middle East. Nobody was interested in the plight of the Zimbabwe citizens. There was no food for people to eat or proper medicine. Nobody was interested in Zimbabwe because there was no oil here. Mankind can be very callous, they only look at their benefit. The whole book focuses on that,” she says.
This compassion for the human condition is something that sets her work apart, whether it’s her canvas or her book.
As we near the end of our conversation, I ask her about her opinion on the current landscape of art in India. She shares a quote with me that she feels summarises her views on the matter. “I read this somewhere and the quote said ‘Buy art from living artists. The dead ones don’t need the money.’ And this is very sad but true,” she says, “India is abounding in talent. We’re naturally aesthetic, it’s ingrained in us. It’s not being tapped into or explored. Artists cannot survive on their art in India, aside from a few. There needs to be a movement. People should buy art because of their love of art, and not just because the artist is famous.”
She adds that this can only be changed if art appreciation is ingrained in children from the very start.
This ties into her core philosophy which is all about art being a thing of joy for the masses. “Art is a thing of joy which should bring happiness to everyone’s life. To me, it’s an escape from reality. It should be uplifting. If it can evoke happiness, joy, and colour, then it’s extremely important.”