Folk painting is an ancient form of people's art where rural and tribal communities expressed their creativity at times of weddings, births, harvest celebrations, religious ceremonies, etc. These paintings were done on walls, floors, palm leaves, rock faces, caves cloth, and any other canvas that nature provided. Each community and tribe evolved its own style with its own distinct grammar. There were clear rules for colours, form representations, etc.

What is common for all folk painting styles is that they all used the locally available natural resources to create the canvas, colours and implements of drawing. The infinite shades of colours created from flowers, leaves, stones, chimney soot, etc. made sure that artists were not wanting for colours to give form to their imagination. The paintings are a glimpse into the lives and belief systems of the community. Often the whole theological system is dramatized in their painting traditions.

As these folk paintings became popular in the urban world, the canvas moved to handmade paper or special textiles which came close to their original canvas. In many folk styles, preparing the cloth or paper for the painting is as important and arduous a task as the painting itself.

Some of the folk painting styles that Kala Tarang showcases in its exhibitions - Phad, Warli, Madhubani and Saura.

Phad Paintings

Phad Paintings are a folk painting style from Rajasthan, India. These paintings were and still are a part of an elaborate ritualistic song and dance performance by folk balladeers who travel from village to village performing folk epics. The paintings provide the backdrop against which the songs, dances and narrations are used to create an evening of magic and entertainment usually in the centre of the village.

Each painting depicts a different episode and they are opened or unrolled only after sundown, in conjunction with an all night performance. This is possibly why these paintings are called Phad which means folds in local dialect.

Phad paintings are made on cloth or walls and most popularly depict the story of the local hero-gods - Pabuji & Devnarayanji. A series of these paintings represent a folk epic narrative through a very specific style of representation filled with figures and pictorial incidents.

All Phad paintings have certain common features. Every available inch of the canvas is crowded with figures. Another similarity is flat construction of the pictorial space. While the figures are harmoniously distributed all over the area, the scale of figure depends on the social status of the character they represent and the roles they play in the story.

Another interesting feature is that the figures in the paintings always face each other instead of the viewer. These paintings in their traditional form are very wide to accommodate the numerous episodes of the complex stories. Some Phad painters are also experimenting with the 'collage' form for Phad paintings where while remaining true to the basic principles of the art form they combine various aspects of the art form to create a visually appealing modern painting. Phad sketches made with a single stroke of the pen while following the Phad form are also gaining popularity.
At Kala Tarang exhibitions: Phad paintings, collages and sketches.

Warli Paintings

Ganjad, not far from Mumbai, India is the home of the aboriginal Warli tribe. Warli Paintings are a traditional art of the Warlis The origins of the Warli paintings are not certain, but many scholars and researchers believe that it can be traced to as early as the tenth century AD. This art was rediscovered in the 1970s, and became popular for its unique simplicity and joyous representation of life.

The subjects found in these paintings are weddings, animals, birds, trees, men, women, children, descriptive harvest scenes, group of men dancing around a person playing the music, dancing peacocks, and many more. The human body in the paintings is represented with 2 triangles, one pointing upwards and other downwards. This was derived from the basic design of their goddess 'Palghat', who is invoked in all weddings. The upper triangle represents the male element and the lower one, the female element from which all life emerges.

The Warlis believe that one must remain constantly in motion and their paintings convey this by drawing every line in dashes. Through their paintings, they also communicate their life-styles and immense respect for nature and all her elements. Every painting has a loose rhythmic movement that adds life to the paintings.

Originally, the Warlis brought this art to life on cow-dung plastered walls of their huts and used rice paste mixed with turmeric powder and kumkum (a red powder) as paint. The commercial paintings today are done on handmade paper and experiments are done with various colours and backgrounds. The artists have also recently started drawing straight lines in their paintings. However, stylistically, they remain unchanged and as powerful as the painting originally drawn on the walls.

Madhubani Paintings

Mithila, on the foothills of the Himalayas, in the north of Bihar, India is home of the famous Madhubani paintings. Centuries ago the women of this community, in a bid to give vent to their creativity began to paint the courtyards and walls of their homes. Thus was born the art of Madhubani painting.

Madhubani Painting was originally done on walls with natural paints and pigments. The main colours used were black (made from soot), red (from local clay) and yellow (from carnation pollen). The raw materials were mixed with goat's milk, gum arabic and juice from bean plants. The main theme of this art form was and still is Hindu mythology. The folklore of this region also finds a place in the paintings and things like origin of earth, supernatural beings, moral stories and pastoral stories are represented.

The women of yore passed this traditional art form to their daughters over generations and so this art is still alive and thriving. Madhubani found itself coming off the walls and moving to paper under unusual circumstances. A severe drought in 1960, in the normally fertile region of Mithila, meant the people had to look at something other than agriculture as a source of income. Some government officials visiting the drought affected region of Mithila chanced upon these brilliant murals. Convinced of their commercial value, they managed to get the women of Mithila to execute their art on paper and cloth. This brought with it new freedom and creativity. New colours like green, blue, red and orange were added to the vocabulary. The association with rituals also lessened, giving more freedom to the artist. This provided a platform for the women to express themselves in a manner not possible earlier.

Madhubani painting has since established itself has a pre-eminent art form in India and is one of the popular works of folk art in the world today. It is done mostly on handmade paper with natural dyes, however women are also using this style to paint on fabric with fabric paint. At the Kala Tarang exhibitions: Paintings, stoles, file folders & greeting cardswith Madhubani art

Saura Paintings

The Sauras, from Orissa are one of the oldest tribes of India and are famous for rich variety of their paintings based on religious and ceremonial themes.

The Saura paintings usually revolve around the Saura deity, Idital. Their paintings are called 'ikon' and comprise of a set of sketches elaborately drawn on their walls. It is difficult to define the perfect symbolic meaning of ikons, which range from humans, horses, elephants to sun, moon, etc. They are generally painted to appease the Gods and ancestors. These paintings are noted for their elegance, charm, iconography, aesthetic and ritualistic association. The minute details of the paintings reflect the day-to-day lives of the Sauras. Cults and myths also have great bearing on the artistic creations of the Sauras.

The Sauras' depiction of the human form is similar to that or the Warlis and hence at times the Saura paintings look similar to the Warli paintings. However, the 2 styles differ distinctly in their use of colours, backgrounds and other details.

For commercial purposes, the Saura paintings are done on Tussar silk. Tussor is considered an auspicious variety of silk because it is obtained from silk worms that are not bred on mulberry trees but whose cocoons are collected from the trees like Sal, Arjun and Saja which the Hindus consider sacred.

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