Kripal Singh Shekhawat: Artist, Muralist and Revivalist

Curated by Kristine Michael
Commissioned by JKK in collaboration with DAG | 31.08.18 – 18.11.18

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Water colour and gold paint on Japanese Shikishi board
10.7 x 9.5 in. / 25.8 x 9.5 cm.
Signed in Hindi with artist’s seal 

Kripal Singh Shekhawat is widely recognised as a blue pottery revivalist even though he was trained as a painter and remained one throughout his career. Some of his most exciting commissions were in the form of murals that he painted on walls and ceilings in his native Jaipur, elsewhere in India as, also, overseas. Throughout his whole life he worked to bridge the gap between the vernacular and the contemporary through the fine art of miniature painting with the craft of pottery, thus paving a new path for a pioneering social and aesthetic mode of life and work in twentieth century India.

Based on his work, he defies compartmentalising into terms like craftsman, artisan, traditional or contemporary artist; indeed, he straddled effortlessly all these definitions, probably confounding the Indian art historians’ narrow view of the growth of Indian modernism. His training at Santiniketan under the celebrated Nandalal Bose and Benode Behari Mukherjee was honed by his training in Japan in the Nihongastyles of Khawabata Rusi and Mayeda Seisson.

However, it was his mentor, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, who, steeped in the nationalist philosophy of swadeshiand the relevance of craft traditions to modernism, changed his art practice by setting up the challenge of reviving the Jaipur Blue Pottery for his home state of Rajasthan. His contribution to the pottery revival was not only in the realm of the introduction of new patterns and design but it was his understanding of deshi rang or the mineral pigments from the Rajasthani miniature and fresco painting traditions combined with the knowledge of Japanese natural dyes, pigments, inks and paper which complemented his understanding of the ceramic techniques inherent to the Blue pottery medium. He constantly strove to strike a balance between the ‘high’ art mediums of painting for which he showed he was historically conscious in the references to the earlier traditions of Ajanta and miniature painting themes, with his love of figurative detail and representational skills explored on both, surfaces of clay and paper.  His impeccable artisanship in both fresco, tempera painting and ceramics as well as his visible signature artistic style gave him the middle ground of being both, craftsman and artist. The credit for the revival of the very famous Jaipur Blue Pottery and its resurgence in the commercial world, giving new direction in form, ornament and design, will remain his unique contribution to Indian art practice. His legacy is continued by innumerous small artisan workshops in Jaipur, enabled by the dignity, new direction of meaningful contemporary craft, and the harnessing of local creative expression and knowledge that he nurtured.

This retrospective exhibition, commissioned by the Jawahar Kala Kendra and DAG, as a collateral exhibition of the first Indian Ceramics Triennale sheds important light on the work, trajectory and legacy of Kripal Singh Shekhawat who is both traditional craftsman and early modernist painter whose historiography fills a gap in the debates of artistic development around swadeshi nationalism, and the polemics of traditionalism versus modernism in India.