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India exhibition 2017

India Watercolour illustrations


LIST of PAINTINGS with précis


‘MAP of India Journey’. Watercolour & ink. 12” X 17”.

I landed in Delhi, and then got a train to Amritsar, a bus to Shimla, the toy train to Kalka ,then to Delhi; thence to Rajasthan, then to Varanasi, Agra, then a 48 hour train to Chennai, Mammallapuram, Kanyakamuri, then to Madurai, Banglore to Bombay, Aurangabad, then a plane to Calcutta, then the train to Darjeeling, then back to Delhi, and plane to England.


‘Taj Mahal at Sunset’. Acrylic. 11” X 15”.

I did this painting of the Taj Mahal at Sunset 8 years after returning form India, at an art group with Welsh artist Brian Jones. The Taj Mahal, meaning  ‘Crown of the Palace, is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna river in the Indian city of Agra. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (reigned 1628–1658).


‘Viceregal Lodge, Shimla’. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”

Lord Dufferin’s old place. I turn to admire this athletic baronial pile-built as the Government House of the Indian Empire; stead-fast debouchment of native genius in Jacobethan style, architecturally, like a Victorian country house, exuding peculiar sadness of departed greatness. The Lodge is perched high on a flat plateau Of observatory hill. with terraced lawns, rhododendrons, rose pergolas, a concealed precipice.

 I press on up the road, not knowing where I am or where I’m going, except up the hill to the next tier in the road. Shimla is on The Ridge, dominated by Christ Church, neo-Gothic, Anglican, crowned on the Shimla skyline, visible for miles, enduring legacy of the British Raj.


‘Christ Church, Shimla’. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

Christ Church, Shimla, is the second oldest church in North India. Neo-Gothic, built in 1857 to serve the largely Anglican British community in what was formerly called Shimla; situated on The Ridge. The prominent landmark of Shimla, visible for miles around; one of the enduring legacies of the British Raj.


‘Peacock Painting, Udaipur’. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

Peacocks strike me as the sort of bird that likes to be watched, but knows when you’re watching. The peacock is celebrated as the national bird of

India, enjoying a fabled place, and is Often depicted in temple art and poetry. When the peacock opens its train it is a miraculous sight; an aura revealed. Peacocks are plentiful in Rajasthan. Their body is big and heavy. It does not fly to much height.

In the East, peacocks are associated with divinity. They are a Hindu symbol of immortality, in part because they can eat poisonous snakes without being harmed; the venom just makes their train more brilliant. A peacock is the vahana (vehicle) of Murugan, god of war, wisdom and love.



‘Lake Pichola, Udaipur’. Watercolour & Ink. 5” x 7”.

Lake Pichola, situated in Udaipur city in the Indian state of Rajasthan, is an artificial fresh water lake, created in the year 1362 AD, named after the nearby Picholi village. There are two islands within Pichola Lake. The 1983 James Bond film, Octopussy featured the Jag Mandir as one of its main locations; The Lake Garden Palace.


‘Elephant, Udaipur’. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

There is an elephant with a man riding it. I must pay 10 rupees to take a photograph. The elephant is not amused: The instant I point and click he swings his trunk and near-clobbers me to the ground. He’s just  being playful. Besides, In India and southeast Asia elephants are venerated; the Hindu god of wisdom and success is Ganesh. A raised trunk is a symbol of good fortune.


‘Author on Hari Krishna the camel in Thar Desert’.

Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

Monsoon mornings, few people in sight, no vehicles to impede, camel pad stealth, then clamour of rattling pans, pots fastened to saddle-sides. We pass a small grassy swathe. I turn downward, and see crepuscular shadows form, long black lines from camel legs; silhouette’s like crooked sundial readings. In the heat of midday, I feel dizzily disorientated; my throat is dry and I feel this vast space opens ever-wider; with no further sign of civilization, nor so much as a thunderous ruin.



‘Hari Krishna the Camel resting, desert near Puschkar, Rajasthan.’ Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

The camel safari proceeds deeper into desert, with sparse hamlets. Enticing desert-scape, brightly subdued Sky. There are few comforts from blistering heat, save bottled water. Hours pass into that vast endless vanishing point, like an eternal vision.

After a very hot day’s plod, Hare Krishna the camel keeps cool by resting. He does not feed. He lies down in shade, after a long day facing Sun so that only small part of his body receives its rays. Krishna works hard carrying me along, as does his master who pulls the harness rope ahead on foot. There is no judgment here, no thoughts, Just Zen-like peace, acceptance of what is. Into the sunset, continuing the desert path before setting up camp for  the evening. Then off again, BJ is taking the lead  with Krishna as I’m mounted. I  feel it’s necessary to swap places; he’s tired. Krishna is content with this. If there is a camel rope in the eye of a needle it is here. To describe my joy at taking this repast is impossible. Exposed all day to fierce rays of vertical sun, I feel insane, as though my life which had  of late become a great burden, becomes precious once again to me, if not happy. Having mounted Krishna again after a short stop, I am sitting securely on his hairy haunches, the camel boy proceeds ahead, wearing sandals. This is patient travel.


‘Author at farmstead, desert, Pushkar.’ Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

We stop for a rest. The guide says we’re near his home farm. He says we will get there before night-fall. There is an old banyan at twilight. I stand upon its huge roots. Dusk is such that the desert is distinguishable, charged with day-heat’s resonance. The atmosphere cools, quietens. Krishna’s legs bend, front, then back, as the camel guide encourages him to rest. Hare Krishna immediately sweeps his long neck against the sand, now he is flat on his side. He then leaves us awhile, power-napping.


Sittar Player, Mehrangah Fort. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

A male Rajasthani sitarist is sat playing a long necked Indian lute with moveable frets. His young daughter is dancing and twirling her hands in the air. I leave some baksheesh, and he offers to sell me his sitar, which I refuse because I don’t want to take his means of livelihood away from him.


‘Mehrangah Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan’. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

I walk through the gate of Mehrangarth. It might be named Fort Colossus. Kipling thought it was a palace for the Titans. There is a Rajput drummer on a rainbow coloured mat, providing entertainment as people walk past the seven gates leading deep into the fortification.


‘Peacocks, cartouche, Rohet Gahr, Rajasthan’. Watercolour & Ink. 5” x 7”.

 Rohet Gahr is a 17th century converted fort with a bucolic flower filled garden. ‘Many fragrant surprises’. One slow circuit around the garden, with folded wings; teardrops of diamonds dangling from succulent pearls: glint, sparkle of diamond-splattered breast, he parades around his palace, majestic, bejewelled; the final fling of the peacock male. It’s bright blue front contracts, spasms, as long feathers spread out like huge fan-like crest, spatula-tipped wiry; long train of elongated upper-tail covert feathers rise, bearing colourful eyespots; quivering display of courtship.



‘View of Jaiselmer from desert’. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

Jaisalmer is massive living fort, holding together bits of royal residences and temples made of marble, sea fossil and yellow sandstone. It is bustling with fort dwellers who sell traditional arts and crafts for a living. Low-walled houses and palaces, myths and realities, the archaic and the modern, all overlap; sumptuous color to the bland sandy aridity of the landscape surrounding it. If ever there is a link between landscape, architecture it is to be seen here. It is the very colour of the desert. Here it is perfectly blended by human hands from the earth from which it rises, and is inseparable from the whole.



‘Mahraja’s Palace, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan’. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

Panoramic view from fort rooftop, at sunset; signalling mellifluous refrain; warmest welcome.The Maharaja’s seven storey palace is next to my room. Above is the view of the outer city from the ramparts of the fort. There’s a panoramic view of Jaisalmer Fort. This sandy outpost is dubbed the Golden City because its honey colour. From above there is a closer view within the city walls of the Laxminath Temple.


‘Palace, Fatepur Sikri’. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

Fatehpur Sikri फ़तेहपुर सीकरी, is a city 23 miles from Agra, founded in 1569 by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, a walled city, built of red sandstone in trabeate beam-and-post order, Domes, corbelled pendentives, compoaed of pillars, ornamental arches, brackets-and-chhajjas, jharokhas, chhatris, chhaparkhats, chaukhandis, etc.. with a series of royal palaces, harem, courts, a mosque, private quarters and other utility buildings. Fateh, is Persian, meaning “victorious.” It was later called Fatehpur Sikri.


‘Author at Taj Mahal, Agra.’ Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

The Taj Mahal:  face of eternity Jahan was heartbroken, commissioned testament to Love, 1643 (during a transit of Venus), completed wonder of the world. Rabindranath thought it “a tear on the face of eternity.” Indeed, it was, but grafted over a more ancient Hindu temple preceding it.

There is laughing blossom, sunny proclamation, pure white esteem, genial glow of contentment, infused with this fanned desire. which consumes me with

its power. Through the ivory gate, through which most dreams pass, I catch a glimpse of eternity on an orchid’s dew drop.The River Varuna has become quite polluted. Here all oppression is covered in extravagance. All colours and monuments distract from the darkness of the broken hearted, through whom God commissions services to Beauty.


‘Author beside Taj Mahal with Indian girls’. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

To Agra’s orient land I floated like a butterfly through lucid air, enamoured of a delightful fragrance. Westerners pay $20 for entry (by order of Indian Government Tourism minister). I could see the beauty of Taj Mahal, from the rear prospect, alongside river Varuna. Without divine garden; just backdrop of the monument of Love. Is it enough? I see a glimpse of the depth of Shah Jahan’s Monument, turning smooth above me, rubbing gently on my heart. I consider how he was Imprisoned by grief, with no consoling ghosts, and bearing with old age; his virgin daughter Jahanara dressed the cracked marble. A father kindly takes a picture of me with his three young girls; one of whom is very shy.


‘Passing along the Ghat, Varanasi’. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

Indian men seen sitting at the Ghat at Varanasi, the holiest of the seven sacred cities (Sapta Puri) in Hinduism, as I pass by in a boat on the river along the swollen river Ganges.



‘Lord Krishna, Kanyakamuri’. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

After wandering through the narrow streets of the old part of the town, and eyeing a blue fluted character standing on a lotus behind a white washed wall, I decided to buy this curious feminine man with a peacock feather in his hat; painted as he is on a screen. It is nice to find an image of Him, since I have devoted my journey to Lord Krishna.


‘Kanyakamuri Shore Temple, Tamil Nadu’. Watercolour & Ink. 5” x 7”.

Swami Vivekananda meditated here at this rock island, in 1892 before he set out to become one of India’s  most important spiritual crusaders, developing a synthesis between the tenets of Hinduism and the concepts of social justice.  He is said to have attained enlightenment on the rock.

According to local legends, it was on this rock that Goddess Kumari performed austerity. The Thiruvalluvar Statue is a 133 feet (40.6 m) tall stone sculpture of the great Tamil poet and philosopher Tiruvalluvar.


‘Arjuna’s Penance, Mammallapuram’. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

Arjuna’s Penance measures (29 m × 13 m), a giant open-air rock relief carved on two monolithic rock boulders, like a canvas of Indian rock cut sculpture at its best not seen anywhere in India. There are 153 semi-divine creatures here,  animals and deities. Arjuna is making penance to Shiva, to secure a weapon that will destroy all his opponents. Ancient stone cut to KRISHNA. He who protects his  kinsfolk from the wrath of Indra, the rain god.


‘Krishna’s Butterball, Mammallapuram’. Watercolour & Ink. 5” x 7”.

I have found the most noble stone in this land: “Stone of Sky God’, a 250-ton, 20ft boulder that has stood for over 1,300 years, on a 45-degree slope, The British tried to move it with seven elephants, in vain. I stood with a group of school children who cheered, and waved as I stood there.


‘Boddhisatva, Ajanta Caves, Maharastra’. Watercolour & Ink. 5” x 7”.

Bodhisattva Padmapani fresco in one of the temples Ajanta. Cave l, is one of the finest monasteries and the interior paintings here, are among the greatest at Ajanta. Graciously posed Bodhisattva namely Padmapani with elaborate headdresses flanks the antechamber doorway. Padmapāni (“Holder of the Lotus”), a female bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas, who gazes down (at the world). Om Mani Padme Hum.


‘Sravasti Miracle, Cave 2, Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad, Maharashtra’. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

Cave 2: Sravasti Miracle Here Buddha is shown in multiple forms. Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India. relief depicts an episode from the “Great Miracle of Sravasti”: the historical Buddha Shakyâmuni gives a display of his power by performing miracles before a gathering of heretical masters.


‘Tiger Hunt’. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

A tiger is a large fierce animal belonging to the cat family. Tigers are in crisis in India. The Bengal tiger is classified as endangered by the IUCN; it has been predicted all tigers may become extinct in the wild within the next decade.

In this Rajput miniature some tigers are hunted with speers; some on foot, others from machans. Tiger hunting is dangerous for both parties. There are several hunters accompany perhaps the Maharaja, and the prey run through a bright green landscape, partially covered in small trees, with a river and rocs running through the middle.

Tigers were in that time seen as trophies and were thought to bring valour and prestige. The British loved to hunt Tiger, just like the Mughals did; it had been a Royal Sport for centuries.


In this minature, the tigers appear to be doing a good job at finishing off the hunters, yet it remains to be seen.


‘Victoria Memorial, Calutta’. Watercolour & Ink. 8” x 11”.

The Victoria Memorial is a large marble building in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), West Bengal, India, which was built between 1906 and 1921. It is dedicated to the memory of Queen Victoria (1819–1901) and is now a museum.The memorial lies on the maidan (grounds) by the bank of the Hooghly River, near Jawaharlal Nehru road.


Harry Matthews

un poète et peintre

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