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K. Jagjit Singh

The meeting ground for artist K Jagjit Singh and a lady home maker with her renowned French estate developer Jean Louis Deniot took place when she stood facing a vast open field against the backdrop of the Aravalli hills contemplating building her bungalow there on the lines of a Lutyen’s structure of the colonial era.

Her mind’s eye was taken up with the hues of the surrounding area, a primarily desert backdrop, defining a space management of this view within the essentials of a good painting. What was needed therefore was finding one who would fit the bill. That she was definite in her idea of not opting for a painting with greenery or the local figurative forms, made her search home onto artist K Jagjit Singh.

When the estate had been completed just right, in her well-appointed library, complete with shelves of leather bound volumes and a comfortable Chesterfield, there lacked one thing. The space above the mantelpiece was stark and unadorned. This was where the designated painting, felt the house owner, would be hung to give the room that bold hint of masculinity which such spaces recall in the interiors of imperial residences. The output thereafter, was a mountain-centric visual expanse by K Jagjit Singh, bringing to recall the grandeur of the landscape in the remote regions of the Ladakh Himalayas, with textures and colours that celebrated the tonal legance of earth colours, ranging from taupe, and tawny to granite grey and bistre to rofous and semiflois in between.

But why Ladakh in a setting as urbanised as a colonial bungalow in the backdrop of the Aravallis one might ask? The answer lay in the genus of the painter himself. A former army officer who had gleefully accepted a tenure of service in the inhospitable regions of Ladakh, travelling to its inaccessible spots such as the Nubra Valley, Siachen Glacier and the Pangong Tso (lake). The mountains were second nature to him; having spent several years in the Garhwal and Kumaon region as also in Kashmir & Sikkim, as part of his official duties.

When in Ladakh, as also elsewhere, this artist-soldier carried an extra item in his military gear – his camera. The miles that he had trod and the views that charmed him, were therefore immortalised by his lens eye and later, when the uniform had been hung up, these images became the seeds that inspired his artistic bone. Instead of following the well-trodden path of becoming an amateur photographer sharing his skills with the fraternity at large, Jagjit Singh decided instead of sharing his lure of the mountains through his personal understanding of them, via his love of painting.

Known for his painting virtually ring-side views of pristine Mountainscape, also brought him other laurels. The space above the main wall in the lounge of the prime minister’s residence, where diplomatic and other dignitaries are received, was adorned with another of his creations, celebrating the jagged contours of these rocks in sweeping brush strokes that took in the panoramic spread of the Indus River in their complete authenticity, coupled with an imagination that explored the texture and plane of its geometry. This combination added to it a contemplative serenity that the camera facsimile had been unable to reproduce. And when the art connoisseur politician Amarinder Singh fancied a ‘powerful work’ to adorn his official space it was to K Jagjit that he turned.

Veering away from merely reproducing mountains and their grandeur, this artist has the uncanny ability of infusing his works with a timelessness and philosophic underbelly. This empirical recall according to the artist comes from the unhurried and painstaking effort that he invests into each of his canvases. Though he has done scores of sketches and paintings of his beloved mountains, into each of them he has infused a bit of his ambivalent background and passion for them as well for painting.

Some critics have found in Jagjit Singh’s art reminiscences of Gaitonde who too had used colour as the basis of his creations. Some have spoken of similarity with Ram Kumar’s work. But there is much more than that in Singh’s work – as when the colours dry on his canvas, all these superfluous comparisons fall by the wayside and what emerges instead is a work of art that is unique, justly linked with K Jagjit Singh the artist and fascinating the viewer with it’s many hues and silent vocabulary, that makes the serenity of the sanctuary and the sharpness of the contours come into one’s personal space under his signature.