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Birthday greetings to the creator of a South Asian idiom of Western art, and a Padma Shri-winning Phad folk art painter

March 5, On This Day

Art made in worship


A European world view rooted in the vernacular of Sri Lanka — this is what David Paynter, born March 5, 1900, is said to have brought to life in his artworks, as a pioneer creator of a South Asian idiom in what was essentially a Western art form.

There was no doubt as to his talent — despite no formal art lessons, Paynter entered the Royal Academy of London by winning a five-year scholarship in the open competition with students, many of whom received formal instruction in European art schools.

The themes of most of his early works are religious. In 1923, two of his best pictures — The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and the Entombment — were considered “powerful and dramatic statements of deeply felt religious experiences”.

Amongst his most celebrated works are his murals at the Trinity College Chapel in Kandy. Here, works like \’Are Ye Able\’, \’Washing the Disciples\’ Feet\’, \’The Good Samaritan\’ and \’The Crucifixion\’, are Bible stories transferred to Ceylon people and scenery. The centrepiece was a massive depiction of The Crucifixion, with Christ as “a dark-skinned, clean-shaven native of the land, raised on his cross above the dusky gloom of a sullen swarm of mangroves”.  Critics write that the the transformation was total as a symbol of Christian faith expressed in Sri Lankan idiom.

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Interestingly, he eventually turned his hand to portraiture and even painted the official portrait of Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister of India, whose portrait hangs in the Prime Minister\’s residence in Delhi, and Mahatma Gandhi whose portrait is in the Law College in Colombo. Another aspect of Paynter\’s art was his presentation of male beauty in his male nudes and semi-nudes.

Paynter passed away of a heart attack on June 7, 1975.


Re-telling legends in folk art


In 2006, he won the prestigious Padma Shri award for his long and fruitful association with the classical ‘phad’ style of popular Indian folk painting from Rajasthan.

Shree Lal Joshi was born on March 5, 1931, and lived to the ripe old age of 86 before passing away quite recently, in 2018.

He was born in Bhilwara district into a family widely known as the traditional artists of phad painting for the last few centuries. Not only did he reportedly embrace this inheritance at the young age of 13, but also went on to discover new techniques and paint original compositions.

Joshi was particularly renowned for his fresco-style wall paintings — elephants, horses, lions, and women with pitchers on their heads were the usual motifs, and he also drew upon inspiration from  episodes of the Devnarayan Mahagatha, the battle of Haldighati and the jauhar (self-immolation) of Padmini, the lives of Maharana Pratap, Prithvi Raj Chouhan, Rani Hadi, Padmini, Dhola Maru, Amar Singh Rathore, Buddha, Mahavira and the narratives from the Gitagovindam, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Kumarasambhava.

His works adorn not just art houses across India but also venues in Austria, Sweden, France, Germany, The Netherlands, the UK, Singapore, Japan, and USA.

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