Sixteenth Meditation (2021)
hand-prepared mineral colours on wasli paper
10 ½ x 7 ½ inches
"I began my artistic practice as a painter, but over the past ten years, I have focused mainly on creating large-scale installations and research-driven projects on human interactions with nature. The slowing mechanics of the public art world at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic signalled my return to foundational training in earth-based painting. For many years, my work engaged natural media, sparked in large part by my first encounters with miniature painting through my long-time teacher Dr. Nathulal Verma. A modern artist and scholar on natural pigments, Nathulalji provided tutelage in the many ways that earth colours were wielded in pre and post-colonial India. I was introduced to methods of pigment extraction from earth-based sources and the application of such colours to cosmopolitan painting traditions including fresco (araayash) and illuminations (laghuchitra). Over the past fourteen years, I have continued to study and collaborate with Dr. Verma and his contemporaries in Jaipur to explore the use of ancient colours in experimental and contemporary contexts.
As mineral pigments are of the earth, it is only logical that they are inextricably connected to the vast biosystems therein. Harvesting natural colours from locations throughout India, Brazil, Spain, and Canada, I shifted scale from the miniature to the monumental. Considering the chemical composition of naturally occurring pigments like ochres, I produced living murals that illuminated, interacted with, and in some cases, fed the microbial systems thriving on architectural and natural substrates. Dilapidated walls, stone rooftops, and mountainside rockfaces burst with life – lichens, bacteria, algae, and fungi form symbiotic colonies that interact with mineral pigments, oxidizing the iron compounds within, expressing new colours and eventually degrading them back toward the earth.
As travel became choked by the virus, my practice turned inward, back toward the miniature, generated this time more organically and automatically. Since the pandemic hit, I began producing pictorial Meditations – quiet works based on a collaborative engagement with seven distinct mineral colours comprised primarily of the bodily elements: iron, calcium, magnesium, and carbon. While some of the pigments were harvested and rendered locally, others were sourced from abroad in areas well-known for their exceptional hues. Each pigment was bound by hand using a natural brew of honey, oxgall, gum, and clove. The restricted palette was applied to wasli, an ochre-stained, multi-layered paper, wetted to allow the colours to interact – each colour behaves differently, since each has its own preferences and potencies. Fine lines in bone black (cattle bone char) were applied to illuminate the forms brought forth by mineral interactions. Paint was applied using the same squirrel hair brushes favoured by Mughal and Rajput miniaturists which continue to be produced today, covertly, in the alley markets of Jaipur’s old city. The resulting miniatures evoke multiple painting and pictorial systems, their undulating forms like a clashing of fleshly worlds, coaxed forth from the furrows, steeped in craft, marked by history, sensual, beautiful, and grotesque.”
Cole Swanson, June 2021