Art transcends just appreciation by the five senses. It has become a way of life for many people. Artists can reinvent and redesign their reality with the help of nothing but their imagination.
Indigenous artists of the Northeast, in particular, have shown extensively the unrestrictive nature of art and its power in uniting people from different cultures and traditions. Many of these artists have spearheaded the promotion of Northeastern culture to other parts of the world.
One such game-changing artist is Nagaland-based painter Neiphrezo Ezung, who began his journey in his school days participating in painting competitions. His interest in art began with wondering how creative one can get with just the imagination and using art as a form of escape from depression and other psychological problems.
Being a self-taught artist, Neiphrezo dabbled into different forms of art. He says, “I should say I’m very much into classical art, but I’m still exploring different kinds of style. I mostly focus on portraits which portray the lifestyle of our old Naga traditions. Then there are old paintings which remind us of a time before modern technology took over.
“Over time, I’ve had requests to draw family portraits on commission basis. Since my younger days, I’ve had inspirations from various things I see or places I visit. My imagination/visualisation starts when I see anything that grabs my attention and the thought of how it can be depicted on an actual piece of paper. I have always looked up to and was inspired by Sir Buddhi Thapa, Vineizotuo Tase, and several Naga artists”, he adds.
His painting method involves the use of dark colours for background and a much lighter shade for the main subject of the piece. Speaking on his style he says, “I use a combination of dark themes to try to represent the old days of our Naga forefathers and some of their lifestyles– traditional attires, head hunting practises, farming etc. As a Nagaland indigene, we may be advanced, but we still cherish and are proud of our traditions”.
Another artist taking art to the next level is freelancer Jithuw Pfuzeh from Manipur. With over a decade of artistic experience, he has dedicated his life to ensuring the propagation of his culture through art. “My style is contemporary tribal art. I enjoy using the medium of oil and watercolour, respectively. But only recently, I have begun enjoying doing a lot more with watercolor due to its versatility. The traditions and cultures of the North East is a major theme that’s currently reflective on my work as it carries part of its rich and unique history kept alive in the present time through cultural observations and celebrations, and the medium of arts.
Speaking on, he says, “In doing so, it simply reaffirms and strengthens the region’s identity at large.” Many artists inspire Jithuw. As a result, he tries to create art that does more than just serve as visual stimulus but also has purpose and depth. He does this by creating thought provoking themes for his work.
Multi-award winning Assam artist Mukta Changmai describes his style of art as “very happy”. His palette includes vibrant colours and he tries to stay away from negative things that may impart his art. “I like to portray the beauty of everyday things which we usually tend to ignore and forget to cherish its beauty due to our busy lives. This idea came from a very unique global community called ‘Urban Sketchers’ whose idea is to sketch/draw/paint everyday objects from real life. The subject can be anything from a safety pin to a submarine and the only condition was that it should be drawn/painted live. This idea really fascinated me and I believe it influenced me and my vision of art,” says Changmai.
Some of the most notable influences on his art include Van Gogh, Milind Mullick and David Hockney. Apart from them, he also enjoys and draws inspiration from the works of Mark Rothko, Monet, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Joseph Zbukvic, Alvaro Castagnet, Matthew Bird, and David L Stickel. “Here in Assam I am in love with the works of Ranjan Engti and Kowsick Borgohain,” he says.
Art constantly evolves. From one form to another, artists are constantly evolving to find their most suitable niche. Freelance Naga artist Florence Lohu started with pencil sketching in 2018, a practice that quickly evolved to the use of watercolour paint, in between acrylic and oil paints. “As far as my style is concerned it is always evolving. The inspiration comes from both old and new painters, things around me and also people in my daily life who inspire not necessarily the forms of my artworks but the consistency of my work”, she says.
Speaking on her inspirations, Florence says, Australian digital and watercolour artist, Hieu Nguyen, better known by his art name Kelogsloops has been her greatest inspiration to become a watercolour painter, and since she started, she has tried to emulate his ways of creating art. Similarly, among many artists from North East India, including Sony Thokchom, a Manipuri artist is a huge inspiration for her.
With these artists influencing the next generation of creatives, the future of North East art is looking brighter than ever.