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ARPITA SINGH (B. 1937)
ARPITA SINGH (B. 1937)

Read Signs Carefully

Details
ARPITA SINGH (B. 1937)
Read Signs Carefully
signed and dated 'ARPITA SINGH 1998' (lower right); further signed and dated 'ARPITA SINGH / 1998-2016' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
48 x 36 in. (121.9 x 91.4 cm.)
Painted in 1998-2016
Provenance
Saffronart, 8 May 2003, lot 79
Private Collection, United Kingdom
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Damian Vesey
Damian Vesey

Lot Essay

Arpita Singh was born in Baranagar in West Bengal in 1937 and studied at the School of Art, Delhi Polytechnic. After graduating, she worked as a designer at the Weavers’ Service Centres of Calcutta and New Delhi and, over the years, developed a highly distinctive visual language typified by a rich layering of colour, strong brushwork and the employment of suggestive metaphors and motifs.
Singh’s experience as a weaver continues to influence her creative process. In particular, many of her paintings utilise the principles and methods of Kantha, a Bengali embroidery and textile-based storytelling form practiced primarily by women weavers in rural areas. In the present painting, Singh incorporates the familiar motifs of a plane, a car, letters from the Bengali alphabet and other images related to domesticity such as kitchen utensils. She creates a free-floating composition that maintains an allegorical style which combines personal and mythical narratives, and evokes the style of traditional Indian Kantha embroidery.
The mystical worlds Singh creates in her paintings enables her to absorb and interpret her environment. As she explains, "I like to paint, draw the most familiar, what I see everyday, know it, live it, otherwise I cannot draw. This thing of people sitting, perhaps my life is like that...perhaps painting is a way of understanding these things, like when you are a child and are practicing handwriting, that is your way of understanding the alphabets and letters." (Artist statement, N. Tuli, The Flamed Mosaic - Indian Contemporary Painting, Ahmedabad, 1997, p. 387)
Read Signs Carefully, painted in 1998 and later titled in 2016, presents an allusive assemblage of motifs and numbers, with shapes of female figures that all seem to be part of a mysterious equation or calendar. The overall pattern, executed in bold hues and strong brushstrokes, perhaps evokes the constant stimulation, often violent, that the city imposes on its inhabitants. Singh seems to have numbered the components of a puzzle, as one would do a shopping list, cleverly emphasising their banality. This complex aesthetic foreshadows Singh’s later works, in which she incorporates more and more written text and numerals. As the art historian Ella Datta notes, “It is also perhaps in the late nineties, that she began to write on the canvas the names of objects and forms that she was painting. These names are like clues pointing to some unknown, elusive truth that are nudging at Arpita’s subconscious, demanding attention and acknowledgement. It is also as if the words will aid the visuals to conjure up a reality that exists in the artist’s mind.” (E. Datta, Cobweb, Arpita Singh, exhibition catalogue, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 8-9)

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