This past Tuesday, the William Benton Museum of Art hosted Tradition and Transformation: Mithila Art of India, a presentation that offered a quick background regarding Mithila art, and then a watercolor painting event.
The Benton’s website describes Mithila art as “an indigenous form of painting originating in the northern state of Bihar in India. Historically created as sumptuous wall murals, over the decades Mithila art has evolved as works on paper and canvas which has both preserved the tradition and generated new themes.”
Assistant curator and academic liaison Amanda Douberely showcased three specific paintings. The first painting, titled “Krishna Stealing the Saris of the Golpis,” was created in 2020 by Dulari Devi.
“We notice that there are people with different skin tones and one person in particular who is up here in the tree with blue skin,” Douberely said. “We might imagine that this person is the god and the artist is signaling to us that that is true.”
In fact, the God in the painting is the god Krishna, one of the most popular Indian divinities.
The second piece the audience viewed is “Responsibilities of Women During Covid,” a piece created by Vinita Jha in 2021. In this particular piece, people with masks are included, which indicates the time period it was created in.
When analyzing the similarities and differences between both pieces, Douberely pointed out the difference in colors.
“One thing that stands out to me at least when I look at this example is just the shift in color,” she said. “There are different styles within Mithila art, and there’s a style that is associated with those broad shapes of color that we were just looking at, and then here another style that uses black and red ink.”
The third piece showcased is “High Flying Hope,” done by Shalini Kumari in 2021.
The second half of the seminar focused on a step-by-step live presentation of watercoloring. Curator of Education Mollie Sixsmith led the hands-on workshop.
“For those who might be new to watercolors, this is a translucent or partially see-through art medium,” she said. “It is made up of colorful pigments that are easily spread when mixed with water.”
Watercolor pigments can be applied directly on to wet paper, or mixed with water and added to dry paper. The drawing inspiration was directly taken from the Mithila Art exhibition, focusing specifically on a turtle that was included in one of the paintings.
The first step was preparing the composition.
“Grab a pencil, and we’re going to make an edge or a border to our paper,” instructed Sixsmith. “So you’ll just put the ruler on each side, along with the top and bottom, and draw some lines.
The second step is lightly tracing the creature, creating a perfect circle with a spare cylinder object that can be found within the house. For example, a can, bottle or candle can all work. After the circle is made, participants were instructed to add feet, a head and a tail.
“Step three is to add patterns and designs to your border,” Sixsmith said. “Much like we talked about during our critical looking discussion, Mithila art has such extraordinary patterns and there is no right or wrong way to do this.”
After the pattern is created, participants are asked to paint the background and border, and then proceed to paint the creatures and add details.
“Remember to rinse your brush in between colors to really help keep them vibrant,” Sixsmith said.