In a Mandala of Peace
It was the perfect ambience as willed by Prof. O.P.Sharma the artist. Seated on stage in the spatial beauty of Gallery Zen, the surbahar in hand and surrounded with his paintings on display. It had been his will to perform amidst his works. Engrossed in Drawing out the intricacies of his surbahar, O.P Sharma began with the mellifluous notes of raga jhin-jhoti and moved on to the melancholy of raga shivranjini. The sound of music merged into space creating a mandala of peace within the artist soul whilst the diffused electric light and candle light flickering in a row added to the magic of the evening.
Exhibiting his paintings for the first time in Bangalore, a retrospective of four decades, 1958 to 1998, his works exude his philosophy and passion to live life to the fullest. Colours blend into each other softly creating new meanings and drawing the on looker into the artist’s soul . Kashmir Trees, Carnivorous Moon, Melody in Blue, Garden, Octave, the Cloud, Mandala Bhoomi, Mandala Morning Garden, Shakti, Gateways, City Scape. The enormity of his works ignites and engulfs the viewer ‘s emotions. A dynamic painter, he’s had a compulsive show each year for the past 40 years and traversed the romantic and the spiritual through the realistic to semi abstract to geometrical abstraction and neo-tantra phase.
Living in the serenity of his home at Bharati artist colony, Delhi, the mandala of Prof.. O P Sharma fuses a confluence of the teacher, artist, philosopher and music lover in him. Projecting a sustained fervor for art, Prof. Sharma visibly enjoys soaking in the colours of life’s demands his paintings.
Even as a child he had vision that caught his fancy. His first painting was of shiva made with wheat grains soaked in the colours of ‘Holi’. Confined to bed due to illness, during his early childhood, these images were the only thing that he lived with. The blessings of a fakir changed his name from Om Prakash Vashisht to Om Prakash Sharma improving his health but the visions continued to pursue his mind. Mysterious in the nature of their sources, they appeared constantly and strengthened his passion to choose art as his profession. A choice that prompted him run away at the age seventeen from the education of his parent’s home to Delhi art school where he taught through the day and continued his professional training during evening. For OP the options remains an amazing decision to him, even today.
“If I think about the conservative lower middle class railway employee family I was born to, with no hope, support or creative ambience, I wonder at my own resolution . Although I was offered a job in the Indian Army , I refused and every body thought I was crazy In fact my family was so alarmed that they got me married at the age of eighteen.
If the art empowered Om Prakash with creative self expression , music has been his constant inspiration from the day he set his eyes on a sitar. It was his first job as an art teacher , in 1956 at a public school, while walking around in search of the art room he opened the door to the music room instead and saw the sitar. That moment he decided to learn the instrument . “Music helps me create a vibration in the selection of colours. It is subjective and dedicated by own conscious. My association with music has had a big contribution in creating a particular expression through colour. For OP, “ art is not an exclusive item sitting on a pedestal having no relation to other fields of creativity. In Indian culture all arts have been homogenous for centuries.”
Both Art and Music for Omprakash have occupied his mind from early years. If pictures of religious gods at home and cinematic visuals stimulated the artist in him, the songs at temples and festivals captivated his love for music. A passion that developed through the years and culminated into a distinct style that grew from the artist’s inquiry into a unique approach which could be called his very own. As he states, ‘the arithmetic of my paintings is more musical than anything else. I have constantly tried to see by music and hear by my paintings.
From child hood his aspiration was to be the best but he realized when he went to America and Europe in 1964 that there was nothing unexplored in terms of portraiture, landscape, or composition. he traveled alone, city-to-city, museum-to-museum and gallery-to-gallery devouring art. and when he returned to India, O.P.Sharma realized that it is not mere excellence that counted but uniqueness. So in his search for individuality he struggled with ideas, paints, sketches and finally in the late sixties derived an identity that was to be his own. An exclusivity that harbored and borrowed from tantric images but did not imitate or abide strictly by the ritual aspects and conventional iconography.
The theory of the mandala fascinated his creativity to absorb the countless experiences of life, and nature around him. The mandala for O.P.Sharma created a world of its own that culminated the physical, emotional and spiritual levels. It was an all-encompassing space that radiated with the energies of the self. Having evolved his own symbolism, he clarifies, “I’m not 2,500 years old to refer to the tradition but live in this world of today. I have never really cared about following a formula. Today as an internationally well known ‘selling’ artist the greatest attribute to his childhood resolution and aspiration to be the best is the fact that he retired as Principal and Director of the Delhi College of Art . the same college he had joined as a student. OP feels artists should be encouraged in all ‘departments and areas of social strata’. Even if the concept of art is challenged by the IT industry. OP Sharma is supremely confident that nothing can replace a personal, intimate visual expression of the artist. “The contact of an artist’s creativity through his finger to the canvas, nothing can challenge or achieve that’. Adding to his achievements, the release of his book, Om Prakash-Forty Years-1958 to 1998 culminated his commitment as an artist. Focusing on art he says, relativity is not a confining factor where consciousness is reduced to an item but an expansion of creative consciousness.
The spirit of artistic adventure had constantly engaged Om Prakash while tackling his canvas, constant travel to other countries, meeting people and seeing places. But today he would rather opt for a ‘Chilla’. A custom adopted by older musicians when they did not go out of their home or receive anybody for a specific time period. Sometimes a custom followed by OP when he decides to work at his studio for two weeks to twenty days at a stretch. A time that teaches him to enjoy being alone with one’s self. A time where the value of solitude turns into creative bliss. As OP reminisces, “I tell my students and friends that only when you are able to evaluate the intensity of the value of being creative and meditative, you can confront life passionately.”
For Prof O.P.Sharma, at 69 years, the visions continue unabated, pressurizing him to render painting after painting but the mandala of his life glows with content. Retirement from college duties and a well settled family has enabled him to concentrate in quietude on the bindu of his sadhana, music and art.
Pramila Lochan – Sunday Herald, Bangaluru, July 22, 2001