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February 21, 2019

Art: Drishti Chawla’s bold animal portraits and more


Visual artist Drishti Chawla was born and raised in Mumbai, India. But since moving to Kenya in 2015, she has found new inspiration in nature and wildlife. 

A selection of her work is on display at the Nairobi National Museum in an exhibition called Amalgamation, which runs until the end of July. It is a collection of her various figurative and abstract art. 

There are large acrylic paintings of wildlife, which have become Chawla’s signature themes since Kenya became her new home after she got married. They demonstrate her strong talent in realism portraits, with the animals’ physical features shown with amazing precision. But interesting as well are the backgrounds, painted in bold unusual colours that bring an abstract feel to the illustration. 

Masai Mara I is the face portrait of an elephant chewing on grass, the wrinkles of its face and trunk captured with incredible detail. The elephant looks calm but set against an orange-red backdrop, there is an underlying energy and evocative feeling of sunsets in the wilderness. Another painting has three cheetahs seated in a poised manner, their unusual blue eyes matching the cool sapphire background. 

Samburu III shows a lifelike water buck, its dark brown body framed in bright green. “Rather than recreating a landscape, I aim to express its essence and spirit by adding my own interpretation,” says Chawla, who meditates and chants before starting a piece. Sometimes the background colour filters into the animal, such as the red streaks on the elephant’s trunk. Chawla says it is her way of showing coexistence in nature. 

More focused detail is seen in a series of paintings called Eyes, which are small illustrations of the eye of a zebra or leopard. A sense of aliveness and tranquillity are conveyed in the liquid orbs. 

Chawla, 34, studied commercial art and photography at Sophia Polytechnic in India and worked in the advertising industry for a few years before realising that her real interest lay in fine art. Over the years, she has honed her skills and makes sure to always travel with a camera and record different scenes that will inform her future art.

Doors is a set of abstract paintings of diverse architecture that Chawla has observed across the world. One of the first in this series was a drawing of a Lamu door. “When I do the doors, I add a lot of texture and character to it,” Chawla said.  

On display is Door II, showing a bright red door knocker on grey door that opens to vivid green foliage. The contrast of colours, the tactile quality of the door and the inviting outdoors make this simple painting subtly appealing.  

Another theme is the city of Praha (or Prague) in the Czech Republic that Chawla visited in 2016. The painting Praha I shows a charming river scene at night. Warm and bright lights shine on the water under a bridge framed by old buildings and pointed spires beneath a deep blue sky.

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