The colours of an Artist

Ambica Gulati

Arpana Caur The colours of an Artist

Self-effacing and humble, Arpana Caur can take anyone by surprise. Artists oftentimes create an aura about themselves but Arpana lives by old-world ideas. A lady who spends months painting layer by layer, she is passionate about huge canvases and life-like portrayals of the world around her.

Clad in the traditional salwar and kurta, Arpana is a private person, and a sensitive one. ‘I am a morning artist,’ she says. ‘Every morning I paint and then the world ceases to exist. I become one with the canvas. I like that silence. But then I am one with everything around me.’ Influenced by daily events, Arpana likes to capture these in her oil paintings. Trees, monuments, upheavals in society, environmental issues, everything has found its way in her paintings.

When she started out on the journey of oil paintings, she was perhaps the only contemporary woman artist who dared to capture the plight, the socio-economic disparity and other important social issues on canvas. ‘I got an invitation from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum by the name of Mr. Arpana Caur on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing,’ she smiles. ‘I didn’t correct them as I saw all the others were male artists from other countries. Women artists have come a long way since then.’

The Centre of Life

Based at the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature in Siri Fort Institutional Area, New Delhi, Arpana says that the only place where she feels a sense of belonging is the capital. The red brick building serves many purposes. It houses a museum with a large collection of miniature paintings and tribal art. There is a vast library with books in all languages, which have been read and collected by her mother—Ajeet Cour, a Punjabi author, and Padma Shri awardee. There is also a school for the underprivileged, a computer center and vocational courses are imparted to young girls. Children from many slums come in the two buses that have been hired for a pick-up and drop.

On the ground floor is Arpana’s permanent collection. And on the first floor is her studio and home where she lives with her mother.

Though one can see all the artworks, none of Arpana’s awards are on display. There have been many accolades over the years: All India Fine Arts Society Award (1985), Commendation Certificate in Algiers Biennale, VI Triennale India Gold Medal for Painting (1986) to name a few. She was on the jury panel for National Exhibition (1989) and Republic Day Pageants (1990-2). In 1995, Arpana was commissioned by Hiroshima Museum to execute a large work for its permanent collection on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Holocaust. She has also been on the Advisory Committee of the National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi (NGMA), Lalit Kala Akademi and Sahitya Kala Parishad (2001). She was the curator for the 1986 ‘Woman Artist Exhibition’ for the Festival of India held in the USSR.

‘My mother has done more work for society. She is the one to whom goes the entire credit for this academy,’ Arpana emphasizes. Greatly influenced by her mother, Arpana feels that her mother’s constant support is the reason for her success.

The Beginning

From being a painfully shy child to one of India’s most acclaimed artists, Arpana doesn’t like delving into private details. She wants to express herself and her sensitivity through her art. And this can be seen in the huge canvases that grace the walls in the academy, in museums and in private collections across the world. Her works have found their way into the Museum of Modern Art in Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Dusseldorf, Singapore, Bradford, Stockholm, Hiroshima, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, Peabody Boston, Asian Art Museum San Francisco and Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Ambica Gulati
Armed with an experience of two decades in journalism, Ambica Gulati is a storyteller. She loves meeting people, exploring places and is turning into a photo geek. She has been part of an eminent coffee table book 100 Legal Luminaries of India, worked in magazines (Life Positive, Swagat, Outlook Traveller), written on food, culture wellness and more, and is bored when stationed in one place for too long. Follow her on