Imagine finding yourself painting en plein air in a landscape that is completely remote from the hustle of any city. It’s quiet, except for the wind, perhaps. Your only company is that of yaks or if you choose to acknowledge it as such, that of the snow-covered mountain peaks that break into the sky. Devdatta Padekar is one such artist, and today he shares his story with us.
I came to know of Devdatta’s work in The Artist’s Magazine’s Annual Art Competition several years ago and, fortunately for us, he has kept in touch. It’s an honor for me to bring you his work and his exciting experiences of traveling throughout a region that called to him, as it does to so many. Enjoy. ~Cherie
Symphony of Seasons by Devdatta Padekar (www.devdattapadekar.com)
My current series of paintings, Symphony of Seasons, is about the Alps and the Himalayas. I have been traveling and painting in various regions around these mountain ranges during different seasons for almost three years. The series is about the ever-changing atmosphere and magnificent environment of these majestic and mystical mountain ranges.
Inspiration and the Artistic Journey
From 2007 to 2009, while pursuing a painting series on ballet dancers at Florence Dance Center in Italy, I frequently flew to Florence at different times of the year. On clear-sky days, the aerial view of the Alps was mesmerizing. If the landscape was so beautiful from above it should be, I was certain, equally spectacular at ground level. I first traveled to the Swiss Alps in 2013 and, over the course of the next two years, I painted in different regions across Swiss, French, Italian, Austrian and German Alps at different times of the year.
I was equally fascinated with the world’s youngest mountain range: the Himalayas. The two mountain ranges have different flora, fauna and also diverse cultures. Just as I painted in the Alps, I then trekked across the Himalayas painting in different regions around Himalayan terrain; this journey of mine is still ongoing.
With vast areas devoid of human presence, serenity rules in both the Alps and the Himalaya. In both places, however, the impression of the landscape always seems to be fleeting. My aim was to try to capture the ephemeral moods of the Alps and Himalayas in my paintings. People who live in the mountains, I observed, love their environment and live in complete harmony with nature. That is the very essence of my paintings of the mountains–to admire, preserve and live in harmony with nature.
Pinpointing Places to Paint in the Alps and the Himalayas
I didn’t have any friends nor did I know anyone living in the Alpine regions or the Himalayas. Hence, in the beginning, I searched the Internet for places to visit. Often, on visiting these places I found they didn’t quite interest me; either the places were too commercialized or I simply didn’t find them inspiring to paint.
But the real start to my artistic journey was while traveling. By train, bus and boat, I came across stunning places from one Alpine destination to the next. These places fascinated me. They were often less traveled, at times completely remote. This led to paths where nature was at its best and spectacular. I noted these places on maps and came back to them to paint. Often I made day trips or if there happened to be lodging, I chose to stay near these stunning places. I could thus paint in these landscapes and be absorbed in their environments.
I traveled solo in all these different Alpine regions with the sole purpose to paint themes that challenged and inspired me to paint en plein air. Hence, I call it my artistic journey in the Alps and the Himalayas. My main intention was not to paint famous peaks or famous places frequented by tourists but rather to paint what caught my eye as an artist.
Landscape Painting Challenges of the Alps and Himalayas
The foremost challenge while painting on location was the rapidly changing atmosphere. Often the atmosphere would dramatically change halfway through the painting. My approach had to be very flexible and at times, direct.
When the atmosphere changed in midst of my painting session, I realized the change was equally beautiful to what I’d seen when I started my painting, so I made necessary adjustments to the work. Nature brings surprises that we often never imagine and I think that’s the most beautiful part of painting on location.
Let me cite an example of a painting titled Sun-break. It rained constantly the day I arrived in St. Moritz (Switzerland) and the following two days. Although I had already pinpointed subjects I wanted to paint I couldn’t begin due to the rain and almost zero visibility. The fourth day was highly overcast and since it at least wasn’t raining, I decided to paint outdoors. In the midst of the painting, occasional sun breaks created wonderful glowing light effects in the sky, on land and on water. It was so beautiful that I tried to add those light effects to my painting, attempting to retain the spontaneity and freedom through the application of paint. After this brief play of light, it again turned overcast and remained the same all through the day. As mentioned above, nature brings surprises; in this instance, fleeting movements of dramatic light effects in the sky, land and on water.
The other challenge was purity of colors. The colors observed in nature are so pure, fresh and vivid. Closer to the mountains this is even more so. We rely on commercially available oil paints, and initially it was hard to achieve on canvas what I was seeing in reality. I searched for the right shades of colors in numerous art shops until finally I gathered color shades closer to the colors I observed in the mountain ranges. The color palette differs not just with change of season but almost with each passing day that brings in different atmosphere and new color variations.
The third challenging aspect was trying to express in paintings the tranquility in the atmosphere. In both the mountain ranges that I painted, there was tranquility, a complete calmness. It was an experience difficult to express in words. My aim was to get closer to that experience and feeling through my paintings.
A perfect example is through the painting titled Tranquil (above). I did watercolour studies of this painting on location at Gurudongmar Lake. This lake is at 17,000 feet above sea level, very close to the border between India and China. Due to the military zone and harsh weather almost year-round, the traveler inflow is quite restricted and limited. But one could feel the tranquility in the air; I felt almost an elevated state of meditation. I think to achieve that feeling of tranquility in a painting is highly challenging and my aim, as mentioned above, was to get closer to that feeling I was experiencing in real life, through my paintings.
My observation: Painting the Alps and the Himalayas en Plein Air
My primary observation between both mountain ranges is the rich diversity of natural habitat with its distinct flora and fauna.
A Serene Day is about a typical summer day in the Swiss Alps. Except for snow laden mountain peaks, the entire environment is enveloped in different shades of green. Occasional light rain lends an even more luminous look to the landscape dotted with Swiss cows grazing down the mountain slopes. It’s a typical Swiss summer day, but with the passage of the season, soon the entire landscape will change into a different color palette.
The essence of A Serene Day III is a typical summer day in the Himalayas. Yaks graze nonchalantly on the cliffs of vulnerable Himalayan Mountains. Heavy torrents of rain each year cause frequent and major landslides, thus exposing the jagged rocks that become a part of the Himalayan landscape. Cows in Swiss Alps (and yaks in the Sikkimese belt of Himalayas) are an integral part of the environment of these respective regions. The flora (vegetation) is also different. I’ve tried to broadly define it through different shades of green pertaining to the vegetation of respective regions.
As both the Alps and Himalayan mountain ranges are spread across different countries, cultural identity plays a very strong role for inhabitants residing in these different mountain ranges. Cultural identity in the Alps differs from country to country but in the Himalayas, it differs from region to region.
As I painted the above landscape, it was a summer morning in St. Moritz and the start to a perfect day. Small boats, some private and some water taxis, are lined up on the shores of St. Moritz lake in summer. The essence of this landscape painting is to make the viewer become part of the environment. It’s as if the boats are all kept ready for the viewer to join in, by selecting any one and enjoying a beautiful ride on the lake on such a pleasant day as this. The lake is large and to show its vastness, I tried to exaggerate the angle of boats and the slight curve of the horizon so it creates a panoramic view depicting the expanse of the lake.
I observed all large lakes in the Alps are filled with boats, which aren’t just a means of transport but also a part of the cultural identity of people living in the Alps. In contrast, the Himalayan lakes are hardly seen with any boats.
A Perfect Day II (Sikkim, India) is in tune with the above painting titled A Perfect Day (St. Moritz), which has view of St. Moritz Lake and the Swiss Alps in the background. Similarly, A Perfect Day II has Tsongo Lake and the Himalayan range in the background. But in this landscape painting, yaks, adorned with colorful accessories, are seen in front of Tsongo Lake. Just like boats, in this painting yaks are not just means of transport but are a part of Sikkimese tradition and culture.
Visit Devdatta online at www.devdattapadekar.com.