Kavita Issar Batra

Exhibition Catalogue 2015

hen I first met Kavita Issar Batra several years back, it was a pleasant introduction
to a serious, genteel person who was delighted to learn new things and who was tuned to a finer
sensibility. I learned, when she kindly agreed to lead a community art afternoon, that she loved colour
and texture, and that she made art with intensity. She soon introduced me to her art-making, and
we spent a fulfilling morning sitting in a balcony surrounded by leaves and birds, paint and paintings
in various forms and stages of production. Then the paintings had grown out of a variety of stimuli
– religion, the natural environment, and human sufferings that she had empathy with. From what I
saw, the paintings were Kavita’s way of working through her experiences, where she had abstracted
thoughts and emotions into textural and coloured compositions.

Gallery

This first solo exhibition “Of Time, the Elements, and Their Essence” consists mainly of two series
of paintings, “Heaven’s Embroidered Cloths” and “Urban Woods”. The earlier series “Heaven’s
Embroidered Cloths” are paintings made from a wide variety of responses, joined in a series not
so much by theme as by attitude. It is an attitude that is sensitive and reverent, that considers
things often taken for granted or what “we simply fail to see”. The paintings “Gold and Silver Lights”,
“China Rose” (both 2014), and “The Gilded Firmament” (2015) celebrate things often un-noticed
in nature; the colours of the sky and the flaming red of hibiscus flowers. A little different in attitude
are “Blue Remembrance 1” and “Blue Remembrance 2”, which dwell on the pathos of the tragic
flight MH370 in 2014. The deep sadness of this event is painted in cobalt and aquamarine blues,
as if delving to discover what was lost in the murky ocean.

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The series of paintings for “Urban Woods” grew out of many morning walks, looking at and picking
up bits and pieces of nature. The act of collecting things, whether natural or manufactured, was a first
step in Kavita’s process of gathering information. It became almost habitual that she would pick stuff
from the streets and paths she wandered along each morning, photograph these in situ or bring home
to make a pile of “detritus” (her term, not mine). These compositions became studies of textures, form
and the colours of decay and life; they are compilations of the natural world in minutae. Kavita writes,
“The bits of bark, leaves, twigs, roots, shoots and flowers I am drawn to on the sidewalks are talismen
of hope. They mirror colour, patterns and textures seen in the wider macrocosm providing inspiration
for our inventions.” In transmitting these studies into paintings, Kavita has been able to separate
essence and thought, leaving behind any literal marks of the weird and wonderful collage of dying/
decaying material she collected.
“Anchored” and “The Road Not Taken” (this one remembers the delicate poem by Robert Frost)
are paintings that exhibit the typical sensibility and depth of thought and emotion of Kavita’s work.
“Remembrance – Victoria Park” (2014-15) which comprises two paintings also mirror the sense
of life passing; the ambiguity of being and passing through one’s life. Kavita has been unstinting
in her making of artwork, and there are many paintings in this exhibition. It would be worthwhile
to pick more than a few and to ponder on these.

Seah Tzi-Yan
September 2015
Seah Tzi-Yan, Director T.H.E.O. Arts Professionals PL
Seah Tzi-Yan curates, writes and makes programmes for the visual arts.

1

He wishes for the cloths of heaven
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Embroidered
Cloths
This series consists of works completed between 2012 – 2015.
The title is taken from a poem by the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats.
My work has a strong grounding in my immediate surroundings. Over
the past few years I find myself increasingly drawn by the textures, colours,
patterns and echoes in the debris and detritus around us. Things we usually
take for granted or simply fail to see. The paintings are abstractions of, or
informed by, these fragments and the physical, emotional and philosophical
journeys they initiate. Process is very important.
Living in an increasingly urbanised setting, concrete and glass jungles
overtaking the tropical rainforest; there is an urgency to reconnect with what
remains of the natural, almost plugging in to recharge our aliveness’
In the poem, Yeats too, is awestruck by the glory and vastness of the
natural world. When he eulogizes about heaven’s embroidered cloths, I see
these in the petal of a flower, the patterning of a leaf, the roots that bind and
grasp and the textures of bark. The colours in the painting ‘Fiery Firmament’
for example are taken from studying various flowers like the Hibiscus, the
Coral tree, frangipanis, and tree bark and these develop into its playful yet
deep, colour-filled almost introspective demeanor. Starting from these humble
beginnings the artworks seem to dance and resound into the cosmos and
beyond. As William Blake so aptly put it –

Enwrought with the golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
– W.B. Yeats

To see a world in a grain of sand
and heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palms of your
hand and eternity in an hour.
– W. Blake

3

Orchestra 2014 – Heavens’ embroidered cloths 5
60cm x 60cm each, triptych 2014, mixed media on plywood base edged with wood

Have you been an unsuspecting witness to the explosion of the rubber seedpod bursting open?

Orchestra 2014 – Heavens’ embroidered cloths 3 an 4
60cm x 60cm each, triptych 2014, mixed media on plywood base edged with wood

I have. It makes a loud ‘pop’ like a party popper or a champagne cork; the seeds ricochet, propelled
by an urge to find fertile soil and take root. The excitement is infectious and I tried to capture this
moment in two of these panels. I tried to give expression to the compulsion with which each seed tries
to fulfill its destiny of ensuring the continuation of its species. The result is almost space like, another
solar system perhaps in another universe where other beings are also trying to survive. The third
piece is inspired by the energy and lyricism in the birds’ nest ferns as they dry and drop off. There is
something cosmic about the energy of this tying it with the first two to form a triptych.
5

‘Fiery Firmament’ (red) 2013 – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 1
100cm x 100cm, mounted plywood, mixed media

‘Fiery Firmament’ (The dark) 2013 – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 2
100cm x 100cm, mounted plywood, mixed media

7

Red petal study 2014 – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 6
27cm x 31cm unframed (43cm x 49cm framed), mounted plywood, teak frame, mixed media

Fiery Firmament 3 – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 7
30cm x 45cm unframed (57cm x 77cm framed) mounted plywood, teak frame, mixed media

Small personal studies of the ‘largeness’ of very small, often ignored petals of flowers. We often
only notice tiny flowers when they bloom all at once in large numbers, blanketing trees in brilliant
colour. I tried to engage with the effervescence, the ‘joi de vivre’ and energy with which they live
their short lives.

The flowers I come across are technically no longer connected to a life source; you can almost watch
the process of dying, as the colour leaches and the freshness fades; leaving a limp carcass. If the
air is dry, or the sun strong, they are air-dried into little sculptures. Dead, dying but still living in the
montages and in memory and so ‘Amaranthine’.

9

‘The Blue’ (2012–13) – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 8
46cm x 90cm unframed (62cm x 109cm), mounted plywood, teak frame, mixed media

‘The Blue and Gold’ (2012–13) – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 9
50cm x 100cm unframed (71cm x 124cm), mounted plywood, teak frame, mixed media

11

Blue Remembrance 1 (2014) – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 10
51cm x 76cm unframed (framed 75.5 x 97.5), canvas board mounted, teak frame, mixed media

Blue Remembrance 2 (2014) – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 11
51cm x 76cm unframed (framed 75.5 x 97.5), canvas board mounted, teak frame, mixed media

March 8th, 2014, MH370 with 239 people on board literally vanished ‘into thin air’. That this is possible
in today’s technologically connected world shook me. On one level it is reassuring that surveillance
cameras haven’t reached everywhere and you can ‘disappear’ should you so choose. However, this
was not of the passengers and crews own choice; it was imposed on them and therein lies the horror.
Searching over the vast expanse of the ocean and land; the impossibility of the task and yet the
collective need across the world to be able to explain the mystery held my attention.

The blue vastness of the sea, the sky, mountainous terrain - the veins and crackles in the detritus
collected transformed into these. In some African cultures to get closure when a person disappears,
they bury the fruit of the Kigelia africana ‘sausage tree’. These paintings are my tribute to those
missing on MH370, my prayer for peace for the missing and those left with the ache of missing and
unanswered questions.

13

Light and half light 2015 – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 12
61cm x 152cm mounted canvas, mixed media

Of leaves and seed 1 (2015) – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 13
61cm x 152cm mounted canvas, mixed media

15

Refuge (2015) – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 14
122cm x 91cm mounted canvas, mixed media

In these few works, I experimented with using my approach of layering, building up and erasing,
on canvas instead of on the more robust plywood; proved interesting, requiring a lighter hand.
I found myself working more directly with the shapes and textures of the detritus. Most times, I start
off without a fully formed idea of what I wish to achieve in an artwork, preferring to allow it to reveal
itself as it progresses.
‘Refuge’ was ‘in process’ at the time of the Nepal earthquake and later realised I had unconsciously
included shapes of buildings. An underlying hope of refuge for those affected.

Midnight Colocasia (2015) – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 15
122cm x 91cm mounted canvas, mixed media

17

Golden light – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 16
61cm x 152cm mounted canvas, mixed media

The Gilded Firmament 2015 – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 17
60cm x 90cm mounted plywood, mixed media

19

Sundance – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 18
92cm x 122cm mounted plywood, mixed media

Firebrand – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 19
61cm x 91.5cm mounted canvas, mixed media

21

China Rose 2014 – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 20
60cm x 60cm, plywood edged, mixed media

Gold and Silver lights – Heavens’ Embroidered Cloths 21
60cm x 60cm, mounted plywood, mixed media

I could spend many years and never really be able to capture the sensuousness, the boldness and
the fragility of the hibiscus flower. It doesn’t interest me to draw and paint a flower to look like
one I am drawn to breathing life and lyricism into it. What would be the point of trying to perfect
perfection? I can only humbly seek to express my fascination and emotional response.

This started off as a study on the movement of petals then took on the mantle of a tempestuous
mindscape or a cloudy moonlit seascape. The open vista, the plunge into possibly cold, dark, depths.
So calming, the surrender.
23

Urban Forest Series
(2013- 15)
The saving grace of all urban landscapes has to be the pockets of greenery
dotted around, breaking up the monotony of concrete, glass and steel.
Reminders of the natural world, we have ravaged in the name of progress.
Pockets that though sparse continue to be the lungs for our cities and this
awareness perhaps key in their survival.
In Singapore, there is a definite sense of the flora being kept at bay to make
way for the glass and concrete of the roads and buildings. Yet precisely this
sense of imminent takeover offers hope that in our ignorance and quest to
dominate the earth we have not defeated nature. The bits of bark, leaves,
twigs, roots, shoots and flowers I am drawn to on the sidewalks are talismen
of hope. They mirror colour, patterns and textures seen in the wider
macrocosm providing inspiration for our inventions.
A number of pieces in this series find their origins in the patterns and
textures of tree bark fragments, others begin from floral patterns, roots etc.
Using processes that mimic nature in building up layers over time, erasing
some, subjecting them to the elements like wind and water they transform
and become abstract entities.

25

Fragments 2014 – Urban Woods series
50cm x 50cm unframed (72cm x 74cm framed), mounted plywood, teak frame, mixed media

Lost continents 2014 – Urban Woods series
122cm x 122cm unframed, mounted plywood, mixed media

A woody texture and an almost tribal feel to these pieces. The timelessness of trees secreted in their
bark juxtaposed against the effervescence of the Tabebuia Rose and other similarly frilled and shortlived flowers. These bits of bark and flower responding to the elements and time. Abstracted, they
take on macro dimensions suggesting whole continents and the cosmos.
27

Incandescent (2015) – Urban Woods series
60cm x 60cm, canvas mounted on plywood, mixed media

‘Amaranthine’ 2015 – Urban Woods Series
60cm x 60cm, canvas mounted on plywood, mixed media

This piece was inspired by the elongated inflorescence of certain palm flowers, golden chain tree
flowers and laburnum flowers. It was painted in the season when the trumpet tree flowers and Rose
of India flowers blanketed the trees on the sidewalks lending the stain of their colours to my palette.

The flowers I come across are technically no longer connected to a life source and you can almost
watch the process of dying as the colour leaches and the freshness fades often leaving a limp carcass
or if the air is dry or the sun strong they are air-dried into little sculptures. Dead, dying but still living
in the montages and in memory and so ‘Amaranthine’.

29

Renewal 2014 – Urban Woods Series
60cm x 60cm, plywood edged, mixed media

Effervescence 2013 – Urban Woods Series
61.5cm x 91.5cm, mounted plywood edged, mixed media

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Opposite page, clockwise:

This page:

Of stamens and petals 2014/15 –
Urban Woods Series
30cm x 45cm unframed (47cm x 65cm framed),
mounted plywood, teak frame, mixed media

Viridian depths 2015 – Urban Woods Series
30cm x 45cm unframed (47cm x 65cm framed),
mounted plywood, teak frame, mixed media

Breakers 2014 – Urban Woods series
30cm X 45cm unframed (47cm x 65cm framed),
mounted plywood, teak frame, mixed media
Shadows 2014 – Urban Woods
32cm x 46cm Unframed (48cm x 64cm framed),
mounted plywood, teak frame, mixed media
Cityscape 2015 – Urban Woods Series
30cm x 45cm unframed (47cm x 65cm framed),
mounted plywood, teak frame, mixed media

Textures and patterns of bark have fascinated me
for years now and find their way into my work. These
studies start from bits of bark. They are small as they
all contain a sense of the urban environment these
trees, and we, are dwarfed by.

33

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

This piece is a deeply personal one. It seems to mirror my mind in many ways. We are pulled into the
dark of the unknown yet it is peaceful rather than menacing. There is a sense of pathways. I often find
poetry expresses the emotions and mood I try to convey through my artwork. Robert Frost’s ‘The Road
not Taken’, expresses beautifully something of the journey I find myself on, the musing over choices
made and those that present themselves. I share the poem for your perusal.

The Road not Taken 2015 – Urban Woods Series
60cm x 60cm unframed (82cm x 84cm framed), plywood framed in stained teak, mixed media

35

Falling into you 2014 – Urban Woods Series
35cm x 61cm unframed (90cm x 83 cm framed), mixed media

Anchored 2015 – Urban Woods series
60cm x 60cm unframed (82 x 84cm framed), mixed media on plywood framed in teak
‘Anchored’ 2015 is inspired by roots reaching out anchoring life, there is a certain subterranean
feel to this piece, a searching contemplation. It carries aspirations of anchoring oneself, the
family and community
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Raag Vibhas in Blue 2015
80cm x 80cm, mounted plywood, mixed media

This year saw the coming together of fusion music and my expression of it in paint.
A collaboration with two very talented musicians, exploring how we communicate through the
instruments we choose to express ourselves through - voice in the Hindustani Classical tradition,
the primal digeridoo and paint.
These two paintings are visual expressions to the mood evoked by two morning Ragas,
Lalit and Vibhag.

Raag Lalit 2015
100cm x 100cm, mounted plywood, mixed media

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Kavita Issar Batra
Balcony Brushstrokes Studio
Address: 43 Coronation Drive, Singapore 269 597
Phone:
+65 96696 9905
Hanphone: +65 9026 7323
Email: kavita@arjunbatra.com
Facebook: Morning Walk Montage Series
Website: www.balconybrushstrokes.com

Remembrance Victoria Park 2014–15
38cm x 76cm x 7.5cm each, mounted canvas, mixed media

An oasis of green, an expanse of ground, a cemetery, a village of trees – a micro-kingdom, a thriving
eco-system, home to throngs of vociferous cicadas and birds. The tree with outstretched branches,
the tyre and rope swings. Waiting underneath for the early morning school bus, standing opposite to
drink in the green waiting to collect off the returning school bus; walking past setting out for a walk,
walking past on the way back; driving past innumerable times to and from home; now a building site
leaching yellow mud in the rains. Soon to be ‘dream homes’ for humans having evicted the original
inhabitants. Improved quality of life they say? Remembrance and leaching of yellow mud tears when
it rains.

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