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March 18, 2005

A modern master of sumptuous Indian miniatures

From: Seattle Times - Mar 18, 2005

By Sheila Farr
Seattle Times art critic

A full moon slips among turbulent clouds while a languorous woman swoons in the arms of her courtly lover. It's a romantic moment that traditional Indian painters have treated thousands of times and one that for Ajay Garg of Rajasthan, India, is still full of promise.

A selection of Garg's recent paintings hangs upstairs at Davidson Galleries, guaranteed to amaze with their exquisite technique and mouthwatering color. Garg, 37, practices the ornate painting method brought from Persia by 16th-century Muslim invaders into India, where it evolved into distinctive local styles. From gold-tinged representations of life at the Mughal court to illustrations of Hindu religious stories, the classical paintings reflect the particular styles of master painters and regional schools.

Garg's work is subtly different. He paints with the age-old skills and materials, using single hair brushes to create detail so fine you need a magnifying glass to fully appreciate it. Sometimes Garg uses vintage paper to enhance the sense of antiquity stirred by traditional subject matter. But Garg blends elements from diverse styles and regions into images that can be unsettling in their modernity. For example, he sometimes steers away from stock subjects like godly lovers, royalty and court rituals to portray ordinary scenes from the lives of gypsies or craftsmen.

Two pictures of elephants — typical fare in Mughal art — stand out for their sheer virtuosity. Garg composed the mythological elephants, each carrying a sedan chair with a royal inhabitant, as mosaics of other creatures: amalgams of tigers, snakes, fish, what have you, twined together within the form of an elephant. The paint is built up so cunningly that the swarm of individual creatures seem to be individually embossed on the page. For Garg, who is deaf but possessed of exceptional vision, such imagery is a tour de force of the painter's art.

Sheila Farr:

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