Speaking to us from London on the eve of LCW, Darshana says her father has been her inspiration throughout her life. “I find that his work is spontaneous while being very meticulous. I admire the versatility of his style, especially his abstract and surreal paintings. He always had a story or an idea to share through his art, ”she explains. “Technically his brushstroke is stunning and his use of color, while bold, is still earthy and calming. The use of negative space or manipulation of the background in his compositions is well regarded. One of Babuji’s quirks was that he inserted a small self-portrait into most of his paintings as a form of personal signature, perhaps to remind viewers that the artist was an observer but also one who was being watched. “Little touches like these in her work always delight me,” laughs the proud girl. Her father’s original paintings are no longer available for purchase, but, as she points out, “I could give them away through scarves”.
The Gandhian connection
A lesser-known contemporary of MF Husain, Tyeb Mehta and other post-independence artists, Babuji Rajendra Shilpi was a multidisciplinary man whose wide range of interests spanned textiles, furniture design, architecture, jewelry and even l ‘crafts such as making toys. As Honorary Director of the Educational Toy Center of the All India Handicraft Board (circa 1958-1964), he developed concepts and designs for toys as a learning aid. He went on to run one of India’s most successful toy factories. “As a young man he participated in Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom movement,” informs Darshana’s mother, Hemlata Shilpi, who is also an artist and was one of the few Indian women to study fine art at the Boston University in the mid-1950s. “Many of his paintings documented events or envisioned this struggle for independence. One of them is still hanging from Mani Bhavan (the former residence of Mahatma Gandhi in Bombay, now a museum). He was secretly distributing hand-painted separatist leaflets with cartoons and narrowly escaped arrest.