V K CHERIAN
NEW DELHI : The Bronx based Harjeet Singh Sandhu import his raw materials, the coloured cut glasses for his mosaic art work from Japan and Italy. And it takes anything between six months to one year for him to finish a piece, which may be 6x 5 ft to be hanged in an exhibition, just like the portrait of Bhagat Singh,on display at AIFACS gallery last week in Delhi. “It took over six months for me to complete the portrait of Bhagat Singh, as on a daily basis I could add few inches of cut coloured glass to the emerging picture of the great martyr, which was the cynosure of the New Delhi exhibition”.
From a distance the Bhagat Singh Portrait looks like a painting, but a close view shows it is a mosaic art, that too with tiny coloured glass pieces. Not just the body of Bhagat Singh, he captures the charpoy and also the walls behind it in colours giving it a lively ambience. The Punjab Moga born Harjeet emerges as a true world class practitioner of the ancient art popularized by Romans. He has done mosaic art profiles of not just Bhagat Singh, but Mother Theresa, Michael Bloomberg , Baba Farid and US President Barack Obama to name a few.
He could display only two works in Delhi, as each one weights heavy to transported, since the glass and the holding structures add upto almost 100 kilos. The 74 year old Harjeet, a post graduate in arts from Hoshiarpur Arts College, is a resident of Borox in New York, but travels to India, his native Moga village in Punjab, almost every year with his art work and to be with his people..
“Mosaic, in art, decoration of a surface with designs made up of closely set, usually variously coloured, small pieces of material such as stone, mineral, glass, tile, or shell. Although mosaic is an art form that appears in widely separated places and at different times in history, in only one place—Byzantium—and at one time—4th to 14th centuries—did it rise to become the leading pictorial art.” Says the Britannica definition of this genre of art and there are very few who practices this genre in India.
Harjeet can easily be the top Indian artist who practices this genre of art in present times, as he has combined the rate art of combining the vision of artist with that of a master craftsman. “ I have to create these profiles of people of history with care by adding each pieces of square glasses one by one to create an entire face or the entire body of a great personality like Bhagat Singh”, he said. As this genre of art can sustain as a work of art for generations, he prefers to feature historic characters who contributed to humanity, be it Bhagat Singh or Mother Theresa.
Harjeet work on Mother Theresa was bought by a Delhi based art collector Ashok Jain for a whopping amount, as Mr. Jain got interested in the work which was displayed online. “I am your fan and your works particularly of Mother Theresa transformed my vision beyond any bargain”, Mr. Jain who bought the work for a amount of Rs 50 lakhs. He has priced his work of Bhagat Singh at Dollar 10,000, as it took almost 8 months for him to make it and says while transporting it to India with insurance and the transportation charge of it was a whopping Dollar 5000.The late Shaeed’s nephew was one of the important visitors to the exhibition at Delhi. Though Harjeet will go back to Bronx in April, he prefers to leave his work on Bhagat Singh in Delhi, as it is not only precious for India, it is heavy to transport. He has also done an image of Golden Temple with its accompanying reflections in the holy water around it.
The artist has been honoured by various institutions of Punjab, but it was his first exhibition in New Delhi under pressure from his friends on Moga. He was honoured by Nek Chand, the creator of Rock Garden of Chandigarh, in 2013 and has exhibited at Ditra Gallery at New York and An annual art Exhibition in Shimla, Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada. The five day exhibition of Harjeet AIFACS, New Delhi saw a steady stream of visitors in the last of March.
Harjeet is keen to work on installation work on the upcoming Central Vista building including new Parliament house and hope the authorities will invite him to do so. “I am based in New York, but I remain a Moga person”, says Harjeet but as he is new to power corridors of the capital one can only hope someone finds this rare artist who can scale up our concept of public art in India.
“He is so excited to work in mosaic that he reincarnated himself in the era of Byzantine and Christian. The brilliant colours, transparent brightness of gold are the unique features of his creations through which he achieved “liberation”…remarks Dr Saroj Chaman , the art Historian who officially introduces him at the AIFACS show. Whether, his public art mosaic art will be seen in India or not, Harjeet surely has entered annals of great mosaic artists of the world, with his work from New York. And that makes the Hoshiarpur trained “Masterji” , as he is fondly called by his batch mates and colleagues, proud product of Indian art.