‘Painting the mood of a music piece fascinates me’

WHO Fraser spends her time shuttling between Delhi and London. She has a Masters in Modern Languages from Oxford University. Fraser first moved to India in 1989, and was hooked by the traditional Indian miniature painting technique. Her works have been shown at the Grosvenor Gallery, London, and the Indian Art Summit, New Delhi, 2012. Her latest show was at the Nature Morte Gallery, New Delhi.

Olivia Fraser 47, Artist
Olivia Fraser 47, Artist

What is the one incident that changed or formed your artistic vision?
I am fascinated by how the 16th and 17th century Indian tradition of Ragamala painting translates music into art. Musical moods and modes are personified in pictorial miniature form. Colour, landscape, the weather, birds, animals, human figures and their accoutrements are all visual expressions of the mood of the musical piece. That is something I, too, would like to do.
Biggest influence?
The Garden and Cosmos exhibition at the British Museum in 2009, of the fantastic monumental miniatures commissioned by Maharaja Man Singh of Jodhpur in the early 19th century. Jodhpur artists created images for metaphysical concepts and yoga narratives, which had never been the focus of the region’s court art. Later I sorted out the originals in Jodhpur and saw them as they lay stored in boxes, just as they had been for two centuries. This was my first introduction to monumental miniature painting. I realised how miniature painting could be pared down and made abstract. That is when I decided to change the size of my works on paper.
For India, with love Holy Cow by Olivia Fraser
For India, with love Holy Cow by Olivia Fraser

Your ancestor, James Baillie Fraser, painted Indian architecture. How is your art similar and different?
When I first came to Delhi in 1989 I was carrying Mildred Archer and Toby Falk’s book The Passionate Quest, on the art and adventures of my forebears James and William Fraser in 1801-35. James Baillie Fraser painted a series of watercolours — later made into engravings — of the Himalayas and cityscapes of Kolkata. I decided to continue in his footsteps and paint Delhi’s monuments; something which James had intended but never got around to. But I was also intrigued by Patna’s 18th century Company School architectural elevations, which had a greater emphasis on detail, patterning and symmetry — my compositions were in effect more influenced by these.
Aradhna Wal is a Sub Editor with Tehelka.