Artist entrepreneur Simran Lamba’s experiments with tar


Delhi-based Simran Lamba defies an easy classification. An avid short film maker, theatre person, creative writer, and television director, he is now making waves with his art works in coal tar. What he would like to call himself, though, is an entrepreneur with “a fresh insight on existing variables, willing to take up the challenge of seamlessly assimilating a vision with the said variables and generating a completely different perspective.” Art, indeed, itself allows the propagation of multiple viewpoints, and this was evident from his recent exhibition titled Nouveau. Held in August at Visual Arts Gallery in New Delhi, the show comprised of sculptural installations in a medium rarely explored before. A simple renovation of his house in 2006 introduced him to coal tar and combining it with a variety of solid and liquid metals on canvas and other bases, he has created a body of work in the last decade that has also been exhibited at venues like Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai, ITC Sonar in Kolkata, and Sublime Art Gallery, Bengaluru.

A chance encounter

Art happened to Simran by chance. He had a background in theater and filmmaking and was renovating his house when he first came across coal tar while waterproofing the terrace. “I was extremely enamored by this pot of boiling hot tar, which was constantly changing shape and out of curiosity, I thought that I must start exploring the medium. What resulted is an ongoing journey of new manifestations and ideas that continue to evolve,” says the 32 year old.

Tar as medium of expression is extremely difficult to manipulate. Besides hands-on experience with temperature control, one needs a good degree of physical prowess, detailed insight, and excellent infrastructure owing to the intrinsic qualities of some of the media used. One of the biggest challenges, Simran recalls, was mastering the art of getting tar to react and form the way he wanted. “But I just couldn’t give up. It had to be a venture that succeeded. I have been using tar as my primary medium for a decade now, and I have now overcome all its latent limitations through a physical hands-on experimental approach, wherein I've learned to manipulate the medium through several ingenious methods, treatments, and customised infrastructure. With anything new, the trick is to persevere.”

For his latest art outing in August this year, Simran had created a variety of mixed-media artwork on canvas, metal, and wood, with tar being the primary medium. From animals, flamingos and windows adorned with copper wire and metal sheets to abstract landscape and portraits, from scenes of valour and firecrackers to images that represent a tranquil calm, each work is layered with diverse media and eventually metamorphoses completely as tar blends in with copper, wax, liquid metals, aluminum, metal gauge, and sheets and bolts.

Yet, Simran feels he is yet to completely harness tar’s latent potential. “My next body of work seeks to highlight the translucency of tar which is innately dark, opaque and dense, coupled with questions that revolve around constructs of physical tactility and time as an agent of decay.”

Early beginner

The leaning towards art was from his childhood years. From making customary season greetings cards to working on pieces for the annual art display in school, he used to do it all. He was always the one to come with artistic ideas, both at Sherwood College, Nainital and Bishop Cotton School, Shimla, where he spent his formative years. One of his paintings titled ‘My Friends’ which he had made in school was selected by the UNESCO to be printed on the year end season greeting cards. “Theatre, as a space, was something my parents encouraged me to follow passionately and I progressed onwards from school to heading the Dramatics Society in Hindu College and winning numerous accolades for my work on stage.” These were the years when Simran learnt to experiment with ideas, without the fear of criticism and censure and it is this sense of free flowing expression that he now seeks to give form to through his artwork and sculptures. “My mother, Mona Lamba is an established fashion designer and I credit my ability to see things differently totally to her,” he says.

Natural filmmaker

Simran was a filmmaker before he discovered tar, primarily focusing on independent short films. Around 2004–2005, he was working as creative director with television houses like Balaji and Cinevista after graduating from Xavier Institute of Communications (XIC) in Mumbai. He was the associate creative director of TV serials like Dil Mil Gaye and Pyaar Vyaar and also worked on a Bollywood production in the casting department.

“I was tired of the assembly line products that were being churned out there. I knew if I had to sustain my creativity, I had to make my own films.” His films focus on protagonists who are dealing with the exploration of their immediate surroundings and space, and how the spaces they inhabit in turn affect them as individuals. This concept was overtly celebrated in ‘My Nicotine and Saah’ (Breath) was about the final moments of a dying woman. ‘A Love Song’ was homage to Elliot’s poetry and sought to reconstruct some subliminal imagery in a contemporary context.

‘My Nicotine’ was screened at the Cape Town World Film Festival’05; ISFFA’05, Bulgaria and FLEXIFF’O5, Australia. WB-04 C-5542 was nominated for the Tiscali Short Film Festival Award’06 in Italy and screened at Anti-Matter International Film Festival’06, Canada; FLEXIFF’06, Australia and DIFF’06, Ireland. Saah was the official selection at the Darklight International Film Festival’06, Ireland; IFCT’06, USA and Kolkata International Film Festival’06.

Scripted for success

Simran is currently scripting and developing a video art film that revolves around an octogenarian, Partition-ravaged freedom fighter and his immediate surroundings. This is a tale based on his grandfather’s life, but seen through the realities of contemporary times.

In the world of art as well, Simran’s work has been much appreciated. He was commissioned to create an art installation titled ‘Unison’ by the Taj Hotel Group for their Gurgaon-based Vivanta, marking their 100th hotel in the country. ‘Devi’ is another commissioned installation for Taj Gateway Hotel in Kolkata that he completed. “I am now taking ‘Nouveau’ to ITC Sonar, Kolkata from September 24. I am grateful for this appreciation,” he says, stressing on the fact that selling art is always secondary for him. “Commercial consideration is never my concern. I have focused on my work and the response has been extremely good. Or else, I wouldn’t have been able to sustain myself, having taken the risk of giving up on a secure career with television. I know my work belongs to a niche and separate market and my only expectation is that my content is worthy of the money it makes.”

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory)


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