Prem Singh was born on 15 April 1943 in Patiala, Punjab. He studied at the Government College of Art, Chandigarh, from 1962 to 1967. He has held 25 solo shows and participated in many important national and international art exhibitions. A recipient of the Lalit Kala Akademi Triennale India International Award in 1994, he has been honoured by many State Akademi and cultural institutions in recognition of his contribution to art. His works are in the permanent collection of many museums and art galleries in India and abroad. He currently resides and works in his studio at Kaladham, Greater Noida (Delhi NCR).
Art for me is a vehicle to cycle my feelings, emotions, ideas and thoughts into a visual voice. – Prem Singh
1. When did you decide and what prompted you to become an artist? Please give a brief account of your challenges and struggles in your journey as an artist. Any role models?
PS: I was born at Patiala in British India and brought up in a joint family headed by my great grandfather Kaur Singh. Living together was a great learning experience. Men, women and children of different classes and castes lived in our street and had great feeling and concern for each other. It is in the company of elders that I learnt many things – most importantly, how to be a good human being.
Festivals and fairs were a common heritage and celebrated together. Sanjhi Mai, Dassehra, Diwali, Lohri and Holi were a source of great delight for us, the children.
As I was growing up in the streets of Patiala in the late 1940s and early 1950s, my friends had started telling me that there was an artist in me! Whenever and wherever we played, my friends would invariably ask me to draw the diagrams for the games. The word about my drawing skills spread among the neighbours. During fairs and festivals I was often asked to draw 'hoi' or other decorations. Though my parents were happy at my new-found celebrity status, in private they always scolded me that this was at the cost of my studies.
The festivals and celebrations stimulated me enough to express myself through the language of line, form and colour. It was a collective activity in which one learnt a lot from each other irrespective of age, sex or religion. Such activities were in a way reinforcing in me the presence of an artist.
Then came the incredible moment . . . the contemplative awareness awakened . . . the realization of creativity.
As a child I was quite fascinated by the image of a lion. The lion is also a favourite cultural motif. I saw the lion in clay toys, embroidered phulkaris, woven durries, paintings on the walls, and paintings by Western artists in the palaces of Maharaja of Patiala. None of these lions were similar, and yet they were all lions. This gave me the impetus to create my own lion. Since then I have been in the quest for my own lion.
Art is a journey, performed in a given time and place. Challenges and struggles are stimulants and test one's ingenuity. Creativity is in itself a role model for me.
The lion weaved on a bag by the artist’s mother, Mohinder Kaur
2. What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this?
PS: Painting, for me, is an ongoing activity. I don't frame my art into projects.
Nature seems like an inexhaustible resource. It remains a major source of inspiration for humanity and whose divine and celestial chorus is ever rejuvenating. My paintings reflect on such playful and prayerful moments that I experience through my dialogue with the manifest and the unmanifest in nature.
Lyrical Voices 1, Oil on canvas, 70 inches × 35 inches, 2019-2020
Lyrical Voices 2, Oil on canvas, 70 inches × 35 inches, 2019-2020
Lyrical Voices 3, Oil on canvas, 70 inches × 35 inches, 2019-2020
Lyrical Voices 4, Oil on canvas, 70 inches × 35 inches, 2019-2020
Lyrical Voices 5, Oil on canvas, 70 inches × 35 inches, 2019-2020
Lyrical Voices 6, Oil on canvas, 35 inches × 25 inches, 2019-2020
3. Contemporary art has become very diverse and multidisciplinary in the last few decades. Do you welcome this trend? Is this trend part of your art practice?
PS: Art, since the middle of the nineteenth century, has undergone many revolutionary changes. Change is an unchangeable law of nature. Art is expression. Diversity and its multi-dimensional nature are inbuilt in it. Freedom is the key to expression. Inevitability of change in expression is the beauty and strength of art.
Art, for me, is like a river that permanently flows and takes its own course.
Yes, I appreciate this change and welcome it wholeheartedly. Trends may come and go. I don't follow trends. I only listen to my inner to give it a visual voice. Let art HAPPEN!
4. Does art have a social purpose or is it more about self-expression?
PS: Yes, art is self-expression. It begins with the human experience and also ends with it. A work of art is created to be seen and shared. A painting is not created with methods but is expressed by the artist's soulful visions. In our 'shastras' it is mentioned that paintings are the greatest treasures of mankind as they have the aura and power to beneficially influence the minds and lives of the viewers. It is also acknowledged as more valuable than gold and jewels. A work of art mirrors the spirit of the time and place in which it has been created.
Art, for me, is one of the vital means of seeking relationships with people. Its purposefulness and social significance in the lives of the people is highly valued and it is also a process to refine the human species.