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Simran Lamba: Practice of Tar Art as an Anagram for Artistic Exploration

Simran KS Lamba is a New Delhi based visual artist, whose practice ranges from mixed media and sculptural works to installations. Simran’s work in the mixed media genre comprises a trans-disciplinary approach towards using variable media such as tar, lead, tarmac, industrial scrap metal that offers vantage points of expression for the artist and perspectives to the viewer. He has been working with tar and allied media since 2006, after he accidentally stumbled upon the latent potential of this dark, viscous, non-pliant industrial agent while waterproofing his studio’s terrace. He debuted with Genesis, his first body of work of mixed media paintings using tar, in 2010 to wide critical acclaim. 

Simran’s complex oeuvre and its expositions display a nuanced expression of his multi-faceted practice and thought trajectory. Each body of work exhibits the novelty and intrinsic beauty of not just the primary medium but also the ramifications of content and thematic resonances he focusses on. He often uses found objects and discarded scrap along with materials that have been recycled to give them a new lease of life. Through his current endeavours, he is constantly pushing the boundaries of his technique and expression. His work titled Gandhi and Industry was part of the 61st National Exhibition of Art at the Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi 2020. Recognizing his unique and experimental techniques, Simran was granted a patent by the Government of India in 2023.

Gandhi and Industry

1. You have been pursuing abstract /semi-abstract painting using tar and mixed media for many years. What has been your motivation to pursue this genre of art and use of tar as a primary medium? Any role models?

SL: My motivation is to continue discovering the many different features, treatments and nuances that are present in my medium of choice and that my practice is an ever-evolving one considering how I am developing as an individual. Also, what keeps me going is my shifting points of concern and my ever-changing, process-driven experimental technique coupled with a perspective that always questions contexts, patterns, forms, precedents and structures. To me, the transformation of tar from an industrial agent into a medium through which I can showcase my thought trajectory, the subjects of my choice and my primal concerns while also allowing me to pay attention to various different facets of the medium occurs when there is balance between the following components:

(a) the subject matter being represented and the identification of its source point/space;

(b) the relevant stylistic demands that the characters carry in terms of form and structure;

(c) the themes and contexts that the materials and hues represent and the alignment of these contextual parallels and thematic narratives as tools to either encourage or critique the titular subject of focus;

(d) the spatial compositional qualities, frame making, the role of colour and its usage;

(e) the path and process that will be employed to bring the composition into physical form; and finally

(f) the set of aesthetics that I will employ while keeping a variety of parameters in mind during the period of its creation.

In my opinion, when these aforementioned criteria are duly fulfilled by me in their myriad ways, tar transposes from being an industrial agent into becoming a material that absorbs the world around it. It becomes a material that has its own visual presence and is seen to be employed in a manner that showcases its many nuances coupled with the display of the fracture of its integral character traits in particular spaces. 

Angst and My City

Best Friends

Assembly Line Existence

Asexuality and Popular Narrative

Card Game

Colour Compression

To me, this is a moment of fascination, as this entire journey of transformation through the several mutations of forms the material has undergone in my hands and have finally found a resting place in a formation that my thinking mind, subconscious filters and personal metaphysical leanings have dictated allows me to bask in the light wherein I play the role of a catalyst for my primary expression to take place only. I then inhabit a place of privilege wherein I can present interesting juxtapositions often found between the innate resonances that each explored material intrinsically carries in tandem with the manner in which the materials generate their own presence and unique identities to me.

2. Does art have a social purpose or is it more about self-expression?

SL: To me, art serves multiple roles; it is a tool for self-expression and can also be used as an agent to showcase the thoughts and concerns/constructs the artist chooses to highlight, in the event that there is a message to showcase.

3. Where do you create your art? What is your process? What gives birth to an idea for a new work of art?  Which mediums do you use and why?

SL: I work out of my studio in West Delhi and Kolkata. There are multiple different processes that I employ in my practice and I often feel that I find the material to be the deciding factor in the treatment that will be employed on it by me and the manner in which I will be bringing attention to its usage. To me, these two aforementioned aspects always need to be in congruity with the subjects of my study. Materials such as Found Objects, Metal Filigree, Encaustic Wax, Nails, Molten Dry Pastel and Jute are some of the other mediums I use.

Recycling has always been a core focal point for me and I often find myself to be using media that falls within my line of sight while exploring industrial junkyards. The origin points that give birth of new compositions are very diverse for me and often hail from the realm of the metaphysical.  I consciously abandon my notions of structure and form and organically allow my appendages to move at will, trying to harness the energy of the cathartic process that is undulating through me and using it towards the dictation of formation via an action or a series of actions that capture my content and sensibilities, by giving that moment of catharsis enough credence and validation through the application of its design and construct directly onto the canvas by me, in the company of other extolled material. Other origin points find their birth in dreams and at times from my imagination too.

4. While your art practice seems to broadly follow the trends of the Moderns in many ways, contemporary art has become far more diverse and multidisciplinary in the last few decades. Do you welcome this trend?

SL: Yes. I believe that art can be expressed in multiple ways and it is engaging to see work that gives the audience alternate vantage points to view from.  I get attracted to perspectives that view often overlooked materials in ways that are thought provoking and insightful in nature and allow spaces to have their own language and presence.


Familial Conversations


Counting Breath Amidst Lunar Cycles

Burnt Innards

5. Recycling, use of discarded waste and found objects seem to find a place in your art. How do you amalgamate them into your art practice?

SL: I use materials that I find intrinsically beautiful or materials that serve as tools to highlight the contextual ramifications of certain subjects, along with themes and references that I have chosen to highlight. In my first body of work titled Genesis, there was a painting titled Zebra Crossing that was made with laying tarmac over a base of glass and wood. There were several found objects that were featured in it, for example, a piece of a radiator battery, aluminium wheel rings, wire netting, wire mesh and drain covers, to name a few. Since they were found objects that originated from scrap shops and junkyards, the thematic resonances of being picked up from the road aligned with the content being represented in unison as the subject of my study was tarmac, and its formation on the body of the painting was the mainstay of the composition. This subject had tyre prints running through its body which was then juxtaposed with the found objects. The placement of the found objects in this composition was representative of their individual journeys undertaken along with plumbing material in the form of discarded elbow bends and connecting parts of pipes to be representative of an automobile undercarriage, when the final iteration of this painting took form.

Zebra Crossing

6. Tell us about any other interest you may have besides your art practice. Does it get reflected in your art?

SL: I take an active interest in sports and fitness and in listening to spiritual verse. To me, paintings reflect their creators and vice versa, so I feel that art is a reflection of an artist’s personality on canvas. I firmly believe in the existence of a universal grand design and also think that there is a constant flow of signs and streams that feed data into points and formats that our sentient senses and mental constructs duly recognize in our ever-transient timelines. I also feel that people resonate with those data points in a manner that the process of interaction with that particular ensuing data thread teaches us new aspects about ourselves, thereby serving a dual purpose: one, allowing us to participate in an exercise of learning; and two, in the form of the final composition on completion, being capable of forming connections with other individuals in a manner that is transformational in nature, when viewed through the observer’s deeply personal and subjective lens.

(All images are courtesy of the artist, Simran KS Lamba.)


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