Y.G. Srimati, 1926 Mysore – 2007, New York
The artist with some of her work, c. 1950
Born into a Brahmin family in Mysore, Y.G. Srimati received a classical training in the four traditional South Indian arts—voice, music, dance, and painting. She became an accomplished vocalist and performer of classical Indian music and toured India, the United States, Great Britain.
The artist was raised in the heat of India’s Independence movement. She sang at prayer meetings for Mahatma Ghandi. The ideals of the Independence movement influenced her art and her music throughout her life.
Y.G. Srimati accompanying Mahatma Ghandi at an Independence rally, Chennai, 1946
Y.G. Srimati painted throughout her life. Her aim was the continuation of an Indian style of painting focusing on themes important to her culture.
From the 1940s onwards, Y. G. Srimati was also deeply influenced by the style and content of the sixth century Buddhist paintings at Ajanta. In the early 1960s, she came to the United States and New York became her home for the rest of her life.
The Metropolitan Museum in New York has mounted a first retrospective of her paintings – all executed in watercolour on paper – in a little jewel of a gallery perched above a small staircase whose ceiling and side walls display exquisite Jain woodwork.
The artist’s themes were taken from Indian religious epic literature and Indian village life. So much her culture was part of her that she said, of a painting of Kali, that the knock of the skulls of Kali’s skirts did not leave her until she had completed a painting of Kali.
These paintings glowed in the muted light of this little gallery. Also a hush when I was there in deference to a native of the Indian subcontinent sitting in meditation before Krishna and Radha.
Architectural ensemble from a Jain meeting and prayer hall of a temple which was dedicated in 1596 in Patan, Gujerat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Rajput Princess, 1950-52. Chennai
Woman with Medallion. Chennai, early 1940’s
Mahakali, and details,1980, New York
Mara’s Temptation of the Buddha and details, 1987, New York
The Buddha, taunted by grotesques, undergoes temptation at the hands of Mara and her daughters
Vishvarupa, 1981, New York
An illustration for a 1964 edition of the Bhagavad Gita, this is a representation of the power of Arjuna’s vision of the incalculable immensity of Vishnu-Krishna as supreme savior
Saraswati, Goddess of Learning and Music, 1947-48, Chennai
This goddess was the artist’s patron saint in her pursuit of the fine arts
Celestial Musician (the Lyre Player), c. 1947-48), Chennai
Radha and Krishna, c. 1952, Chennai
Sujata, c.1948, Chennai
A young woman who offered milk and rice to the ascetic Sakyamuni, a gesture which led the Buddha to an understanding that the middle path – neither self-indulgence nor self-mortification – is conducive to enlightenment
Woman with Lotus, 1951, Chennai
Young Woman in Dressing Room and detail, c. 1940s, Chennai
Village life was a not infrequent subject as she moved away from British art-school subjects
Don’t know the date or title. This is one of the artist’s paintings of village life
Mithuna Couple after Ajanta, c. 1950-52, Chennai
This painting is styled on the sixth century paintings at Ajanta of loving couples (mithuna)
Saint Tayagaraja Singing Hymns in Praise of Lord Rama, c. 1950-55, Chennai
The saint was born in 1767. Many of his devotional hymns to Lord Rama are still extant
Apsara with Harp, c. 1944, Chennai
This painting has references both to the Ajanta murals and to later Rajput miniature paintings. Its subject is music
Princess Damayanti and the Swan Messenger, c. 1948-1950, Chennai
This scene is of a moment in the romance between Nala and Damayanati, an episode from the Mahabharata. The romance between Damayanati and the king has been engineered by the swan, who acts as messenger between the two. The style relates to the Buddhist murals at Ajanta from the 6th century.
Shiva Gangadhara, Shiva “Bearer of the Ganga”, 1945, Chennai
Shiva, shown here also as Lord of the Dance, captures the waters of the Ganges in his braids, thus breaking its tremendous fall from the Himalayas which had threatened to destroy the world