Temporary exhibition on Jan van Eyck at Kunshistoriches Museum, Vienna
I hadn’t heard of Jan van Eyck until I arrived in Belgium three years ago. Now when I think back, it seems a little embarrassing. Van Eyck is one of the best painters in the world, one of the legendary Flemish painters in Belgium, arguably the father of Northern (European) Renaissance art and presumably the first painter to have successfully implemented oil paint on canvas. He’s a part of the enormous legacy that Flemish painters have left behind in Belgium and in Europe, overall. I am, however, not ashamed to admit that I have been properly introduced to art after living in Europe. There’s art everywhere around – inside churches, outside on their façades, in the architecture, in sculptures strewn carelessly within parks, in fountains and little gates – it’s just indescribable. When you discover so much art around you, it inspires in ways that you didn’t know existed.
I can write pages about Van Eyck and his art, but I’d tell you how his inspired mine in a tiny way.
There are some things in life that come back at a later stage, like a memory or a habit and tend to give your life a new lease. It might be a hobby or a lifestyle quirk or a forgotten custom. After I’ve spent more than half of my lifespan, one of my hobbies made a huge resurgence – embroidery.
Pattern from Indian cross-stitch book.
I think for most of us growing up in India, embroidery has been equivalent to mandatory craft classes in school that were invariably boring. I felt so, too. My mother and paternal aunts are amateur seamstresses and I used to resort to them for sewing assignments in school. I tried a few but they weren’t too satisfactory. As long as the school assignments were being made by mother/aunt, I was happy. After my high school board exams, there was a lull of three months waiting for admission into college. Something struck me, probably boredom, and I picked up a plain cotton saree, drew some motifs and began stitching. If you have any idea about sarees from Bengal, there is a novel craft called Kantha stitch and the products are amazing. It began seamlessly, although an oxymoron for a stitching habit. Once I got the hang of it, with a little tutorial from mother, I did another saree in entirety. Then came table cloths and cross stitch. I guess I fell in love for the first time in my life with cross stitch and the saga still continues.