Brave New World in Artby HENNA SINGH
The 2007 Vaisakhi Gala (hosted by Canada's Centennial Foundation) will feature the works of an artist who began painting Sikh subjects relatively recently.
Kanwar Singh Dhillon may not be someone you have heard of yet, but his passion for capturing heroes and events from Sikh history on canvas will, I fully expect, soon make him a household name.
Many artists, for one reason or another, often push their artistic abilities to the side and choose to focus on the more practical needs and obligations of living. Their "day jobs" give them their livelihood while their basement studios hold products of their true passion, hidden away from those who might label them as mere frolics or frivolous pursuits.
Kanwar Singh, however, was always drawing, painting or expressing himself through scribbles from a young age. When asked how long he had been painting, he was unable to provide an exact time-frame. Rather, it just showed that Dhillon could not remember a time when he wasn't immersed in art.
While growing up, Dhillon channeled his artistic abilities into producing comic books. He then decided to go to York University in Toronto and completed a Bachelor's in Fine Arts.
After graduation, he enrolled in the world-renowned Classical Animation program at the local Sheridan College. Though the program gives its students solid capabilities to be employed in the world of animation, after working on a few projects and even a full-length animated film, Dhillon felt that though this career path was certainly that of an "artist", it nevertheless seemed too much like being a part of an assembly line.
What he wanted was to be in charge of his own projects and be allowed to explore his creativity rather than just be limited to applying his technical skills. So, for a few years, he worked as a freelance artist.
His second interest being History, Kanwar often found himself wading through books on the past during his free time. It didn't take him long to discover the fascinating stories from Sikh history and find them deeply inspiring. He came across a great range of events and a full gamut of change occurring within short periods of time. He realized he had, right at ‘home', "enough material to paint for two lifetimes".
But he also became aware that he had to teach himself how to paint in a fashion that was more suited to his subject matter; that is, a style quite different from the animation paintings he had become accustomed to doing.
Inspired by Sobha Singh, and using the techniques from some of the Renaissance and Baroque masters as well, Kanwar developed the skills that he needed to draw the scenes that were by now etched in his mind through his readings in Sikh history.
He soon came to the conclusion, however, that the scenes he imagined in his mind's eye required a large canvas - each one could easily take up a whole wall in his studio.
Working on something so large, though, has its pitfalls. If the artist makes a mistake, it is virtually impossible to change it on the canvas. You either start from scratch or continue working with what you have, knowing that it is not what you wanted. Not only is painting something large a great investment in time, but it also involves taking a very big risk: if you do not like the final result, there is not much you can do about it.
There was another way, however. Kanwar realized that he could "paint" using his computer.
Being self-trained and used to working only on actual canvas, Kanwar was wary of using computers to create art. However, upon doing a bit of research, he found out that in fact computers were used by many artists who worked on the large scale - set designers for movies or plays, for example. Kanwar knew that if they could use it to advantage, then it would be valuable to him as well.
Years later, Kanwar now knows how to use the computer programs well. He works with a tablet and pen that operates much like a paintbrush, though he concedes that the pen does not function exactly like a brush.
His painting process begins with him making a design on normal paper and then scanning it on to his computer. He sketches the larger parts of his pictures and fills in smaller details by hand on the tablet. He has developed his skill so that he can draw quite well using the virtual pen.
Having the picture on the computer, he now goes ahead and loosely fills in colour to parts of his painting. The technology allows him to use precise hues that he can save and return to when he needs them. Using the computer, he can also zoom in to specific portions of the painting and fill in the particulars - the exact features on a person's face, for example, or the detailing on Guru Gobind Singh's shield.
These minutiae are important because if the design gets printed on the scale that Kanwar prefers, all the fine points will be visible and add a great deal of depth to the painting. The whole process takes about three months and is ultimately, upon completion, printed on actual canvas.
Though the whole exercise would take longer if executed by hand, Kanwar's paintings are real accomplishments because he tries to make them as historically accurate as possible. He wants the viewer to feel as if he or she "was actually there" and a witness to what is happening in the historical scene. Because of his own interest in history, Kanwar says "it would just bother me" if the details were not as accurate.
This means that he takes the time to find authentic descriptions from the time period that he is portraying. He attempts to find realistic horse harnesses, or swords, or clothing so that he can depict precise representations relating to the specific eras.
Thus, using the computer allows him to experiment with different models and save the one that works best.
For one of the paintings being showcased at the Vaisakhi Gala, for example, Kanwar went through several prototypes of turbans for the image of Guru Gobind Singh, until he finally settled on a version.
To be sure, some will think of Kanwar's digital method of painting as being untraditional. But once one understands the process and the high level of skill involved, it isn't difficult to accept the fact that his work is no less a piece of art than something from an artist who works with traditional tools.
If anything, it has the potential of being even more creative. The results enable the artist to yield a quality piece of art in lesser time.
And no matter which route you take, the process of putting together a work of art remains truly amazing, especially knowing the amount of time and research that goes into it.
It makes Kanwar Singh's pieces true collectibles which will give pleasure to the coming generations for a long, long time.
Photos: On this page - a progression of the stages Kanwar goes through in creating a painting ("Akali Phoola Singh"). Main Page image and Thumbnail - The artist at work, on the computer.
[For more info on Kanwar Singh Dhillon's art, visit http://www.artofpunjab.com/
Conversation about this article
1: Taran (UK), April 05, 2007, 4:43 AM.
Excellent work! I really like the fact that the artist researches history to make the work authentic. Look forward to seeing more of his art.
2: Ravinder Singh (Memphis, TN, USA), April 17, 2007, 2:37 PM.
Wow! His artwork on his website is awe-inspiring. I also love the fact that he researches actual events: it feels so real and makes you feel like you are experiencing that moment ... truly inspirational!
3: Ashley Sahota (Sacramento, California), May 18, 2007, 2:08 PM.
Wow, your art work is absolutely amazing! I love it! Keep up the good work!
4: Sandy (Canada), September 29, 2007, 10:12 PM.
Dude, your work is so inspiring and full of emotions.
5: Rajinder (Canada), December 21, 2007, 11:21 PM.
Impressive. Next time when you visit historical places of Punjab, stay and meditate there early in the morning; it will enrich you in many differnt ways.
6: Gary Sandhu (Vancouver, Canada), April 01, 2008, 3:55 PM.
Your work is impressive, keep it up. You should create something to do with the Sikh 21. I'd buy it in a sec. One of the five most impressive human achievements in war and combat, yet so little is out their about it. Time to change that, through art.
7: Amanpreet Singh Alam (Pune, India), May 22, 2008, 4:47 AM.
For the first time, I feel I've come across such images, which really appear to be for all people.
8: Jashan (New York City, U.S.A.), May 24, 2008, 5:35 PM.
Amazing art ... Haven't seen such astonishing Sikh paintings since Sobha Singh. Dhillon truly will become a household name if he keeps putting out such outstanding artwork. The man has exceptional talent and he is using it in a great way.
9: Sukhbir (Melbourne, Australia), May 24, 2008, 10:12 PM.
His work is great.
10: Gurpreet (India), June 05, 2008, 1:42 PM.
It was nice to see these great illustrations and paintings. In view of the role you have taken on and the influence it garners you, it may help you further to be a fully practising Sikh.
11: Jaspal Singh (Kent, Washington, U.S.A.), July 21, 2008, 9:43 AM.
I can find no words to fully convey how much I'm taken by your work. Alas, if they could only be brought to life!
12: Kanwar Singh Dhillon (Toronto, Canada), August 18, 2008, 11:02 PM.
Thank you for all of your your kind sentiments. They are a wonderful source of encouragement.
13: Monika (New York, U.S.A.), October 06, 2008, 8:36 AM.
Wow, I'm so breath-taken by his work. It is truly amazing. I read the English version of Satwant Kaur and words cannot express how capitivated I was and how I wish I could live in that time, when I saw Kanwar's artwork. WOW!
14: Harneet Kaur (California, U.S.A.), October 09, 2008, 8:16 PM.
There is something truly unique about your art. I am captivated by each piece. Keep up the good work!
15: Jaswinder Singh (Misssissauga, Canada), November 11, 2008, 9:18 AM.
Kanwar, your work is no doubt amazing and inspiring. This was actually my dream but unfortunately my skill level is not as high as yours. What medium do you use?
16: Rajat Deep singh (India), June 05, 2009, 11:58 AM.
Your work is fantastic ... it's nice to see that we have such great talent in our community. God bless you.
17: Satpal Singh (Amritsar, Punjab), July 28, 2009, 12:57 AM.
The Absolute One has given you truly a great mission, Veer ji. I am still in a nascent stage of my learning about those saviors of mankind, our Gurus, and their teachings which inspire us all to follow the path of Truth. May Waheguru tuhanu iss raste te buland rakkhan. I too feel that with all the blessings, one day you will surely become Guru ka Sikh. Best wishes for you, Veer.
18: Hari Singh (London, U.K.), July 31, 2009, 8:02 AM.
I'm in contact with Kanwar and I have suggested he paint the Anglo-Sikh War battles. He said he will. This will be great to see the Sikh perspective as all Anglo-Sikh War paintings always show the British army's perspective.
19: Major Dillon (Australia), August 12, 2009, 10:52 PM.
Excellent work. The Absolute One has given you truly a great mission. May Waheguru tuhannu iss raste te buland rakkhan. I too feel that with all the blessings, one day you will surely become Guru ka Sikh. Best wishes for you, Veer.
20: Satnam Singh (India), November 03, 2009, 11:11 AM.
Excellent work by Kanwar. Waheguru sache patshah tuhannu sadaa isse raste te turan da honslaa deve. Bahut-bahut dhanvaad, veer ji.
21: Rajinder Kaur (Preston, United Kingdom), January 19, 2010, 4:01 PM.
I am at a loss for words: you have definitely come to this earth to show us what Waheguru wants us to do in our lives. Your work automatically makes me feel God within me. God bless you ... always.
22: Inderjit Singh Bhogal (United Kingdom), September 19, 2010, 11:46 AM.
His pictures indeed speak a thousand words each.
23: Kalwant Kaur (United Kingdom), January 13, 2011, 6:45 PM.
Your paintings are indeed works of art, so real and breathtaking, so refreshing from the regular paintings you see of Sikh subjects. Can I buy these in the U.K? If so, where. [Editor: From www.ArtOfPunjab.com]
24: Hardeep Singh (Arusha, Tanzania ), June 16, 2011, 6:42 PM.
There is something truly unique about your art. I am captivated by each piece. I am going to make sure it is widely viewed. May God bless you.
25: George David Maynard (Canada), August 23, 2011, 3:24 PM.
I'm told cultural diversity is beneficial for Canada, et al., and I'm convinced that my teachers at school were right in teaching me that. Such art is both beautiful and interesting, for many reasons.
26: Inderbir (Jammu, J & K), January 01, 2012, 12:33 PM.
We need more of this in the world!