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Lines of Distinction:
The Art & Spirit of K.P. Singh

CHI SHERMAN

 

 

 




Internationally known illustrator Kanwal Prakash ("KP") Singh speaks with an elegance and cadence that turn his words into a dance. His designations include artist, advocate, author and public speaker and could easily welcome storyteller.

Listening to this Sikh-American about his 50-year journey from his native Punjab to the United States feels like stepping into a Jhumpa Lahiri novel.

As finely as he composes his pen-and-ink drawings of historic architecture and monuments, so does he detail a life bolstered by art and his Sikh Faith.

In 1965 Singh arrived in Ann Arbor where he pursued a degree in city planning at the University of Michigan. He had already attained degrees from Punjab University and The Indian Institute of Technology, and he came to the States to spend time abroad before settling down. Though he returned to the subcontinent for a formal ceremony celebrating his first marriage, he made Indiana his home in 1967.

Following the completion of his degree, KP moved to Indianapolis and joined the Department of Metropolitan Development as a senior designer and urban planner. Here he held that position from 1967 to 1972, at which point he created his own fine arts enterprise, K.P. Singh Designs.

Though his training was not in art, drawing had been a component of his studies in planning and architecture in India and Michigan. His work in Indy revealed an ugly truth: A number of historic buildings were being demolished to make room for more parking lots.

"Having been surrounded by so much beauty and historic things in Punjab and on the subcontinent, I wanted to convey as a planner and an artist that we as a civilization could not afford to destroy these landmarks," he says. "They had artistic architectural value."

He explained that the buildings' facades, skylights, stained glass and designs had been inspired by other countries and cultures.

"If I showed in drawings how beautiful these buildings were, it would draw attention. An image is worth a thousand words," he says.

KP's plan paid off. He created one pen-and-ink drawing and soon had requests for images of buildings such as the Monument Circle, the State House and the Athenaeum. To date, he has captured hundreds of historic structures on paper, detailing everything from the history of college campuses to places of worship.

Forty framed selections of his artwork will be on display in the Ruth Lilly Library at the Indianapolis Art Center (“IAC” - 820 E. 67th St.) beginning this Friday, September 25, 2015.

The exhibit, "K.P. Singh in Color: Selected Prints and Drawings," is part of the IAC's fall exhibition that explores contemporary realism. Kyle Herrington, director of exhibitions at the IAC, says he immediately thought to include KP in the show. Not only is KP a longtime supporter of the IAC, having recently attended his 45th consecutive Broad Ripple Arts Fair, but his work "showcases traditional work in a unique way."

Herrington says, "I wanted a complementary artist and KP Singh's drawings and prints of landmarks and architecture celebrate the city."

The exhibition kicks off with a reception on September 25th from 6 pm to 9 pm and will be on display through November 21.

KP has been involved in his art and the support of art since his arrival in the Circle City. His deep love and respect for Indianapolis are immediately apparent. He describes walking past Monument Circle when he first arrived in the city.

"I saw people on the Circle having lunch ... I saw the spirit of the people who were on the monument steps and felt this was a city that had a lot of promise. I wanted to be part of the journey, I wanted to add to it, to witness it. The city had lots of offerings without the complications of larger cities. I love being part of the community and witnessing its gradual transition and tremendous transition in other areas. It has been a joy to be part of that. I don't know any other home."

As a former city planner, an artist and a traveler, KP is proud that Indianapolis has changed from the often mocked "Indiananoplace" to a recommended travel destination in a 2014 New York Times article.

He credits former mayor Richard Lugar for appealing to his constituents to welcome newcomers and to encourage them to share their gifts in order to enrich their own lives and their community. That positive approach found KP wholeheartedly welcomed upon his arrival. In turn, he made himself accessible:

"It's an important attitude for new immigrants to think about," he says. "In America we love being part of community, part of an experience, opportunity and responsibility. Instead of saying 'No, that's not my cup of tea,' I said, 'Cool, you want to include me; I would be very happy to [participate].' We don't need to shy away from unfamiliar things. We need to be willing to learn and willing to take a chance. It's part of my responsibility to know about you and your journey and someday if you're interested, you can hear about my journey."

Wanting to be part of new possibilities, rather than clinging to his own traditions and culture, helped KP grow and learn. It helped open doors at prestigious tables and presented possibilities he couldn't have possibly imagined.

Every morning, he says, he thanks the Lord for those blessings that helped his spirit. "Make a place at the table for others," he says. "Create a space so others feel comfortable enough to come in and share their gifts."

KP's sense of calm and appreciation for the life he has been able to live is directly related to his days as a youth in Punjab. He was born in the part of Punjab that is now Pakistan.

He says the country was divided, and tells the story of 15 million people migrating from one side of it to the other.

"We became refugees," KP recalls, "forced to leave our home because of violence. It was not a happy move." Nearly 3 million people lost their lives in what Singh describes as a "tremendous case of ethnic cleansing." He remembers that on Septembe 8, 1947, in his hometown 20,000 people were massacred. He recalls this detail not because of its morbid nature, but because he was spared. As a result, he says, "Every day is an anniversary, every day is blessed, every hour I've had is like a rebirth."

KP continues, "Maybe God has a reason why I'm still here. So many people didn't make it. The higher power is at work directing lives, transforming lives, creating thresholds and transitions. I look forward to interfacing with new ideas and thoughts, new people to meet, crossroads, things I didn't know about the day before."

Art has two messages for KP: First, to his fellow Hoosiers, he says, "These are your treasures." Second, art has an important role in the sharing of those treasures. His drawings do not just capture a brick-and-mortar structure, he explains. The landmarks represent the very essence of human journey, lifestyle, innovation and sacrifice.

"This is your heritage, part of your spirit," he says, inviting people to explore more deeply. "It's not just about the Purdue Fountain," which he drew in 1998. "There's a lot more behind it. What other things does it enshrine?"

The words that KP includes with his illustrations add to the composition and understanding of the drawing, broadening appreciation for what the viewer is seeing and enjoying.

"I began to challenge people to read the text and see it from their perspective. 'This is what I feel,' 'You may feel differently,"' he says.

Including words with his drawings has been important to his career as a writer, adding another dimension to his love and prayer for his art and all that surrounds us.

"I designated myself as an advocate for the arts," KP says. "Art has much to add to the spirit of a community, to the richness of the family, the richness in schools, the richness of the human spirit itself. Civilization, family, the city ... they're a work in progress," he continues. "I hope [the city] never arrives in a place where we say 'This is now finished.' You can do that with a drawing, but humanity is a work in progress. Every citizen counts, every citizen can contribute."

KP continues, "Art is unifying and transcendent. If we love a community, we have to give ourselves beyond our own personal and professional needs to contribute to its richness, as friends of the community and as friends of city. Only art can enrich our spirit."

Visit K.P. Singh's website for a look at his many fine art drawings by CLICKING here, or visit his Facebook page for both artwork and essays.


[Courtesy: Sky Blue Window. Edited for sikhchic.com]
September 23, 2015
 

Conversation about this article

1: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, USA), September 23, 2015, 1:44 PM.

Though educated as a city planner, K.P. Singh has excelled in art of a unique kind. In his art, the buildings of the Sikh Empire, now in deteriorating conditions, are brought back to glory in his art. They are bringing to life their message and their galore. Architecturally speaking, his drawings make a glaring impact. KP was generous to gift some of his paintings to me some time ago. I found them ceding dramas to which they were witness. KP has really built an international reputation not only as a Sikh-American artist but of an artist of international repute. A modest and humble person in his life, his art and his writings are in demand all over the world. KP’s perspectives in art are appreciated. 40 framed selections of his artwork will be on display in the Ruth Lilly Library at the Indianapolis Art Center. It was many years ago that I visited this Art Center. It is a coincidence that the Art Center was designed by world-renowned architect and Indianapolis native Michael Graves, well known throughout the world for design excellence. He passed away only a few months ago, early this year.

2: KP Singh (Indianapolis, Indiana, USA), September 27, 2015, 5:41 AM.

Dr. Harbans Lal ji: Thank you for your kind words. Thanks also to my teacher and enlightened friend and daring pioneer, Sardar Sher Singh ji, for sharing this thoughtful article written by Chizoma Sherman, a brilliant writer, poet, and passionate supporter of the arts. The opening reception of the "KP Singh in Color" exhibit on September 25 attracted a multi-faith, multicultural, and multi-generational gathering of friends, dignitaries, interfaith leaders, patrons of the arts, and media representatives. Each such event is a reminder: Satguru directs our lives, makes the impossible possible, prayers are answered and special ideas and people intersect our lives and make the unimagined manifest before us. As I look back at the horrific events of September 1947, following the Partition of Punjab, my journey since landing in America half a century ago in August 1965, and how many amazing people have guided and mentored me, encouraged and nurtured my understanding and spirit, I am speechless with gratitude. I know Satguru has been eternally benevolent, I remain in His care, all triumphs, accolades, and praise belong to Him. My personal achievements are insignificant when I see people of incredible distinction all around me excelling in important fields of endeavor. Thank you, Dr. Lal ji and Sher ji, for your affection and thoughtful friendship.

3: Dya Singh (Melbourne, Australia), September 27, 2015, 6:56 PM.

I have had the honor of meeting KP Singh ji at a 'launch' of a calendar bearing his sketches of majestic historic buildings about a decade back in Los Angeles. It was a calendar published by Sikhpoint. A man of great distinction and a credit to the Sikh Quom. May he live long and continue with his passion of sketching and thereby leave behind a rich legacy.

4: Lt Gen Harbhajan Singh (Retd)  (Chandigarh, Punjab), September 28, 2015, 8:09 PM.

I had the good fortune to meet Sardar KP Singh and Jannice ji in early 1971, when I was deputed to attend US Army course in computer systems at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, adjoining the city of Indianapolis. KP is an amazing personality who is a renowned artist, writer and speaker. He thrives in meeting and enabling people of different faiths, nationalities and backgrounds to interact and synergize in undertaking community, interfaith and art work. Having met his respected parents in Amritsar, Punjab, one understands his genes. And behind each successful man there is a great lady: Jannice proves that. I am sure this exhibition too will be a great draw as the previous ones have been. May God bless dear KP.

5: KP Singh (Indianapolis, Indiana, USA), October 05, 2015, 4:04 AM.

General Harbhajan Singh ji and respected Bhai Dya Singh ji: Both of you have served and brought honor to your chosen and divinely-assigned fields - Jarnail Sahib as a distinguished leader in the Armed Forces (Singals) and Bhai Dya ji as a world-renowned exponent of Sikh music and as a faith ambassador in the service of humanity. I am honored to know you and your laudable testimony and personal accomplishments and proud of being blessed by your kind words, mentorship, and friendship that goes back decades. May Satguru bless you and continue to shower His Grace upon you both as you bring peace, and culturally-enlightened wisdom to our world; uplift our spirit with amazing gifts of soothing our souls with divine Shabad, music, and spiritual scholarship.

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