The story of a village girl with a passion for automotive art
When I usually come across skilled fine artists, the word abstract is thrown around a lot. There is no limit to imagination and usually, there are no constraints either. Artists hate constraints because it ties them down. If you learn to embrace them, you’d probably follow the path of designers and architects who marry science and art for functional outcomes. And then there are artists of a different kind. Meet Poonam Jadhav, a painter skilled in the rare field of automotive art. A few years ago, I was visiting a friend who comes from the same alma mater. He’s an automotive designer from Coventry University in the UK and I happened to study automotive journalism there. Common interests got us to talking on automotive design one day at his studio in Pune when I glanced over to see a girl with a sketchbook gazing at a car parked in the studio. She turned out to be my friend’s sister. He was encouraging her to think beyond abstract art as she was just about shaping her career as a fine artist. It started with small sketches at first but just like her brother, Poonam has always been up for big challenges.
Life had been a challenge too for Poonam. Her family hails from a small village called Pusegaon in Satara district. Life in villages of India is tough, be it transport, a good education, social pressures or even the freedom to dream big. She studied fine art at a college in Satara and would take a 70km round trip by bus every day to become a bachelor in fine art. Because you can’t go to a job search website to get a good salaried job easily in this line of work, she also did an art teacher diploma course simultaneously. Then the cost of equipment and travel to major cities to get more exposure ensured life was tough in her formative years as an artist. While these pressures existed, Poonam was shielded by her loving parents and brother and given the opportunity to express herself in whatever way she wanted.
This small village in Maharashtra is probably waiting to be recognised after the fame of the Jadhav family and the parents recognised that early. The family seems to have art running in their veins and whether its Poonam’s elder brother Sachin or the younger one Dhiraj, each comes with an artistic bent of mind. The brothers apply science to their art (Dhiraj is an architect) while Poonam lets her imagination run wild. She took to art like a natural but her initial paintings were a bit aimless. It started with abstracts and landscapes, then the occasional whacky disruptive painting, but eventually she realised that her skills needed to be channelled well.
You couldn’t call her earlier work cohesive and there was certainly no theme to them. It’s when she was suggested to explore automotive art as a theme is when she truly began to set up a strong foundation as a painter. It started with small sketches and soon Poonam was learning the play of light on automotive surfaces. An example is a fibre mould cast in the shape of a car Sachin had made in his studio. When painted with a metallic shade and held under light, it would reflect a different colour based on its contours. That taught Poonam the role of light on car surfaces and the different shades it would reflect. “I used to stare at these casts in my brother’s studio for hours, wait for the light to change and stare some more.”
Soon she was shopping for large canvases and researching on automobiles. The history of cars and motorcycles, the scope of classic paintings and the abstraction of modern machines, Poonam began honing her skills. One of my favourites is the vintage Jaguar nose with its flared grille and glossy bonnet that reveals the reflection of the prowling cat to perfection. It took her a week to get that reflection accurately.
Then there’s the play of colours to dramatize the classic Ford with shades of blue. Once she began to focus on detailing a lot more than she used to, the results were simply stunning. The reflection on the concave surface of the headlight in the classic Porsche 911 is another example of jaw dropping detailing. Her finished work has encouraged her to work on her latest piece of art – a detail of the Ferrari F1 car when Fernando Alonso drove for the prancing horse. “Painting glass is very difficult” says Poonam. “Metal is easier because the reflections have some smoothness to them, but glass is a big challenge as there is a restriction on the colours you use and the intensity of them too. The glossiness has to be maintained as well”, she adds. The passion with which she speaks about executing a challenge is what gets to me. Poonam is a different kind of petrolhead. The mechanicals don’t matter, the aesthetics do and Sachin comes up with the most difficult of ideas to get Poonam to make an artwork of. Automotive art can’t be too fictional. There are always sources of inspiration – a picture or a story. Getting it to canvas is Poonam’s specialty. I ask her for a pro tip from her years of practising this rare art form, (she’s the only girl I know who paints cars and motorcycles) and she’s quick to say, acrylic works best. The most important thing while painting automobiles is to depict the energy they possess. The speed and power can only come with the gloss of acrylic paint. Water based paints are too soft and the matte finish of oil paintings are not suited to set the mood of the painting unless the setting is of a classic in fading light. Where does she go from here? “It’s tough actually.” “There are very few automotive art connoisseurs in the country and those who don’t appreciate it want my art pieces for giveaway prices. I know the effort required in creating these and at least I deserve what ir is worth.” “I know the work I do is unique and there are a handful few who work on automotive art. Hopefully I will get some global recognition if I get a good launch pad.” Her voice gets softer as she says that. On the individual level with her family’s support, Poonam has been working hard to build a career around her passion but the holding hand just isn’t there. Automobile companies in India don’t have a rich history here and so the fan base is just not there. International brands have their followers in the western world, a world far away from this shy village girl. Now only if her art could speak for her.