Unleashing creativity under the sky

Incidentally, June 18 was International Picnic Day and yes, there actually is a day dedicated to picnics. The story goes like this...
Image used for representational purposes only
Image used for representational purposes only

CHENNAI: The curtains have come down on the biggest election of them all. Even as the victors prepare to make themselves comfortable on their thrones of power, the losers lick their wounds and wonder if the summer heat, doled-out money, or faulty voter lists were to be blamed. As they go forth to plan their foolproof strategies for the next election (whichever may present itself around the corner soon), and the rest of us drudge back to our workspaces and dreary lives, knowing fully well that nothing has really changed, our hearts long for a respite from all the drama. Isn’t this then the perfect time to go on a picnic? Imagine if every government understood our predicament and declared the post-election results day as Picnic Day! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to pack our meal and our stress from all those endless political debates into a wicker basket and head off to blossoming gardens to relax under the blue sky? What better time to embark on a publicly sanctioned outing than this?

Incidentally, June 18 was International Picnic Day and yes, there actually is a day dedicated to picnics. The story goes like this...

The French Revolution in the mid-1800s restricted people from being outdoors and so, once the revolution ended, people flocked to enjoy the great outdoors with food and family. Very soon, this activity became so popular around the world that a day was eventually declared to celebrate its significance.

Back in the day, when humans set out to experience this phenomenon, artists too joined them, brushes and canvases in hand. The act of painting outdoors, termed En Plein Air painting, is said to have been developed by Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes. He expounded the concept of painting directly on the canvas, seated within the landscape, in order to capture the changing light patterns.

With the invention of portable easels in the early 19th century, this practice slowly started catching on. However, there remained one stumbling block to get artists outdoors — their paints!

Artists used to make their own paints by grinding raw materials in their studios. This was a task that was difficult to execute outside. Ultimately, when readymade paints in tubes hit the market, then all shackles were removed and painting outdoors took the art world by storm!

Unlike the rest of humanity who ventured into beautiful landscapes to take a break from work, these artists left their studios to work. Many artists discovered the joys of painting together under an open sky, after being confined to a solitary practice within their studio walls, for years.

Sadly today, the Great Indian Picnic has been reduced to standing in long queues outside public park entrances, only to finally enter to seek that perfect selfie spot that would proclaim your outdoor expedition. With barely any landscapes left that are devoid of crowds, artists have also packed their easels since those heydays and settled back in their studios. The joys of En Plein Air painting have subsequently been buried.

Hopefully, someday in the future, we will all head back to revived meadows with a picnic lunch and our packed creativity!

Jitha Karthikeyan


(Jitha Karthikeyan is an artist and curator, passionate about making art accessible to the larger public)

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The New Indian Express