March 22, 2019

Sentinels of India

Lighthouses are guides not just across oceans, but across history.

Kanhoji_Angre_LHThey are symbols not only of hope, history, immigration but also of the sheer scale of human ability… the human ability to construct on difficult terrain, the human ability to marry rock and brick, rock and cement, light and mirror, direction and time… yes, indeed, lighthouses are also monuments to human creativity.

Today, with the advent of GPS and improvements in maritime navigation, the general impression tends to be that, in terms of functionality, lighthouses are outdated and redundant.

But, in fact, in India, many lighthouses have been equipped with modern monitoring systems and are playing a key role as guardians of our coastline. Moreover, the Government of India has also decided to bring 78 lighthouses, many of which are heritage structures, under the tourism umbrella. Now, be it as tourists, seekers of history, designers, architects, material scientists, soil experts, botanists… we will have the unique opportunity of learning about the mind-boggling diversity of our coastline and the human beings and flora and fauna that inhabit it.

As such, they can be the new frontier for a nation re-inventing itself… from a glorious oceanic past to a glorious oceanic future.

Sentinels of India is the outcome of my fascination for lighthouses and their design and history, which led to me to undertake five expeditions in the last few years to visit all the lighthouses dotting the vast coastline of India. Sentinels of India is my ode to the majestic beauty of these structures. I do hope that my paintings will, in some small way, spark off an appreciation for and interest in these lighthouses and the life around them, and the need to preserve them.

Meet Mr. Mohan Khare. Artist behind these lively paintings. Team NV met him and tried to understand from him more about the passion, his life and much more. Over to Mr. Mohan Khare.

The paintings featured here are a celebration of my lifelong obsession with the play of light on water, sky and Mohan Khare Smaller Imagelandscapes. All things related to the sea have always been a source of endless fascination for me – trawlers, harbours, reefs, corals, flocks of sea birds, the sea and sky in their many moods and colours and, especially, the legendary lighthouses.

Maybe it’s their history, the many secrets they seem to hold, the stories of the people they house and of lives saved… maybe it’s just the brooding romance of them standing tall and flashing a light of comfort and hope to a weary seafarer out on the dark waves… maybe it’s just how, in an increasingly fractured world, they are like a beacon of humanity shining their guiding light for one and all… lighthouses have a special place in my heart. My fascination for them has triggered off many an expedition to capture their mysterious, rugged beauty on canvas. Years ago, in various shows in the USA, I exhibited paintings of all the lighthouses along the coast of California, which were highly appreciated by the artist fraternity there.

As for India, I am thoroughly in love with the vast coastline of our beloved country and, of course, the imposing lighthouses, many of which are over a century old. So much so that I decided to visit all of them by way of five different expeditions over the last few years. This involved travel of over 35,000 kilometres by road and many nautical miles around the Andaman Nicobar Islands, visiting tiny seaside towns and hamlets not marked on standard tourist maps, and capturing on camera the vibrant coastal life, be it fisher folk, boat builders, ships, dhows, the flora and fauna and, of course, the lighthouses. It was wonderful to talk to and hear the stories of the lighthouse keepers who live in isolation but unafraid, proud to keep their lights burning so that seafarers may have safe passage along the jagged coast. Some of these journeys were quite risky, but they were the most memorable and fulfilling experience.

These expeditions and the resultant paintings in different media (watercolours on paper, oil colours on canvas, pastels on paper, and also simple pencil sketches on paper) have been instrumental in helping me evolve as an artist. It’s been my good fortune to have my solo exhibitions (since 2008) graced by distinguished personalities and much appreciated by the public. My work on the lighthouses led to further specialization in marine art, with painting assignments for the Mazagaon Dock, and several paintings commissioned by the Indian Coast Guard and the Indian Navy for their various establishments, including the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala, INS Valsura, and Mumbai and Visakhapatnam Naval Dockyards (paintings of various warships, missile carriers, frigates and aircraft carriers are on permanent display at various defence establishments).

On a side note, I am glad that the recent decision of the Indian Government to bring 78 lighthouses under the tourism umbrella will go a long way in retaining the legacy of these enduring structures. Moreover, the modern radar systems installed at these lighthouses will help in strengthening the coastal security of India and maintaining the visual quality and identity of our entire coastline.

The way I see it, an artist’s journey is like travelling towards the horizon… it is always there but never reached – one may keep developing one’s skills but can never claim complete mastery – that is for others to say! Meanwhile, the sea calls to me again… hinting at adventures anew and more lighthouses to explore. May you too go on many an adventure, and may you always find a lighthouse to guide you on your way.

Mohan Khare

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