Uncharted: Tara Sabharwal in the Studio

January 18, 2017 by

Sitting in the audience as a musician performed Schubert’s last sonata, Tara Sabharwal suddenly started to cry. Shaken by both the music and her own unexpected reaction, she looked around and saw that she was not the only one in tears. She heard two distinct voices within the piece. With one hand, the musician played a sweeping hymn and with the other hand, a lamentation. One would overtake the other, or one would fade away, then both would appear side-by-side.

The sonata reminded Tara of her late husband. “I could see him just a month before he died and he was sitting there, knowing that he was going somewhere else,” she says. “The biggest things in life—there are are no words for them. There is no word for this.”

When research told her that Franz Schubert wrote the piece a month before his own death, she imagined the composer writing two separate pieces of music, one of acceptance and the other of angry reluctance, to play in tandem. She wanted to see this place of emotional crossroads as a physical space in the world.

Now, as a Studio Workspace Resident, Tara is in the intaglio studio designing a series of three-color prints based on her reaction to the performance. On both copper and photopolymer plates, she draws then etches fragmented scenes of a fantastic land and a group of travelers. Each print is comprised of three plates that, when printed consecutively, form hills, waves, or a fleet of small boats.

The series depicts a cycle taking the viewer from the sea to the coast, inland, then back out to the water. Recalling the sonata, reminiscent of how abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky used music to guide his work, Tara constructs this land and seascape with layers of ink. A painter as well as printmaker, her lines and forms are similar to the brushstrokes she makes in her watercolors and monotypes. She lets the marks flatten together on paper, revealing a shadow of mountain or hiding ships within the tide.  

“It’s like trying to remember dreams, or when you get up in the morning and you feel something and you’re not sure what,” she says. “You keep dwelling on it and it comes to you.”

The visual language of the series draws from both a universal and deeply personal vocabulary. The small fleet is partly informed by the current international conversation and daily news of refugee migration. However, in another print boats are represented as floating orbs, drawing from Tara’s impression of ships as containers in the water. Much of Tara’s imagery is defined by spontaneity and intuition that comes from trying to render a transient feeling.

The manifestation of emotion as physical space was born from Tara moving from Delhi to London early in her career, eventually settling in the United States and working between studios in New York City and India. She recorded her feelings of unrest, belonging, and turbulence with fictional cityscapes before expanding into rolling countrysides as well. With her work, Tara tells her story in the context of a whimsical but mysterious and elusive world.

At the press, Tara proofs the designated “red plate” of one print and compares it to a “blue plate” proof before she decides whether or not to continue. For another composition, she changes one plate from red to yellow and a drastically different landscape appears. With each run through the press this journey becomes clearer for Tara; she plans to sit with it a little longer, letting the landscape reveal itself a little more, before printing the final edition.

While Tara was here, she also worked on a series of painted monotypes. This summer, we’re welcoming her back to teach this process for the 2017 Summer Art Institute!

Tara Sabharwal is a painter and printmaker based in NYC and Delhi, India. She holds a BA in Painting from MS University, Baroda, India and her MA from the Royal College of Art, London. Head to our SAI calendar to more about her workshop and to our Flickr for more images from her residency!