Any talk of automotive art in India tends to veer towards the metallic gold and silver vinyl-wrapped cars that are a somewhat aesthetically challenged trend. Thankfully, there is true automotive art being practiced in the country as well, and one of the leading lights in the field is Vidita Singh. She’s been painting for over 10 years, and has made automobile (specifically vintage and classic ones) her subject. Using charcoal, water and oils, she has an inclination towards the classic cars of India, placing them in uniquely Indian settings, such as a colourful marriage procession.
Singh, who hails from the erstwhile royal family of Barwani, recently had a successful solo show in Mumbai, and when asked about her subject, which is historically seen as masculine, she says “I come from a car crazy family. My great-grandfather was one of the first Maharajas to import a car, and the bug continued through the generations, which includes my father, my uncles, my brother and now also my son. Some of it had to pass on to me and I have lived all my life around vintage and classic cars. My father, Manvendra Singh Barwani, has been restoring classic cars for over 35 years, and we get to see some wonderful models. These cars were made to be more than a mode of transport. They were heavily styled, when designers were not regulated and had a free hand. I want to capture the beauty these designers worked hard to achieve.”
While she employs multiple mediums in her work, it’s easy to see that her forte lies in photo-realistic work in oil on canvas. The shine and reflection of the chrome in some of her work is quite astounding. Her painting ‘Delahaye’, a study of the French art deco car Delahaye’s front fender and grille, shows off her skill well. “I chose it because it is one of the most beautiful cars in India”, says Singh of her subject, adding “The half recessed ‘Marchal’ headlamps were quite an innovative idea for the time.” This particular Delahaye, a 135MS series, is bodied by famed French coach-builders Figoni and Falachi. Known for their streamlined bodies, Figoni built this car on one of their most coveted teardrop designs, with all its wheels hidden inside its curvature fenders. The car belongs to Maharaj Duleep Singh of Jodhpur. In another work, she pairs two of royal India’s favourite pastimes, motorcars and horses; here, a Lancia Di Lambda is seen fieldside during a hotly contested polo game.
Not all her work is inspired by specialist coach-built cars. Her work, ‘Cadillac speeding’ is closer to the heart, based on a car she had a lot of childhood memories with. Additionally, she has a line of automotive themed pocket squares and steamer trunks. Despite her and others artist’s work with this subject, automotive art remains a niche, especially in India. Her buyers are predominantly classic car collectors, but Singh hopes that more art enthusiasts see her pieces as much more than adult versions of car posters.
Her recent work has been more experimental, which she hopes will inspire nonautomotive enthusiasts to see the artful side of classic cars. “A large painting of a car may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I hope to inspire others to see and catch the little details that the designers, who were really artists, put in. This usually gets lost in the bigger picture.” she says.