Desmond Lazaro is a painter presently based in Pondicherry who was born in Leeds, U.K. After coming to India to pursue his MFA at the MSU Baroda, Lazaro became captivated with the historic painting traditions of Rajasthan and began a life long journey of preserving them. He mastered miniature painting techniques by studying for twelve years under Jaipur Master Banu Ved Pal Sharma, one of the few living experts on this ancient tradition. Lazaro also submitted a PHD thesis on the Pichvai painting tradition at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London. His honor of tradition does not stop at the painting technique but also extends to the pigments, papers and cloth that he uses in his creative process. For example, the Sanganeer paper that he uses is made by the last living craftsman to continue this ancient Central Asian inspired technique. He also follows the ancient tradition of creating pigments by hand from semi-precious mineral stone (such as Lapis and malachite), organic (from vegetables, insects of plants), alchemical (by chemical process), and earth (from soft earth deposits such as yellow ochre) derivations. The pigments aren’t classified by their color, but rather from where the pigment is derived.
Lazaro’s work, as well as his personal history, spans East and West, and he has exhibited extensively in India, the UK, and Germany. Given the artist’s global history, it is fitting that the most ambitious work in Lazaro’s oeuvre is at the new Mumbai airport, an 80 x 50 foot artwork representing the gods and goddesses of South India using traditional woodcarving and re-imagining of the Tagore painting tradition. Airports are part of “the way home,” and Lazaro has been increasingly interested in house and home as part of a wider concern with identity and belonging. The artist elaborates that “sometimes I don’t know how to get home, so I constantly define and redefine it within myself. It’s the typical East-West dichotomy that has informed and continues to inform my work – often summed up with a simple object like a garden shed, a shack.” ‘The Blue House Painting’ from 2012 speaks to this yearning for home, and the artist placed a beautiful electric, Yves Klein Blue roof on an intricately painted temporary home made from woven palm leaves and other natural materials, showing the desire to “make do” and create permanence in even the most temporary of situations. Everything else on the paper is blank, except for the central concern, idea of a home.
Small details are the star of Lazaro’s works, from the glossy geometric patterns found in Chettinad tiles in ‘Chettinand Tiles 1’ from 2009/2010, to the bloody folds in a gauze bandage in ‘Man with a Bandage’ from 2009. He frames these details with plain but boldly painted backgrounds that use large blocks of color and enhance the minute details in the subjects of Lazaro’s representational works.
Following his pursuit of the finest detail and concern with representing the idea of belonging, Lazaro painted a series of works inspired by baptism certificates, documents which chronicle a child’s introduction into the “House of God.” In his quest to find the meaning of home and a sense of belonging upon returning to India, Lazaro discovered his great-grandfather’s baptism certificate in a Catholic church in Chennai. The detailed care that the unknown cleric took to record the history of family members that Lazaro did not know inspired the artist, and he represented the beauty of these written records in gold leaf and pigment on Sanganeer paper. The 2013 ‘Baptism Certificate’ works show a shift in Lazaro’s practice, from painting a yearning to belong, to embracing and celebrating one’s belonging.
© Chemould Prescott Road