A Scottish artist known for her portrayals of Indian tradition, culture and philosophy, Olivia Fraser uses Indian miniature painting techniques to explore and deconstruct traditional iconography and motifs such as mandalas and the lotus.
Born in London, Fraser graduated in modern languages from Oxford University and studied art at the Wimbledon Art College for a year before visiting India for the first time in 1989. Inspired by James Fraser’s paintings of Indian architecture and landscapes as well as the Company School paintings he commissioned for the Fraser Album, Fraser began creating watercolours that employed Indian and Western modes of representation to document the people and architecture of India, including realistic depictions of monuments such as the Safdarjung Tomb, Mohammed Shah’s Tomb, Lodhi Gardens, Bara Gumbad and Humayun’s Tomb. She also made figurative line drawings of life in the streets of Indian cities.
Fraser moved to Delhi in 2005, and proceeded to learn Rajasthani miniature painting from masters in Jaipur and Delhi. The resultant works were detailed paintings characterised by contoured lines and squirrel hair brushwork rendered on handmade paper, primarily Sanganeri and wasli, using stone-ground mineral and plant pigments, gum arabic, gold leaf and burnished surfaces. She also creates small-format miniatures in watercolour that highlight Indian costumes and traditions. More recent works explore Indian yogic philosophy and spirituality, much of which was inspired by Indian spiritual texts, such as the Gheranda Samhita, an eighteenth-century Sanskrit text on yoga.
Her practice is further informed by the pichwais of Nathdwara and the Jodhpuri paintings of Nath yogis, and aims to render traditional beliefs and notions in contemporary styles. Using Indian miniatures as a starting point, Fraser’s work depends on the isolation and repetition of motifs found in the backgrounds of miniatures, such as the lotus and bees, to create pattern-based optical illusions inspired by Tantric art. This is especially evident in her cosmic diagrams or mandalas. Her work is also influenced by Suprematism and Op Art. Throughout her practice, Fraser has worked with diverse materials from across the country, including chalk-based pigments from the Aravalli Hills and plant-based pigments such as indigo from southern India, using the pigments without mixing to create vibrant hues suggestive of the elements of nature.
She has also written and published a number of books, including a children’s book, Handmade in India (2006) and The Journey Within (2019), in addition to illustrating her husband William Dalrymple’s books, including City of Djinns (1993).
Fraser held her first solo exhibition in 1991 at Carma Galleries, New Delhi, and has subsequently shown her work at numerous group and solo shows, including Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi (2007); Grosvenor Gallery, London (2012, 2018); the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh (2016); India Art Fair, New Delhi (2015–18); Nature Morte, New Delhi (2019); and Abu Dhabi Art (2019). Her work is held in private and public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
At the time of writing, Fraser lives in New Delhi with her husband and three children. She also conducts workshops and teaches miniature painting in Jaipur.
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