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June-July 2003

Through a Looking Glass

- by Priya Sundaravalli

Exploring Eva's wonderland


EvaThe comments in the guest book for Eva Mikulski's exhibition in Pitanga early this year have a common thread. "Insightful and joyful in expression. You made me happy", "Creative and fun - I couldn't help but smile", "The children love it!" "Super!! This is real creativity. Even if you don't call yourself one, you are an Artist with a capital A", "Beautiful and funny", "First living works of art I have seen in quite a while."

Anyone who crossed Pitanga's threshold during those three weeks in January came out either with twinkling eyes, a lopsided grin, a skip in their step, or just plain flying. As for the exhibition itself, it featured, among other things, little white people scrambling up a spiral of blue clouds, the orange 'scrunchie-man' exploring the limits of a square, champagne glasses tipping with lusciously ripe earths made of painted ping-pong balls… A wonderland it was.

Eva Mikulski is bespectacled with a boyish crop of salt n' pepper hair. Her scholarly and severe appearance proves deceptive. As she begins to talk, her soft voice exudes an intense warmth and sincerity.

"I was never trained formally in art except for a few courses in still-life at the Pyramids", says Eva. Her engagement with art began only seven years ago and came about dramatically in her adult life. "A sudden internal change made me take the big plunge," she recollects. "I left everything at this point. I left my work which was in administration, my partner, my community, my house - everything. And on top of it all, I had a health crisis. I went to a very good homeopathic specialist and she treated me. Suddenly administration work was not possible anymore, and I went into education.

"The thing I like very much in Auroville is when you feel a call towards something, you don't need to go to school to get a certificate. It is sufficient that you feel the call and you invest yourself in that."

Eva immersed herself in education but quit after a few years. "When I was in there, I loved it. Children are wonderful. But we, the adults, have too many mental imaginations. How the children should act, how they should function, what is good, what is bad, and so on! My lesson was that it was too early to do experiments in education."

Her departure from education naturally led her even more into art. "After leaving the school, I felt I became more childlike. In the school, I learnt a lot from the children about creativity and the absence of mental impossibilities or limitations.

"I read a lot of books on Art, especially Picasso. Somewhere he says that it took him sixty years to paint like a child! And when I saw this, I said to myself, 'Why don't you go and be like a child. Become a child!' Okay, but to say this and to become one are two different things. Perhaps my experience with children, the books I read and what was going on inside of me, all of it had to come out! "

In the past, Eva had followed a few courses at the Pyramids, but soon she began to explore art on her own as well as copying, and when she completed a work, she would rip it apart and reassemble it into a collage. "Collage lets me stretch my imagination and helps me see differently."

UntitledEva also began to favour mixed media, and material became very important to her. Some of the items she uses in her works are astonishing. Things a layperson would walk past without a cursory glance get a second lease of life with Eva. She uses a lot of found objects in her work: leftovers from units, workshop scrap, recycled material, plywood, canvas, plaster of paris - anything that catches her eye. Eva admits that part of her studio is a veritable junkyard. Even her own works that come back from her exhibition, which no one wants, she recycles and transforms into something new.

Speaking of her first work, "It was made of plaster of paris, cloth, and half a tennis ball. I sold it in Chennai at my first exhibition. Actually there is an embarrassing story that goes with it. This painting was done with fresh plaster of paris directly applied over the canvas. The lady who bought it for an architectural office called me two months later with the news that the painting was self-destructing. The plaster was cracking and falling off!" With such learning experiences behind her, Eva had to become more and more acquainted with material properties and their optimal use. "Of course now when I use plaster of paris, I always make sure of using chicken wire as back-up," laughs Eva.

Eva has held three exhibitions. The first was 'Perception' and it happened because her studio was overflowing. Using this same approach, she has had two more shows titled 'Along the Way" and 'Explorations'.

Asked if the nature of her works has changed over time, Eva replies in the affirmative. "It is like everything you do, art is just a tool to evolve." She admits that her life experiences immediately show up in the works. For example, after travelling to Australia, she found that the size of her paintings had changed. "Australia is a very vast country. When I came back, the size of my works went from small to huge. That was quite funny."

What is special about Eva is her idealism and aspiration that is true to the Auroville dream. "At my first exhibition in Chennai I sold two pictures. But here, in Auroville, I don't sell.We have not come here for this, for money exchange.

"Moreover, this is a gift that has been given to me. It is not that 'I' do, the big I. It is something that comes and I put it down. Where is the 'property'? How can I sell it?" Eva reveals that at her latest exhibition, a lot of her works had willing takers.

But would people not take advantage of her goodwill? "If so it is their problem," laughs Eva. "If after some time, one doesn't want to see a painting or a sculpture any more, one may want to give it back and take something else. But if you have spent money on artwork, there is always the tendency to cling to it and to see it as an investment."

Scrambling up the cloud spiralOn the topic of her latest exhibition, the works exhibited showed baffling contrasts. It was hard to conceive that such diversity of expression came from the same artist. "Yes, but there are different natures to the artist," reflects Eva. "That is why I chose to call it 'Explorations'. I did not want to limit myself saying, 'Eva, this is not your style or this is only temporary'. All this comes from inside and so it has to be from some real part of myself.

"I spoke with another Auroville artist and it gave me the confirmation that the tool for everybody is different, the direction is different. I have a mental rigidity and it is very important to let go and surrender. I see art as a tool to confront myself, discover and manifest what I am and surrender. To protect and imprison oneself is what prevents one from being happy and creative. Anything, anything at all can be the tool," she passionately declares, "But let us just DO! To give up and settle down - this is life's biggest tragedy."

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