Writers on Shanti Panchal

Writers on Shanti Panchal

‘Shanti Panchal’s paintings are sculptures of light. They aren’t flat, still less shimmers across a screen.You need to see them in the flesh, in the same way you look at someone you love. Then you become aware of the thickness of the heavy, hand-made sheets of paper he works on, and their richly textured, absorbent surfaces. His is, primarily, a physical art.  But the substance he is modelling, cutting into and shaping is not material; it’s nothing less than light itself.’

– Julian Spalding, 2013


His… ‘are luminous images of great poise and dignity, which quite often attain a gravity unusual in contemporary portraiture… Shanti Panchal, through a thorough understanding of interval and placement and palette which is both powerful and subtle, makes paintings of rare poetry and eloquence.’

– Andrew Lambirth (‘Luminous Serenity’, The Spectator, February 2007)


‘As a child working and playing alongside his parents, Shanti used to make paper boats which he sailed in the irrigation channels they used to cultivate their crops. The boats would, of course, soon become waterlogged and sink and he would make others, the repeated act becoming a powerful metaphor over the years for the intense and ultimately successful struggle he was to make to run away from home (aged 14) and eventually become an independent artist.’

– Nicholas Usherwood (writing of Panchal’s monumental painting The Paper Boat in the catalogue for the 2007 exhibition Regard and Ritual at Ben Uri, The London Jewish Museum of Art)


‘Shanti Panchal’s unique use of watercolour brings dimensions of western and eastern tradition together in a completely new manner. It is possible to see in his work, for example, in his frozen shadow-less figures with their large open eyes, a transformation of Jain and early Rajput miniatures. It is equally possible to see the connections between his work and the spiritual visions of western mystics such as El Greco and William Blake…

‘Shanti Panchal’s work is not simply a recollection of a lost way of life. It is fiercely contemporary, a commentary on a changing present which is omnipresent. As was the case with the cinematic works of Satyajit Ray.’

– Professor Deborah Swallow (Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art since 2004, from a catalogue essay for the artist’s 2003 British Council touring exhibition)


‘We soon recognise that these paintings are deeply personal and not illustrations… We can tell, even without his confirming it, that each image speaks from a particular experience, re-enacting it in a transformed and concentrated form… The emotional resonance of his actors is that of a few notes struck without vehemence amid silence. The results are not only beautiful – which makes them seem complete in themselves – but profoundly moving. All they ask from us is attention and openness. To ask this is the essential task of art today.’

– Norbert Lynton (Catalogue essay for the artist’s touring Private Myths exhibition, 2000)


‘Executing only a few pictures each year, Panchal devotes himself to each succeeding image with an absolute contemplative commitment. The slowness of his approach, outlining the composition initially in pencil and then building up more than a dozen layers of watercolour wash on the thick, rough paper he favours, is akin to a meditative exercise… The tension between [his characters] is highly dramatic… Panchal insists on retaining the flatness of the picture plane even when distances are evoked. It accentuates the feeling in his pictures of expectancy and compression. But it also lends clarity to his work, giving directness and immediacy of impact. Only after a while… does the enigmatic flavour of Panchal’s art become apparent as well.’

– Richard Cork (Catalogue essay for the artist’s touring Windows of the Soul exhibition, 1998)


‘Five years ago I became acquainted with the work of Shanti Panchal, an acquaintance which resulted in the acquisition of his painting ‘Waiting’ for the Indian Collection of the British Museum. Since then my admiration for his work has increased as his artistic vision has further unfolded.’

– Richard Blurton, Curator, Department of Asia, British Museum (Foreword, Mehraj Gallery exhibition catalogue, London, 1997)


‘The fusion of worlds in his work is highly individual…  Panchal himself effortlessly bridges the two cultures… What makes a Panchal immediately recognisable… is above all the quality of the colour. In it, the brilliant tints of Indian textiles, and even Indian foodstuffs, are reduced to exquisite harmonies, as though the works are somehow illuminated from the inside… his art comes over as deeply humane, a lesson in tranquillity from the artist’s own philosophical calm.’

– John Russell Taylor (Scenes from a multi-cultural life and times’, The Times, August 1992)


‘Shanti Panchal’s quiet yet resonant watercolours are the antithesis of instantaneous art. They compel us to take a long and close regard… Panchal’s subject is the human being rather than merely the human face and form… He depicts isolated figures in communal dramas…'[his] terrain is that of his Gujurati childhood and early adulthood, in retrospect poignantly appreciated, celebrated, grieved over. The huge, unsmiling eyes of his figures usually look neither at the spectator or at each other, but beyond the picture frame to some unknown scene, or to the deep layers within.’

– Philip Vann (‘Seeing beyond the frame’, RA magazine, 1992, Summer 1992)


‘The sacred and unwordly atmosphere Panchal achieves shatters local and individual particularity and reassembles his subjects as symbols, enigmatic, potent and unsettling migrants between the here-and-now and the world of dreams… The atmosphere of inner spiritual vitality emanates from the hieratic stillness of his figures, it springs from his subjects’ huge eyes, which remain almond-like or ound in profile, too, as in Indian miniatures, and it gathers in the darkened centre of their foreheads, the site of the Shiva’s third eye, the mystical core of intuitive vision…

‘Home is fully present in his images, with all a departing son’s conflicting feelings about it. And then home is absent, too, in the paintings made in London; but again, the artist conveys mixed feelings, as he remakes a new dwelling place out of his observations and experiences. In this conjuration of a territory of the imagination… Shanti Panchal communicates an important and very modern message.’

– Marina Warner (From catalogue essay for the artist’s 1992 Royal Festival Hall exhibition)