Walking the streets of Chinatown at mid-morning, one is often confronted by busyness – people hurrying to and from work, shoppers in the many lanes selling a wide array of things (dried seahorses and bats alongside Chinese handicrafts and tailoring services) and tourists at the well-known local sights. So I was a bit taken aback to see a group of artists on the pavement at the corner of Club Street and Ann Siang Road, leisurely sitting and painting en plein air this Monday morning.
The group was actually a workshop that was being led by a watercolour artist: they were engrossed in trying to capture the quaint and colourful shophouses that line the two streets. I also discovered that the artist, Milind Mulick, is a well-known watercolourist from India and his books on painting techniques are extremely popular with watercolour enthusiasts in Singapore. While observing the group, two things caught my eye; One was the speed at which the artist was painting and the second was that he was seated in front of his easel with his shoes off.
I caught him during a break to find out more about him, watercolour painting and of course why he paints without his shoes on a la M.F Husain!
Durriya Dohadwala: . Why did you pick Chinatown to conduct your outdoor session? Why not the skyline or orchids that Singapore is so famous for?
Milind Mulick: Chinatown has a certain humbleness to it. It is homely, down to earth and colourful and I was immediately taken up by it on this visit and my last one to Singapore as a tourist. It also suits my style of painting.
DD: Do you only paint in watercolour?
MM: No. I also work in oil, acrylic and dry pastel. Every medium has a character of its own and I think my temperament or my speed of thinking matches best with watercolour. When I am thinking very quickly, I can put the paint on paper as quickly in watercolor so that helps me. And maybe that’s why I keep coming back to this medium.
DD: What is the biggest challenge for you in working with watercolours?
MM: Watercolour has its own limitation and characteristics and going beyond these limitations is the biggest challenge. It doesn’t mean that I want to do the impossible with it and show it to the world. Rather, knowing the characteristics of watercolour, I want to produce the best creative work that I can- with the help of the medium not in spite of the medium. .
DD: What are the top five things that produce a good watercolour painting?
MM: Five is rather difficult. But the most important thing, for any painting to work is the honesty of the painter. If the painter is trying to impress or trying to imitate someone, the painting may look good but it won’t work. Second, is the skill with the medium. I don’t mean the skill of drawing or skill of painting technique but rather the skill of understanding the medium and using it to its maximum possibilities without pushing it beyond the possible. So, working with the medium as an interaction, as if the medium is another person, is very important . Thirdly good paper, good paint and good brushes .
DD: Do you have any favorite Singaporean artist?
MM: I don’t know of many Singaporean artists, but Ong Kim Seng has been one of my favorite artists for a very long time.
DD: Why do you paint with your shoes off?
MM: That’s a good question. I prefer to remove my shoes when I paint as it frees my mind. I am more of myself without my shoes on.