Of Brushstrokes and Folktales

Paavni Chowdhry | October 10, 2023 | Art

Imagine stepping into a world where the realms of tradition and contemporary life entwine effortlessly, where art becomes a portal to reconnect with the essence of being. Unfolding this captivating narrative through her paintings is Indian artist Priyanka Aelay. 

Born into a legacy of creativity, Aelay’s journey as an artist began with influences from her father, the illustrious artist Laxman Aelay, and her own academic pursuits — a bachelor’s degree from the Jawaharlal Nehru Architecture and Fine Arts University in Hyderabad, a master’s degree from the University of Hyderabad, and a PhD from EFLU, Hyderabad. While these academic milestones laid the foundation for her artistic exploration, her creative spirit paved the way to craft her own distinctive style and narrative.

Left: The Morning on the Rainy Wedding Day

Right: Bhoodevi’s Magical Mango Tree

At the heart of Aelay’s art lies the essence of folk art — its boundless energy, momentum, and simplicity. In fact, her PhD specialised in Indian folk art and stories, with a few specifically related to the region of Telangana from where Aelay originally hails. Themes and styles of Rajput, Pahadi and Mughal miniature and portraiture art also find representations in her canvases, but with a twist. The paintings do not follow a linear perspective and Aelay plays with space, dimensions and perspective to make her landscapes appear free flowing and free floating; far from being strictly traditional, the Hyderabad-based artist’s works often weave contemporary elements and forms seamlessly into the fabric of tradition. 

No Hoofprint in the Absence of Grass

However, Aelay’s creative wellspring is not limited to folk art alone — nature, the environment, and the indigenous flora and fauna all serve as prominent sources of inspiration and storytelling. Her acrylic paintings come alive as enchanting allegories, teeming with birds and beasts from folktales she grew up hearing and learning, and the trees and flowers she witnessed around her residential society growing up — bringing to light a palpable craving for us all to return to and get closer to nature once again.

On the Night of the Wedding Day

Her most recent solo show at KYNKYNY gallery in Bangalore, titled ‘Flying Tigers and Other Beasts’ brings to life once again a fantastical explosion of flora and fauna where recurring animal figures narrate episodes from folk stories against the dreamlike backdrop of dense clouds and lush forests. Whether it is ‘He Gave His Back a Hitch!’ or ‘It Never Vanishes But Gathers’, a truly fascinating detail is Aelay’s use of a deep blue-green hue to paint the sky. What makes this tone stand out is that the versatile colour and the whimsicality of the compositions, depending on the perception of the viewer, can signify two distinct times in the day – an early, dewy dawn or a late foggy night much after dusk.

Left: He Gave His Back a Hitch!

Right: It Never Vanishes But Gathers

Her use of dark-hued moody backdrops like these are juxtaposed with vividly coloured animals in yellows, oranges and reds (as seen in ‘The Echo of This Forest is Unbroken’ and ‘The Conversations that are Less Made’) along with textures that add an almost multidimensional layer to the artworks, imbuing a sense of timeless wonder in each painting. 

The Conversations that are Less Made

Aelay’s art is a testament to the power of tradition, the allure of contemporary life, and the eternal connection between humanity and nature — you can’t help but be drawn into the subtle nuances and anecdotes that have shaped the artist’s life and her craft. Each brushstroke narrates a story, inviting the viewer to immerse themselves in her world, both in and outside the canvas. 


Words by Paavni Chowdhry.

Images of Paintings courtesy of Priyanka Aeley.

Cover Image: ‘The Echo of this Forest is Unbroken’ by Priyanka Aeley.

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