Raghav Babbar’s intensely personal figurative paintings draw upon both his Indian heritage and the painterly techniques of mid-20th century British art. He applies the oil paint lavishly, delighting in the rich texture that only that medium can offer to an artist patient enough to build up such thick layers. This technique, as well as the often intense relationship with the sitter, and the physical aura that Babbar imparts to them, has drawn comparisons to British artists of the last century. But there they end.
As befits his quiet and diffident personality, the ’conversations’ Raghav has with his sitters are gentle and gracious. His subjects are drawn from friends and family, but especially from the ranks of normal working people living everyday lives in India’s richly varied society. They are the sort of people who might pass unnoticed, but are recreated and dignified by Raghav with empathy and sensitivity. “Their momentary actions usually give me the purest display of emotion possible, especially when they are alone.” The fact that Raghav often chooses to depict his subjects in daylight is largely to do with the way life is lived in India, avoiding both the oppressive heat indoors and the burning sun outdoors. But the raking sunlight from which his subjects are often sheltering throws harsh shadows that give poignancy and drama to his subjects.
As befits a young painter, Raghav’s art is constantly evolving. He continues to paint slowly and patiently, building up layers of oil paint that can take up to 15 days to dry before the next layer is applied. But some subjects require a more urgent, spontaneous and almost rhythmic technique, and so he mixes ground chalk with the oil paints to speed the process. Rather than just focussing on single figures observed intently, he now occasionally paints multiple figure compositions, large canvases filled by carefully composed groups where the forms and shapes flow into each other. Meanwhile, in his single figure compositions, the face of the subject sometimes almost dissolves with the folds of their clothes and the shapes formed from the background into a flatter, slightly abstracted pattern. Each new work surprises us and shows the depth of talent of this extraordinary young artist.
Raghav Babbar was born in Rohtak, a city about 40 miles from Delhi that is reputed to have the largest cloth market in Asia. As a young art student he travelled extensively through Uttarakhand and Sikkim, the Northern states abutting Tibet and the Himalayas, and was profoundly influenced by the area’s spirituality, by its people and by his discovery of his own heritage. In 2017 he moved to Singapore where he studied at the prestigious Lasalle College of Art. Two years later he attracted favourable attention participating in a group exhibition at The Institute of Contemporary Art in Singapore, and having deferred his offer to study for an MFA at the Royal College of Art in London, in 2022 he took up his place there. Raghav currently lives and works in London.