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.

Panchal has developed a unique and remarkable way of using watercolour that is close to the (mostly lost) art of fresco, a method of painting on wet plaster so that the pigments become embedded in the wall.  Panchal’s colours aren’t surface glazes illuminated, like a stained glass window, by the light of the white paper shining through behind them.  His colours don’t flash with a quick smile across the surface.  They stay still, breathe and glow. His art isn’t a river; it’s a lake.  His aim is to slow life down, and dig deep.

Eyes are outsiders in his art, leaf-windows on to the world he has come from, where day does battle with night, and black suns hang in pearl-white skies.  His eyes glint with reflections, the only surfaces allowed to shine. They look like fish out of water, surrounded by soft, absorbing meditations.  Eyes are strangers here, because his whole pictures see.

The light in Panchal’s painting is the inner light of meditation, the light of love, affection and admiration, the light of quietness when we distil our sense of being. He paints friendship – in Laxmi-Naryan and Son – a portrait of a friend who lived in Maldon, Essex, with his devout Hindu parents, before a golden staircase. Steps are often a feature of his art; thoughts leading to realms we cannot grasp.  There are none in The Roots, a portrait of two of his sons who served in the Royal Marines in Helmand, Afghanistan. This is a remarkably tender painting of the imprisoning presence of fear.  Panchal has written of this painting:

“As we all know that there is State support to those soldiers who come back wounded, but many of them (only in their late teens) who return with their limbs intact, are disturbed mentally and emotionally and scarred for life. They are so traumatized with the experience of brutal war, unable to sleep well - often having nightmares, have lost contact with friends as they have been away for a while, unable to make a relationship. They are really lost and unable to adjust to normal life, for these men there is no State support or care of any kind as physically they appear to be normal and the fact is that they need help and I feel that these issues are not addressed. Therefore, I wanted to highlight the plight of these young man and their families who suffer in silence”.

The scope of Panchal’s art knows no bounds because its realm is the inner mind. He has developed a language that enables him to illuminate his feelings and his thoughts and give them lasting form.

For more information please visit Shanti’s website:

The Roots or Route to Helmand  2010
103 x 83 cm Watercolour on paper

Laxmi-Narayan and Son 1987
180 x 147 cm Watercolour on paper