Visual Arts

A Gentle Augur of Seasons

Recently Montserrat Contemporary Art hosted a magnificent solo exhibit by retired pathologist, Neela Pushparaj MD. She has spent her life as a true healer in medicine and now she shares that ability with us, as a fine watercolorist presenting a beautiful outing she simply calls, “Leaves.” 

Dr. Pushparaj allows her paintings to speak lovingly to viewers through applications of myriad colors on wet or damp paper, shapes emerging from negative space. She does not prepare her surfaces with preliminary sketches so that, in contrast, forms emerge spontaneously from feelings communicated directly through brushes. Intuitive, subtle chromatic choices convey spiritual depth and leafy subjects here are autumnally shaded; but unlike in “Les Feuilles Mortes,” with raiment portending the coming melancholy, Dr. Pushparaj’s leaves of red and gold soothe, as mature end-of-fall performance is brought to joyous conclusion, helping us move to a discontented winter less alarmingly. 


The artist displays her impish humor in a painting she calls, “Soft Landing,” where a friendly dragonfly alights on one leaf placed off the painting’s center, anchoring the entire composition. Green tones contrast harmoniously with complimentary reds while the insect casts a subtle shadow on its supporting verdant landing pad. This insect is the star of the piece and the only element in it that is not vegetation. 

In her semi-abstract rendition of Maidenhair fern, created over a week, Dr. Pushparaj paid tribute to her mother, this plant her parent’s favorite. Here a sumptuous falling shower of greens caresses the purple fern that almost melts off the wispy branch in the picture’s left side. Branch intimations are gestured throughout the piece, the leaves dropping in subtle ovoid shapes of diaphanous yellows and soft greens painted as a luminous waterfall. The vertical downward color thrusts are given dynamic tension from a diagonal in the composition, heightening the petals’ descent. 

“Gently Falling Leaves,” a departure from the artist’s abundant filling of surfaces with luxuriant foliage, evokes autumn more realistically where leaves on the birches are painted in quick orange strokes in downward urgent directions, contrasted with a tranquil leafy blanket gently hugging the tree trunk, in the piece’s lower part. The brilliantly dashed oranges provide the drama juxtaposing with a soft ground of road, and field, and distant tree standing in pale woodland light, as compositional verticality is offset by bright horizontal strokes on branches, moving the eye in a left to right sweep. 

“Autumn Leaves”

Dr. Pushparaj tackles creatively any technical difficulties she may encounter in making her art. In one such painting, done in Poland, she first created a horizontal composition. She then found it needed something more than what was found in this iteration and turned the painting on its vertical axis, thus realizing a satisfying result. 

Working with the color green, too, is sometimes challenging for her, but she handles this complexity adeptly in her painting of shamrocks done in her signature watercolor style. The little green flowers dance across the entire painting as the artist sensitively manages darks and lights in the repeated happy forms that anticipate springtime rejuvenation. With a mischievous grin, she tells us this piece is to honor her Irish-American son-in-law, although that dedication came after the painting was finished and was not a determining factor in its inception. 

As a physician, Neela Pushparaj has spent a lifetime helping people heal. She came to watercolor painting late in life and now, in her autumn years, her talent has come to full glorious fruition. It is significant that this beautiful exhibit occurred at a time of worldwide sickness and my being able to view it is for me a testament of the triumph of life over death. Dr. Pushparaj’s work makes people happy, soothes the anxiety of living in very tenuous times, and provides affirmation that there is still great beauty for all of us to enjoy. Her watercolors have a unique simplicity and directness to them that at the same time is spiritually profound. We need her to keep painting gorgeously, especially as we continue facing a serious malady that refuses to disappear. Her light filled work shines beyond our current darkness giving us hope for a brighter future.

Neela Pushparaj can be seen in the year-round Salon at Montserrat Contemporary Art Gallery

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