An artist’s colorful journey to success

Arshad Sauleh’s painting of life in rural parts of Kashmir.

Arshad Sauleh is a contemporary artist from Indian-administered Kashmir who rose to fame over the years because of his versatile paintings. 

By Malika Kaloo

Art is a source of divine peace for 50-year-old Arshad Sauleh, a contemporary artist, radio broadcaster and teacher from Indian-administered Kashmir.

“Whenever I look around, I realize that God is an artist. He has splashed countless beautiful colors on a canvas called universe. This is one of the reasons that one of the 99 names of Allah is Al-Musawwir (The Fashioner). So, art is not only my passion but a part of my religious life,” he says. 

Sauleh was born in 1971 in Fateh Kadal, a part of the old town in Srinagar to a papier-mâché artist who made some of Kashmir’s most expensive vases using liquid gold as paint. 

Following his father’s footsteps, he started painting when he was five.

“I had a very artistic atmosphere at home. Since my dad was also involved with this, I had a lot of colors and art material available to me as a child. That was my first exposure to the world of creativity,” says Sauleh. 

After getting a degree in Fine Arts from the Institute of Music and Fine Arts of Kashmir in 1992, Sauleh went on to pursue a specialization in figurative painting.

“Art impacts an artist’s personal life. It makes them think differently, feel differently, and communicate differently.”.

Due to limited opportunities and political instability in Kashmir, he later went outside the valley to learn new techniques and interact with international artists.

Despite these challenges, Sauleh is one of the few artists from Kashmir who has earned international recognition for his work over the years. 

He has participated in many exhibitions around the world, including an international exhibition in Tehran, Iran, where he received the International Award of Honor from the president of Iran. He has also worked in around 30 art camps in India and has judged many art competitions.

In 2018, he participated in a workshop in New Delhi, India, where a large group of artists came together and created 4,000 paintings in just two hours and made it to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Although Sauleh sells many of his paintings through his social media accounts and direct contacts, he opened an art gallery at his residence in Srinagar in 2021.

The main themes of Sauleh’s work include culture, nature and Quranic calligraphies. He also makes abstract, semi-abstract, realistic and figurative paintings. 

“My inspiration has always been my beautiful homeland. I have made many paintings based on the natural beauty of Kashmir: glistening lakes, snow-capped mountains, dark woods,” says Sauleh.

He adds that living in a conflict zone has always had an impact on his art themes. 

“I try to depict the pain and sufferings of my people through paintings. As an artist, the atmosphere that surrounds you affects your art. I have used my brush and paints to highlight the turmoil that Kashmir is going through.” 

Artists are quite emotional, according to Sauleh, and they observe their surroundings and express their feelings using their paints and brushes.

“Without working hard, you cannot achieve anything. The person who tries to get pearls from the ocean has to dive deep down to the sea bottom otherwise, he builds castles in the air.”.

For Sauleh, art is a language. It is a means of expressing emotions that words cannot describe.

He believes that art manifests itself naturally in an artist and if he is caged and is not allowed to paint, he can suffer from psychological disorders because a part of his existence is being taken away from him. 

Freedom and appreciation are two things that Sauleh mentions are important for any artist to achieve their dreams. 

“Whatever I am today it is because of the support that I received from my family. My dad has always been my role model. He guided me at every step, and he always gave me the freedom to explore my talent. Now, that I have a family of my own, my wife is a pillar of support for me.” 

Sauleh teaches art at the Government College of Education in Srinagar because he has always wanted to pass on his skills to the talented youth of Kashmir who need guidance. However, he says that he does not like the idea of a formal academy to teach art because art is not learnt, it comes from within. 

“We have so much unpolished talent in Kashmir. I try to guide them in every possible way. I don’t believe in learning art. If you are an artist, you just need guidance,” he says.

Dreams are lifeless unless they are infused with the colors of hard work, dedication and passion. This artist’s journey is one such example. Starting from a small city in a conflict zone in the north of India, Sauleh has been successful in achieving his dreams and painting the canvas of his life with the colors of success.