Bina Shah: Abstract Artist (Part Two)

Sunetra Senior Wednesday 09th June 2021 09:04 EDT

Bina returned to the field of fine art through printmaking which she felt freed her from the constraints of the limited scale of illustration. As part of this journey, she had to unlearn and relearn methods traditionally learnt at art school. Her work has gravitated more towards abstraction and is known for her novel use of materials and techniques rich complex surfaces specialised with use of oil, cold wax and earth pigments; mediums that enable her to express the subtle nuances of her environment: “Being an abstract artist and an illustrator aren’t all that dissimilar in some ways. Illustration is all about creating a visual narrative from text and it involves a mental process of abstraction. Abstraction is about enabling the viewer the opportunity to create their own narrative.”

Whilst Bina’s practice is studio-based, and categorises herself as an abstract landscape artist in the broadest sense, as the landscape clearly functions as potent sources for her inspiration, she rarely refers to her photographs or sketches, as she relies more on a feeling or an experience which seems to serve best to lodge that sensation in her mind to create her work: “It was spending time on the West Coast of Ireland that really accelerated my journey into abstraction. The environment there, with the crashing waves of the Atlantic and the ever-changing light is something which I felt simply could not be captured through the tradition of making on-site sketches as a basis for finished works. I began to experiment with unconventional technical and materials to try and capture the sense of place. Choosing processes and organic materials that are hard to completely control offers scope for the imperfect and accidental and provides a sensation of discovery. The use of indigenous materials and earth pigments to create colour and texture allowed me to create a direct connection to the land.”
Her work is a marked departure from the more literal world of drawing and classic representative art. Indeed, Bina’s artwork has an individual energy that challenges traditional classification altogether: “Negative space gives the freedom to draw what is wanted and not what is already there. This is why I really believe in the spontaneous honesty of an artist’s sketches - there is a beauty in the impulsivity”. Bina’s work is sometimes seen as monochromatic and dark. However, her choice of colours is often seen as bold or tentative. The challenge is always to keep them alive and autonomous – stop them becoming predictable or formulaic. The layers of colours are revealed only when the eyes “settle”. And that requires a state of skilled “unknowing”: “The lines and marks are not for reading or explaining – they are entities in a dialogue with the surface and colour. Through a process of layering, building, etching, abrasion and deconstruction, incorporating indigenous materials, an image is created, echoing memories of a place, provoking emotion and challenging the perception of the viewer to find their own definition and narrative. It is a subtler exploration of emotion. The thoughts that are evoked aren’t so glaring or in your face.”
Bina’s draws inspiration from a range of artists from the past to the present day. She is a keen advocate of South Asian women thriving in the Arts: “At art school we only ever learned about male artists, and never studied major successful female artists. Living in London gave me the opportunity to see, first-hand, works of leading women creatives such as Zaha Hadid, Lubiana Himid, Rachael Whiteread, Rebecca Salter, Nancy Spero and Agnes Martin. Female artists like Louise Bourgeois, Ani Albers and Tracy Emin, most of whose work have both the elements of art and crafts - incorporating what was then seen as the female attributes of sewing and stitching into their mainstream work - was exciting and inspirational. It was challenging to be a female Asian artist of my generation. There weren’t many of us around and the value of creativity wasn’t necessarily understood or encouraged by our communities. I was lucky to have parents who, although not pretending to understand everything that I did, supported my career choice. Now that South Asian communities are well established and have thrived in the UK, it is pleasing to see young Asian women choosing, and being supported to choose, creative career paths and being celebrated for doing so”
As well as local pigments, she also embraces local artistic traditions: “I’m interested in traditional techniques such as hand dying and the natural staining qualities of spices and natural plant material. Unfortunately, the dying industry is fading away in many countries like India and Africa due to economic and climatic changes. I like the idea of preserving these ancient traditional skills, even on a small scale, and hope that I can play a small part in championing and preserving these techniques.”
When asked if traditional training is as important in making good art, Bina’s response was that it was two-fold: “You do need the basic practical training that develops hand-eye co-ordination. Those techniques help to engrain a relationship with your creativity. However, it’s important to remember that we naturally draw before we write: it is an emotional expression of how you are feeling. That first mark on the page has a precious primal quality. You must trust your instinct. It’s a balance of both.” This resonates with the Henry Moore quote that “Art is the expression of the imagination not the reproduction of reality”.
Bina’s painting 'Winter Storm on Bracken Fields XII' (see image) has been selected for The Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours 209th Exhibition and is on view at:
Mall Galleries,
The Mall, London SW1
20 – 29 May, 11am - 4pm
 For all enquires please email:
[email protected]:
To view more of Bina’s work please visit:

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