Double act

Twins Amrit and Rabindra Singh are known for paintings that blend aspects of both traditional Indian culture and contemporary British life. Born in London, the Singh Twins first visited India in 1980. They studied contemporary art and comparative religion at University College Chester in the mid 1980s before completing postgraduate studies in Sikh religious art at Manchester University. In 2010, Amrit and Rabindra had exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of London. While they were in London, they popped into the office of the Government Art Collection to be interviewed …

The Singh Twins visit the GAC

The Singh Twins visit the GAC

© Crown Copyright

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As twins, you are known for your collaborative work. Do you always work together on a particular piece and how does this work in practice – does one of you specialise in any particular aspect? Colour, brushwork or ideas perhaps?
We have always collaborated but in varying degrees. For commissioned works we share every stage of the creative process – researching ideas, formulating and executing the composition. We initially draw jointly and then physically paint the work together, either in a shift or simultaneously and divide the different aspects (portraiture, architecture, decoration etc) of the painting evenly between us.

With series of works such as our SPOrTlight or Facets of Femininity series we research the theme and decide on the format of each painting jointly, then divide the total number of works evenly between us – painting them individually but not in isolation from each other.  This means there is always a dialogue between us that enables us to maintain continuity of the series overall whilst developing the individual narrative of each work.

Even with our earliest works, which were painted entirely individually, there was an element of collaboration in terms of our complying with a common aim and objective in the treatment of those works. Generally we do not specialise in anything but both contribute to every aspect of our work.

Your work is interesting because it provides a contemporary take on the miniature… how do traditional miniature painters react to your work?
Traditional miniaturists have reacted very positively to our work. They appreciate the fact that we have created an interest for the tradition on a global platform that takes it out of the realms of museums and the mass produced tourist industry. This has elevated the miniature to a new level of appreciation – making it relevant to contemporary society and art without compromising the essence of the tradition. To put this in perspective, when we first began to develop the miniature in the 80’s there was very little if any recognition of its value as a modern form of expression. So our touring solo show of India in 2003 was seen as somewhat groundbreaking – receiving wide public acclaim and media attention. We received feedback from artist friends there who had been struggling to work from within that tradition themselves that our work had generated a new movement of appreciation amongst modern art galleries, curators and art critics there and had opened up new opportunities for them to develop and promote their work.

Miniature doesn’t necessarily mean small… is this true of your work?
Yes. Some of our works are much larger in scale than one would conventionally associate with the miniature tradition. For us the term ‘miniature’ applies to a range of stylistic traditions, which make up the miniature genre, rather than the overall dimensions. A style that’s characterised in varying degrees by minute detail, narrative and symbolic content, decoration and flattened perspective and multi-perspective viewpoints.

With reference to the two paintings in the Government Art Collection – Wedding ‘Jange’ II and Painting the Town Red (1996) – what contemporary themes are you particularly interested in conveying through your work?
Both works explore issues of heritage and identity, challenging cultural prejudice born from generally accepted notions of division between east and west, tradition and modernity and projecting an alternative view that celebrates the best of both worlds and the continuing value of tradition within our modern world.

What are you working on at the moment?
We are working on several projects, including a major painting commission for the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto (exploring the history of Sikhs in Canada); a coffee table book highlighting our creative relationship with our home city of Liverpool; and a DVD of the award winning Arts Council funded animation we created last year as part of Liverpool’s wider celebrations of its status as European Capital of Culture in 08.

Can  you foresee a time when you might ever work separately?