Q&A: Govinda Sah ‘Azad’

Are clouds a metaphor for climate change? Artist Govinda Sah ‘Azad’ talks to Ruth Styles about how art can play a part in the fight against global warming

While clouds have dominated the background in many a painting, rarely are they the focal point. Rarer still is the use of clouds as a metaphor for the perils of climate change but that’s exactly what Govinda Sah ‘Azad’ has set out to do. Currently showing his work in a major exhibition at London’s October gallery, The Ecologist caught up with the Nepalese artist to discuss art, climate change and how painting can play a part in raising awareness of global warming.

Ruth Styles: Hi Govinda, how are you? You must be pleased about the new exhibition...
Govinda Sah ‘Azad’: ‘This is a really big dream come true for me! It’s really important to me to show my work to people here.’

RS: Clouds are an unusual choice of subject matter. What is it that interest you about them?
GSA: ‘When I started, I was a landscape painter and the first time I really encountered clouds was in 1999 when I was painting near the mountains [in Nepal] before sunrise. As the sun started to rise, a small bubble appeared and these bubbles were clouds. Within an hour these bubbles had become massive and I had to stop painting because the mountain was gone. I didn’t think I’d paint clouds then  - I was irritated because no-one could see how beautiful the mountains were thanks to the clouds. But I never forgot it and later on, in 2006, I started to paint the clouds themselves.’

RS: What do clouds symbolise for you?

GSA: ‘Originally, my intention was to give a message of peace and it wasn’t as much about the impact of clouds as a metaphor for nature’s power, climate change and global warming. But after I moved to London in 2007, I began to see clouds as nature’s emotions. Clouds are seen everywhere and just as emotions are common to all cultures, clouds are too; they’re emotions in the sky.’

RS: That’s a rather beautiful way of putting it. Do you have any particular emotion in mind when you paint clouds?
GSA: ‘There’s never a particular emotion in mind, although they do tend to reflect what I’m feeling at the time. What really moves me is the way that each cloud is made up of millions of drops of water mixed with light. I try to paint it in an emotional way, especially in the details where in so many ways, you can see a reflection of the conflicts that are happening in the real world.’

RS: Your finishes have a very tactile feel – sometimes the top layer is cracked, there are visible layers of paint and so on – why is texture so important for you?
GSA: ‘I use materials, which again reflect the nature of the clouds and the messages I’m trying to put across. Usually there’s a mixture of oil and acrylic paints. Oil is natural, acrylic is not and together they bring texture. Sometimes it brings cracks; it’s very much a natural thing and says that every cloud has a real, physical, spiritual gravity, which we can’t pull against.

RS: So for you, there are two dimensions to your work: spiritual and natural?
GSA: ‘I suppose you could describe it as spirituality in nature rather than as anything religious but the cloud does appear in lots of religions as an emblem of God’s power. I think it also represents nature’s power. You see this now with climate change; the clouds are rolling in. It’s something I think we can’t control and I think it means big trouble, and a real challenge.’

RS: So clouds can also be seen as a reflection of the impact that global warming is having then?
GSA: ‘I think so, yes. They’re a reflection of what’s happening in nature – its fragility and the problem of not taking climate change seriously. For me, the situation is a disaster but we’re still not doing enough to protect the nature. It’s a really disappointing situation and we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do because we think nature will fix it. Can it? For me, it is a very big frustration to see how people are becoming so cruel to nature. People have lost their emotional connection and what happens? If there’s no cloud, there’s no life. I feel so afraid of what will happen but I am an artist; I cannot explain what to do. All I can do is express it through my art. We can all try to do something in our different ways. It's a good time for me to talk about it.’

The Govinda Sah ‘Azad’ exhibition runs until the 26th February at the October Gallery. For more information, see the October Gallery website

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