Sardar Sobha Singh
Sardar Sobha Singh was an eminent artist of Punjab. Widely acclaimed as the saint-artist of the people, he created a new intensity by delving deep into the spirit of the subject. The conception and execution of his portraits and the landscape paintings remain singularly unique in the sense that they introduce the great spiritual masters and the heroes in a manner that simply evokes adoration. Art for him was not merely an amusing pastime. He held that it had the capacity to elevate the soul and refine the taste of the people. He painted great men, martyrs and pleasing aspects of nature and refused to accept the ominous events and erotic scenes as objects for his art. His portraits of the Gurus, avatars, saints and the immortal lovers shall endure the test of time.
Sobha Singh, for his young admirers was the famous artist 180 cm tall, fair complexioned, sharp featured, slim and handsome of delicate build, with a few sprinkling of pock marks on his face. Normally he wore soft and natural coloured long shirt and pyj ama. When going out, he half wrapped himself in a soft pashmina shawl and carried a black thin, wide, zippered portfolio in his hand. He used thin frame spectacles. To compensate the length of his left leg, he wore a high wooden sandal on this side. He gave an impressive look with his shining grey hair immaculately brushed and his long beard and moustaches. He took long strides limping on his left leg. He had long soft hands and he could strike them against his forearms separately by bending them backward. He was very soft spoken, humble, full of wit and wisdom. His talks were seasoned with anecdotes, quotations, similes, parables and sometimes with indirection.
When at work, he used a long stick to support his hand especially when the painting was large and the canvas was wide. He sat at his easel for eight to twelve hours even during his eighties. An early riser and in the ambrosial hours he used to read the philosophical works of Krishnamurti, Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman who were his favourite writers. Khalil Gibran attracted him in his late years. He lived a free life suiting his aesthetic sense. He loved solitude, and felt himself complete in harmony with nature. He was a strict vegetarian, frugal but very selective eater, avoided food seasoned with condiments and was fond of sweets, fruit and coffee. He was born at Sri Hargobindpur in Punjab but lived most of his life at Andretta, near Palampur in Himachal Pradesh, a small village and a very calm place with snow capped Dhauladhar forming the imposing backdrop.
The semi-circular verandah of his house faced east and gave a broad view of the horizon. It had paintings hanging on its walls. There was a big cage with parapets and sparrows. Rinti – a light golden big Gaddi sheep dog was usually seen around. He came out in the morning, sat and enjoyed the dawn in their company. His famous paintings are Guru Nanak (Blessing attitude with raised hand), Guru Gobind Singh (Last-Resort) and Guru Tegh Bahadur. His painting of Sohni-Mahiwal brought him an instant fame. He was a member of different art academies, art societies and art-associations. He was a fellow of Punjabi University, Patiala He was the State Artist of Punjab. He was declared Artist of the People in 1972. The Government of India in 1984 awarded him Padamshri. The Punjabi University conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Literature (Honoris Causa) in 1985.