January 23, 2020
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Olivia Fraser

The artist wife of William Dalrymple, whose recent exhibition on Indian miniatures in Delhi was a sell-out, on why India fascinates her

Olivia Fraser
Olivia Fraser
How do you choose your subject matter?

It’s what I see around me when I’m travelling or looking at old miniatures and updating them.

Which Western artists inspire you?

Those who travelled! Gauguin, who took off to Tahiti and Rousseau who travelled in his imagination.

Could you describe your paintings before you discovered Indian miniatures?

Huge, wall-size, thick, pasty oil canvases! In India I threw out my oils and switched to watercolours, which capture the wonderful glowing quality of light here.

Do you paint anything from life in London?

No...I only paint from India! When I go back, I take material with me to work with.

In your 18 years here, has anything changed in your way of seeing?

Everything’s getting brighter!

Anything you find frustrating to paint?

What’s really frustrating is when I see a perfect image dash past me. Yesterday, I saw a fabulous truck carrying a white powder covering the faces and hands of the four men standing on it. Their headscarves were flying, they looked like they were sailing a pirate ship!

In this age of performance, installation and video art, what draws you to watercolours?

When I was in art school briefly, a lot of young people who didn’t know how to draw went into the new fads. But I’ve always adored the visual.

Do you like any contemporary artists despite that?

I prefer historical stuff like the miniature paintings at the National Museum of Delhi.

What’s your favourite spot to paint in India?

Rajasthan. The clothes, the traditions, the culture.... It’s a place I find incredibly colourful.

Picasso said, "I don’t paint what I see, I paint what I know." What do you paint?

I used to do the first, but now I’m learning to do the latter!

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