Art review

A painting by Mohamed Rizvan.Different lives of stone

“Hampi stones - recent works”, the just concluded exhibition by Mohamed Rizvan at Galerie Sara Arakkal (October 30 to November 20), was probably the first extensive solo of this mid-career Bangalore artist, although one has seen his paintings in various group and duets with an kindred soul, Satish S Sholapur. Beginning from his late ‘90s images of heavily textured and in their reductive form intense earth formations that explored, in tune with the spirit of the time, the expressive physicality of the materials in response to the condition of the environment.

While this preoccupation with soil, rocks and nature, both in their pristine and violated aspects, has endured together with the frequently recurring motifs from around the Hampi landscape, over the years gallery goers have noticed quite a number of aesthetic vocabularies through which his concerns have been manifested, from realistic to purely evocative as well as concept-guided ones. The new show, in fact, perhaps on account of the curator P. Sudhakaran’s choices, seemed to be simultaneously a summation and deepening of the central area of interest and a tighter now re-visiting of a diversity of formal attitudes. The result was partly quite wonderful but partly somewhat loose.

What one truly appreciated were the large and not so large watercolours on paper depicting a variety of spectacular boulders familiar from around Hampi. Here Rizvan’s realistic skills came to the fore enabling him to bring out a heightened sensation of monumentality and character in which he conjured veritable portrayals of rocks as though ancient, live beings shaped by their experience and holding traces of immemorial history.

The rock portraits at the same time appeared to have absorbed the artist’s intimate yet also distanced feeling towards them and reflection. The sheer sensation on such dual presence arose from a fine, intuitive rather than calculated, employment of realism not to description but to expressiveness. The black and white monochromatic images with tonalities oscillating from delicately luminous to shadowy enigmatic, somewhere enhanced roughness and sharp, rugged, cracking silhouettes that turned graphic, somewhere imbuing the volumes with sensuous, breathing skin-like qualities.

Their impact strengthened thanks to the shapes being removed from their scenery, except for the sporadic cast shadow, the aura of the scenery nonetheless pervading them. The effect was immediate, almost tactile, as well as distanced, as if enveloped in musing, memory and poetry, tender and a little melancholic. Translated onto picturesquely piled masses of boulders in the vast acrylics on canvas, such images looked impressive at first glance, but only to dilute because of the certain vagueness in the stone matrix modelling or indifferent over the smoothness of the sepia backgrounds.

Stone assumed another avatar in the coexistence of rocks and hills set amid palm trees with human dwellings and old temples or ruins structured of it. The large paintings with such panoramas were perhaps too literal to convince despite the fact that one understood the logic of their monochrome drawing-like properties. A still another style came in the watercolours with figural motifs from temple friezes. These half-sculpture-portraits, half-mythic characters come alive were charming but a bit mannered and again obvious. Lyricism and fantasy returned, nonetheless, in the paintings where archaic pillars or wall vestiges entered into a mysterious, soaring relationship with scatterings of animated, soft rocks.

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