Beyond the form

Quality Over Gimmickry


Toying with Art: Jagdish Chinthala’s ‘Anniversary’It’s not very often that one visits a group art show to return with an experience that is both enriching and visually appealing. Perhaps what gets ignored in this quick-fix age of putting together a saleable collection is one most important aspect — that while organising and viewing a group show, one must assess how the group strengthens, rather than weakens, individual creativity. While most group shows are either a motley collection of artworks from the gallery’s existing stock, some rejoice in creating a parochial theme as the connecting thread. Group shows exalting the imagery of anything ranging from monsoon to terrorism, from environment to sexuality have almost become our staple diet.

A preview of the latest group show to hit the capital, organised by Bajaj Capital Art House as its first anniversary show, however, dispels most of these concerns. Curator Sushma Bahl has created an aesthetic balance between commerce and art. The selected artists are some of the most sought-after names and the works fresh. The theme of the show is academic yet personal. There is no gimmick here, just plain and simple quality art!

According to Sushma Bahl, curator of the show, “‘Beyond the Form’ attempts to focus on the underlying concerns, issues, emotions and stories that artists as creators delve into beyond what the eye can see as a ubiquitous form. Most of the artworks have been specially created for the exhibition in response to the theme and give the viewers an interesting visual and aesthetic panorama of contemporary art in varied expressions, oeuvres and genres.” 

No wonder then, the exhibition includes more than 40 works and spans a range of mediums — water colours, oils, pastel and acrylics on canvas and aluminum, digital archival ink on canvas, mixed media on paper and sculptures. To be exhibited in Delhi at Visual Arts Gallery from August 5 before moving to Mumbai’s acclaimed Jehangir Art Gallery, the show brings forth stunning artworks of stalwarts like Krishen Khanna, Satish Gujral, Maya Burman, Paresh Maity and their younger contemporaries like Anil Gaikwad, George Martin, Jagdish Chinthala, Jayasri Burman, Murali Cheeroth, Nitish Bhattacharjee, Sunil Padwal, Viveek Sharma, Vivek Vilasani and TM Azis.

Generation gap between the artists is of no concern, though, to the young luminaries in the show. The theme itself is! Going beyond what the form can teach or the eye can see, each has created a visual world that is replete with overlying layers of context and imagery.

For instance, Vivek Vilasini’s digital archival ink on canvas work titled ‘Mind the Giap’ portrays General Giap, a Vietnamese army general who fought and defeated French and American soldiers while his other work ‘Holy Bible’ is based on an existent Bible that can be bought off the shelves in Bangalore. Says the artist: “Both my works are an anomaly because Vietnam being a small country could resist such powerful invasion while the Bible, covered in camouflage, reminds me of the historical period of the crusades.”

Artist Viveek Sharma’s oil on canvas, in a similar manner, delves into our social milieu but makes the narrative hidden behind the form. The situation in either of his works are not ubiquitous; like in the case of ‘Bullet Proof’, the image of an invincible Chathrapathi Shivaji on horseback signifies the victory of commandos during the Mumbai terror attacks. On the other hand, ‘Brain Wash’ depicts the urban and rural masses of India, their heads as repository and brains as receptacle for an earmarked product of mass consumerism.

One can see a similar aura in Anil Gaikwad’s oil, pastel and acrylic work titled ‘Shadow Becomes Reality’ where the light emanating from the colour pervades the canvas, resulting in a sublime and serene landscape. Says the artist: “My images are identified with certain terrain, valley or a landscape, but in reality I delve deep into an inner space, which unfolds gradually making it a meditative place.”

Taking the canvas beyond the concept of merely a colourful abstract, George Martin’s acrylics on canvas titled ‘A Touch of Elegance’ and ‘Looking For Closure’ enact an enigmatic drama of contemporary life in simplistic urban situations. Applying a unique methodology — first by the mediation of a camera and then by a programme that enables the artist to deconstruct the first image — the unity of the images are broken down to make it look like colourful patches.

Inspired from the built environment, rather than the luxurious flora and fauna he grew up with in Kerala, while Murali Cheeroth’s new video work is based on the use of pesticides on cashew crops in and around rural South, his paintings look closely at multiple layers of urban identities. The colorful theatrical images — surrounded by machines in one of the works and under the arch-lights in another — seem to unveil human body and mind entangled in multiple identities and society’s increasing dependence on technology. 

Unlike Cheeroth, TM Azis’s oil on canvas is steeped in the expressionistic figuration of Kerala from where he too hails. His characters in mixed media reflect situations that represent state of mind, body, gesture and dramatic movements from life. He says: “I have never been particular about maintaining a style as experiences change with time and form with every work.”

Similarly, Sunil Padwal too works in mixed media and explores the androgynous urban male by giving him a definite form and identity. A mélange of colours, graffiti and Russian icons come together on his canvas and effectively convey the angst ridden face of mankind. He enjoys adding dimension to his works, an unusual curved surface instead of a flat one, a molded back to make the painting move away from the wall, a form of twisted metal or an old signboard.

On the other hand, femininity is the world created by Jayasri Burman who creates a balance between beauty and nature through her mixed media work on paper and canvas while Maya Burman’s watercolours are detailed with a strong fantasy element.

The show also incorporates abstracts by Nitish Bhattacharjee and his narratives can be best explained as a passionate encounter between lines and hues. In fact, the degree of abstraction is so immense that the viewer is compelled to question the content behind the inexhaustible layers of texture and colour as well as the frantic movement of brush strokes that occupy his canvas.

While one would have wanted to see more sculptures in the show, those that have been exhibited are top notch. Jagdish Chinthala papier-mâché and aluminum sculptures titled ‘Anniversary’, ‘Best Man’, ‘Room Mates’ and ‘Man at Miami Beach’ are inspired by folklore, toys, acquaintances and incidents from his childhood. Each piece depicts the artist’s astute perception of the outside world and the fallibility of human nature; its character subtly revealed through clothing, facial expressions, posture and use of hands.
Two sculptures by Satish Gujral, apart from his trademark canvases, add a special touch as well.

A happy time for quality art, once again!

The centrestage is, of course, taken by Krishen Khanna, the elusive stalwart whose works rarely find their way into art shows. Through his large scale paintings immersed in thick impasto, familiar figures appear and disappear jogging one’s distant memories. The two drawings here feature one of his most popular and engaging subjects — the bandwallas. Wearing their typical hats and coats holding up their brass instruments, the bandwallas are seen to herald a time for celebration and joy for others though they themselves have to struggle to make a living.

The celebrations do not end with the art though. Bajaj Capital Art House director Anu Bajaj shares the launch of Bajaj Capital Art House’s ‘Artist Fellowship’, a one-year fellowship aimed at mid-career visual artists.

It’s certainly a happy time for quality art once again!

 

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