Art reviews

Art reviews

Sarcasm and compassion

A drawing by Appupen.

“The Flaneur in the City,” the new event at Galleryske (May 21 to June 30), contributes to the venue’s practice of holding joint shows with an inner connection fleshed out by the display that become curated ventures. The current one described as “a comic art exhibition” appears to have shaped during its three participating cartoonists’ interaction perhaps also with the venue.

Treating the comic book, altering it a little, as a form of art in a gallery, indeed responds to the general tendency today to involve reality in art-making and acknowledge the art-like behaviour of some aspects of that reality, as demonstrated recently by Oarsed at Bar1.

The city focus, inspired by the historically co-terminal evolution of urbanisation and comics along with the subjective character of their streams of images and words, stresses the necessary for the genre link to everyday life, while the titular man about town means as much the artists and their readers-viewers.  The Indian context which the artists probe and which contains extreme degrees of evil and its antidotes, against the background of entertainment culture and rapid-shallow communication, seems to ask for easily identifiable yet ironically subversive emblems. 

The well conceived project, on the one hand, takes a very critical look at contemporary city life here but reveals empathy to be its motivation, on the other hand, both addresses the contemporary comic’s historical predecessors and indigenises it passionately but also through questioning. The varied density of the hanging and the use of partial wall drawings to connect specific works and the architecture’s space enhance the mood and the aesthetic nature of the comic book, only the traffic cones being a good idea not so successfully executed. 

The most numerous and diverse, intense and strong are the pieces by George Mathen or Appupen. One may respond best to the black and white cycles on the poisonous city of violence and fraud, its mechanised hybrid future and its gangster Bloody Lal. The dark, brutally frank, aggressive in its irony and disillusioned atmosphere around the super-villain and the environment borrows from the broader idiom of American comics of the Great Depression, appropriates it as part of education, then intrinsically blends it with elements of typical Indian visuals and sensations. Appupen’s grip on the realistic basis enforces those drawings as it does in a different way the series of tabloid pages where the human figures allude to popular local culture’s formal vocabulary and ethnic types.

Without making them alien, he mediates between an eerie figuration pieced tightly together of machinery parts, variants of apparently light, cartoon-resembling stylisation, slightly less convincing being the autobiographic story in Bangalore, and the charcoal-soft images of the Super Heroine. Appreciation for kind and helpful people amidst perennial dangers and deceitfulness urges Gokul Gopalakrishnan to see them as our own ageing, tired vigilante Super Heroes, their very imperfections making them all the dearer and potentially real.

Furthermore, adopting an allusiveness to school textbook illustrations, he locates super human qualities and innocence in the daily labour and hardships of a young call centre employee.  The importance of latent realism and real world reference becomes complemented by the slide projection of Fort Kochi sketches by E P Unny. Informally, leisurely and with much bemused pleasure, the artist has portrayed fleeting, yet essentially true, vignettes of vivacious, rough life happening around grand, old buildings and ancient trees, contemporary locals interacting with colonially imposed cultural phenomena and with new tourists, non-glamorous practicality prevailing under the still rather cartooning-shaped eye.

Indulgent bemusement

Francis Desousa’s humorous depiction of familiar kinds of personalities around may have an element of the absurd in it, as he ventures to portray their bewilderment without much surety or purposefulness.

They handle, hold or merely touch simple objects, hand tools or more advanced yet elusive gadgets. 

In comparison with the previous show, his “complex machinery confused minds” (Right Lines Art Gallery at Gallery Five Forty Five, June 10 to 23) approaches ordinary humans with quiet indulgence.   Their uncertainty seems to speak of innocence and warmth rather than lack of intelligence.

The modernist style is pleasant in a cultured manner and a little stylised-roughened under the veneer of design, toy-like shapes and bright hues playing with translucency on the edge of texture and tone and less subtly with luminescence and changing colours.

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