Art reviews

Architectural staging of atmosphere

Although Tasveer has been accommodating different kinds of accomplished photography from old maharaja portraits to modern classics and clearly contemporary sensitivities, Derry Moore’s “Evening Ragas” exhibition (October 13 to September 30) with all the Indian focus appears to come as a another world of its own, one that consciously chooses to not only restrict its attention to the environment of colonial-time aristocratic palaces and mansions, but also to either omit any present day realities or filter only dainty fragments of it through the admiring nostalgia for the sophistication of the past grandeur.

This approach should not surprise, since Moor, a senior and much acknowledged lens-man who comes from English aristocracy, has been portraying European royals and their residencies. It also frequently evinces indulgent delight at the mood-full beauty and specific animation of his images brought about by his attuned contact with the surroundings he shoots and fleshed out in technically supported aesthetic nuances.

On the other hand, the spectator may not be able to escape the impact of an alluring yet somewhat sanitised vision that arises even through the scenes of dilapidation and remoteness in solitude, a vision whose sympathy for, even perhaps glorification of, the effervescence of the feudal world, whether consciously or intuitively, does not notice the many less appealing of its sides from craftiness to cruelty, as a result gracefully and powerfully reinforcing certain entrenched stereotypes about the opulent and exotic India that derive from the same period as the colonial endeavour.

What is not just truly enchanting but revelatory, are Moore’s images of rich interiors where masses of mostly 19th century European salon sculptures enter into a highly charged, hybrid and flowery, responsive nonetheless, relationship with the indigenous love of ornamental excess. Wonderful then, in particular in the takes from Kolkata’s Marble Palace, is the feel of refined, gently sensuous stirring of figures amid curlicue carvings on the walls and furniture.

The artist finely mediates and mutually engages the play of sharp to dissipating illumination with graded shadows that enhance and sometimes layer the carnal smoothness of the human and volumetric figures of stone to be contrasted as well as picked up by the shiny marble floor designs.

One intuits an actively interconnected inner life of the statuary and décor here. It subtlety, sort of pushed to the edge, carries a potential of kitsch, elements of the latter adding an indulgent humour in the prints from Mewar, where the simultaneously grand and comical cut-out figures of royals echo the merger of grave sophistication and cloying kitsch in the manner the halls present themselves.

Actually, a superb aspect of Moore’s art is his ability to capture and strengthen the gesture of staging inherent to the palaces and their owners which is evident in the dynamic encounters of the décor and statuary, while the photographers add to it by positioning his luxuriously attired grandees at the architectural centre and axis as the possessors and movers of everything. He excels too in emphasising the intricate flatness of some traditional, mainly Rajasthani, building concepts.

One becomes equally fascinated by his landscapes with architecture, for instance the ephemeral nook of the Protestant cemetery in Kolkata, that poetically absorb colonial-time romantic perceptions onto what is in front of him now.

The shots from reality limit themselves to archaic, awkwardly charming and naively sincere shops with old-timers, as other age retainers and sceneries with vast water reflections and dry hunting ground stretches. The close-up portraits of mainly regal ladies and their current business tycoon counterparts are posed with a delicate, rarefied artifice that may be deliberately hark back to the moods of more than a half-century ago. Partly delightful, they sporadically turn slightly conventional, best when strengthened from the character of the person, like Anita Desai.

Designing ethnicity

 Virndavan Solanki”s new paintings at Time & Space (October 10 to 25) continue, with light and formalistic changes, his long-practiced formula where ethnic Gujarati rusticity is comfortably located in the attractive shapes and embellishments of clothing furthered by the assumed tenderness of simple couples of wedded lovers and friends.

The usual blank faces are meant to convey the non-personal broadness of view and the hazy spreads of hues are expected to suggest spirituality. Both ruses, yet, act in the way of the other pleasing formal devices. The new tendency presently is a partial departure from the graphic quality of the black and white canvases that relied on granular textures and linear hatching towards a more indulgent play with smoother, more plaint colours that, nonetheless, retain some of the linear properties of the former kind of paintings.

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