Art reviews

Art reviews

­Natural and the denatured

Borders and Boundaries’, the just concluded painting exhibition of S Sham Sunder (Sumukha, October 13 to November 3), came after a long gap, the artist having been preoccupied with teaching and heading the Department of Fine Art at S N School, University of Hyderabad.

At first glance, the large canvases with vast sceneries peacefully spreading along pronounced horizons quite immediately draw the spectator into their atmosphere that is saturated with a brooding, aspirational beauty.

Soon enough, however, they trigger an uncertain discomfort around indications towards unnatural, ominous divisions, dimensions and occurrences. For those who remember Sham Sunder’s early career, especially as a figural sculptor, the desolate landscapes simultaneously differ from and connect with that phase in their tender, tactile sensitivity permeated by an undercurrent of turmoil and pain.

The contradictory character of the images suggests the impossibility of direct and normal contact with the visible in an increasingly complex and hybrid world. It lets one think of related conclusions by other painters who use the realistic means of probing: Sudhir Patwardhan’s compressed multiplicity of suburban perspectives and K T Shiva Prasad’s coexistence of alien realities and times carrying diverse ways of perception.

Sham Sunder remains torn between reposing his trust in the qualities of free expanse, abundant generation and nourishment or calm pleasure associated with pristine nature and his despairing about the aberrant and often violent human incursions into it which may augur annihilation, his mood then oscillating from delight to gloom.

And so, among the stretches of shadowy green ground and clouded blue of the sky frequently mingled with dark sunset hues, the continuous horizon may be an expected emphasis, but the nearly filigree golden gate rising in the middle of nowhere and extending its fence far into the depth gains sinister tones allowing only dry leaves around it.

The motionless emptiness is half-relieved by flocks of birds defying the gate which secures ownership while oozing a hint of crimson. The apparent serenity of another panoramic sight, already undermined by the presence of leafless trees and a deep pit in the earth, becomes denied by the other part of the diptych which reveals its own remote fragment in close-up as red-stained, barren soil further wounded by excavation whose man-made precision holds cruelty.

The artist identifies his hope and empathy with the birds that turn into a metaphor for nature, sadly observing its own condition impacted by people.

The enormous eye of the crescent moon amid obscure cumuli and flying birds looks down on the unending, flat and hostile ground into which the iron barrier has immersed itself permanently, while elsewhere a compact globe echo above is reflected in a bleeding circle below or holes in the ground wait to entrap the birds of freedom.

As a sharp-carved river of blood cuts through a misty cluster of green trees, the variety of face on views and relatively acceptable perspectives are counterbalanced by integral yet precipice-like inverted flights of scenery.

If the understated softness of the canvases does not disclose the drastic content instantly or entirely, the few smaller water colours and drawings compensate that with images of a man welcoming birds, nearly becomes one of them, of another equipped with bullets and a devil’s mask and of a firm fist holding a grenade.

To note the less convincing side of the oeuvre, whereas the strongly executed graphic works tend to be slightly literal, the large oils and acrylics focus on dark yet enchanting and somewhat vaguely rendered moods contradicting those through a not sufficiently powerful stress on harsh aspects of the whole.
 
Three kinds of design

Three otherwise rather different idioms connected by their preference for a basis in designing were noticed in the paintings of three artists who exhibited at the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath last month. Dipesh Majumdar’s “Psychedelia” need for a pattern could be perhaps understood as natural for an impassioned amateur who tried to capture and enhance a diversity of complex, intensely emotional states by fragmenting and abstracting heads or figures and their surroundings into compressed yet somewhat dissipating accumulations of bright and contrasting colours.

In the other two cases, the professionalism of their techniques became employed to comfortably offer variations within well-established and fairly old-fashioned aesthetic ways. For K K Makali, it meant an ornate sort of rustic ethnicity that relishes a highly, if sweetly, stylised, linear description with abundant jewellery and colours.

Ramesh Chavan, differently, indulged in apparently free, spontaneous abstraction with broad gestural accents and line squiggles, those being treated though like predictable patterns even when combined with elements of sketchy or mannered figuration.

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