Art review

Illustrated metaphor

“The Expediency of Colour”, Rekha Rao’s recent paintings at Time & Space and the Venkatappa Art Gallery (November 17 to December 2), indeed, continued the artist’s quietly joyous and sometimes sad exploration of pigments that carried her intimate memory of rich hues and forms from immediate reality that oscillates between enhanced recreation of its pure atmosphere and a response to the human condition within it.

Rao seems to be a declared but sensitive modernist who resists clearly contemporary aesthetic means and ways of conveying her understanding of things and reacting to them, nevertheless allows for echoes of its elements to become accommodated inside her mainstream idiom. If it comes through slightly old-fashioned now, it makes up much thanks to the painter’s gently energetic cultured brushing which contains and expresses her empathy for the surrounding world.

Rao does not wish to be evidently individualistic, rather she accepts and intuitively transforms the aesthetic and the outlook inherited from her father K K Hebbar along with traces of still earlier European painterliness. She observes small, intensely atmospheric sights from around modest urban nooks and working-class spaces, an outsider equipped with loving respect. The best here may be the images with cotton flowers and combs which allude to labour, yet just minimally, and focus on the almost translucent, misty vibrancy those lend to the environs over mild-contoured, permeating shapes that reverberate in the not abstract but highly abstracted areas.

The canvases about weavers including looms, fabrics and hands, by contrast, less successfully harden tending towards design while the metaphor acquires excessive illustrative-ness. The stylised figures unnecessarily recall the anachronistic mode of modernist ethnicity. The language of social criticism can similarly turn obvious, like in the prayer of the mighty hypocrites who are revealed as vultures. The works which deal with the emotions, situations of women are ambitious in their desire to see the eternal paradigms of motherly tenderness, confinement, dreaming and hoping as layered of past and present as well as of opposing aspects.

They stress that and try for contemporariness by using the diptych format and combining abstracted, mood-full regions with light impressions of objects and much more realistically rendered female faces with a photographic touch that often source old cinema. Although moving, since one does respond to the simplicity of the content and intention, these images again veer to the literal and not entirely contrast-connect their constituents.

Balancing with life

Another quite ambitious exhibition comes from Rani Rekha’s “Exploration of Existence” at Galerie Sara Arakkal (November 27 to December 10). Even though it does not convince completely, the artist’s seriousness and innocent, attuned sincerity in striving to reach our rudimentary condition in connectedness deserves complimenting. Her vast canvases are dominated by the essential human figure from within which and through which a balance is sought between self, others and the world along with the states, efforts, emotions and processes pervading and guiding it.

A possibility of finding this balance, perhaps finding it tentatively seems to be contained in the complementary similarity between opposites being overcome or united. Thus the human figure here is almost always male and muscular yet imbued with an undulating, feminine softness. The painter anchors it in the idealised realism of classical European masters with a shade or later academicism, while its somewhat sculptural plasticity is given traces of a live, current-day body. Its near-nudity brings in the sense of the basic and the honestly revealing about itself as well as opening to the external. Its corporeal shape houses sensitivity to other presences and to the spiritual core.

Depicting it in ancient yogic poses and ones that verge on iconic, athletic, natural, ballet-like and contorted, Rani Rekha suggests a cyclical and mutually reflecting nature of living and reacting or adjusting to life with its contradictory behaviour, past ad present, its stages, aspirations and feelings. Even if she admits the occurrence of conflict and violence, she trusts our propensity to tune in to others and identify with them, with the environment too. Hence, her body with hair strands migling with the surroundings often filters through, absorbs and accommodates modern city sceneries, as a couple of friends soar along with bridging flyovers and a yogi as a tree incorporates the shape of the street lamp.

The drawing basis of this art aims at the essence, the layers of blending strokes, translucent hues and textures – at permeability. One only wishes the artist refrained from the certain prettiness of it, especially the too elegant, repetitively arching lines. Some rawness would have helped.

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