Crossing over

East meets west

Crossing over

Indian-foreign collaborations seem to be the new flavour in art this season. Just recently one had applauded Baroda-based Shelly Jyoti and Chicago artist Laura Kina’s mixed media show on indigo blue, when another upcoming Indian-American partnership is set to blur the boundaries even further. Titled ‘Crossing Over’, a two-man show by Delhi’s Amitesh Verma and Californian artist Andrew Connelly will get underway at Shridharani Gallery in the Capital starting June 15. 

While Verma is a young artist whose past work resonating with detailed anatomical animal and human studies has won him accolades in just about a decade of being in the industry, Connelly’s large-scale installations can even double up as performance art! For this exhibition, Verma is showing nearly 25 canvases in oil, charcoal and mixed media done during his three-month residency at Marnay-Sur-Seine in France in November last year, hence reflecting a new-found European sensibility in his detailed studies. An assistant professor of sculpture at Sacramento State, Connelly is setting up installations inspired by his residency at Sanskriti Foundation in Delhi that imbibe his observation of the Indian social and cultural milieu.

Says Verma, “I have always treated spirituality in human form as my subject. But my three-month stay in France was a period of spiritual arousal and gave me a new insight into how I looked at people as subjects.” For instance, through the painting titled ‘Karmic Connection’, the only work that shows the torso of a horse — his earlier muse, juxtaposed with a spiritual face, he connects himself with ‘karma’, displaying his artistic transition.

In a totally different canvas titled ‘My Crush’ portraying the face of a blonde girl who Amitesh speaks of as Mayra — a lady with whom he developed a close friendship during his residency programme, the artist reveals his mastery over drawings as well. Another work titled ‘Awakening’, of a French woman shows a similar inspiration. “I met the subject of this work at a railway station in France and was impressed by the way she spoke,” says Verma. “Despite the barrier of language, we forged a friendship that still endures,” he adds.

In ‘Releasing the Self’, Verma shows how he was in awe of the beautiful surroundings in France, he took solace in meditation and discovered a whole new meaning to freedom. Apart from the portraits of various people he closely interacted with and was influenced by during his first visit to France, there are full-bodied pencil and charcoal drawings that once again reflect Verma’s deftness with the drawn line, for which he gives full marks to his guru and eminent artist Neeraj Goswami. He also believes that his drawings have changed greatly over the last two years and his work has “evolved”. “My studies used to look more like still life earlier, but now I think I have come much closer to the abstraction in form that I was seeking for so long.” 

Best known for his large-scale sculptural installations that perform themselves and, more often than not, become sites for collaborative monologues and performance pieces, Andrew Connelly’s latest installations dwell on various topics ranging from the transition of traditional to industrialisation, from bureaucracy to layers within the social strata of a society.

Referring to his installation work titled ‘Transcendence’ — a bamboo structure rooted in the earth and yet carrying an embodied lightness as it appears to reach towards the sky, becoming fluid like water as it travels, transforms and disappears, he explains, “The abstract form certainly lends itself to interpretation and I enjoy the ambiguity. Being a ‘transcendent’ performance, the form itself exists in transition, defining space only by means of a bamboo line while light passes through, yet its presence can not be denied.”

He adds, “I made a similar form in my studio back home out of solid laminated wood and wanted to see the same form in woven bamboo; I wanted to see a contrast, a translucency to the form. Bamboo is also a material associated with the developing world. Unlike the US, it is used for so many applications such as scaffolding and furniture here in India. While making this work in India, I was able to observe and embrace the contrasting cultures and approaches to all things.”

Apart from bamboo, the other element that gets repeated in Connelly’s work is water, for which he says, “The Sanskriti grounds are so beautifully considered and architecturally designed. The pond there was a perfect site for its reflective qualities while setting a sculpture on fire. We all have personal connections to water, whether it is the clear substance that comes out of the tap, a murky pond, or deep ocean, not to mention our physical makeup. I grew up with a healthy respect for water, both  for swimming and fishing in the waters around New York. Its memories and personal connections evoke both a passion to breathe ocean breezes and to fear its fury during storms and floods.”    
In yet another seminal work titled ‘Beacon’ that combines terracotta pottery with a bamboo stick wrapped with a colour coated electrical tape, Connelly draws a cross reference from the traditional to industrialisation. In the installation titled ‘Helm’, the outer forms are made from recycled water bottles covered with rice and glue. This work portrays “sustenance, formalised into the large steering wheel, often the large ship of bureaucracy as it turns ever so slowly.”

The installation titled ‘Instrument’ is made of soft drink bottles with concrete bamboo stick covered with electrical tape. This ‘device’ is extrapolated from an outdoor installation where this object was balanced in a tripod. The ‘Instrument’ was able to rotate freely in the breeze similar to a weather vane. In ‘Identity’, Connelly uses Limca bottles with rice coloured by holi powder capped with a concrete lemon. Each bottle is juxtaposed with the decal of an image taken from different flags of India. 

Structured to observe the social strata in India, ‘Looking In’ is a ring of suspended photographs of most male workers from the Sanskriti Kendra ranging from kitchen help, landscapers to security. ‘Object in Transition’ is a form covered with shapes resembling micro-organisms supporting a horizontal stack of bottles. “I am making a series of these for the show in different forms, including the bottles. I enjoy the comparative between the recognisable identity of the bottles and the abstract of the pink forms,” explains Connelly.

With Verma’s spiritual portraits that instantly soothe and calm your mind, juxtaposed with Connelly’s intricate installations that breathe fire and light, this show seems poised for becoming a hot summer’s must-do art outing!

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