Individual Palettes

14 Mar

Georgina Maddox

The word Individuality or individualism, comes up frequently when Rameshwar Broota, a reputed Indian artist whose work primarily interrogates the male body, talks of his current curatorial intervention in bringing together the exhibition, Individual Palettes, featuring artists from the Triveni Kala Sangam Studio, supported by the Raza Foundation.

While describing his curatorial selection of artists from the Triveni Kala Sangam Broota holds forth that individualism defines the Triveni artists approach to art. The idea of mentorship at Triveni’s art class and studio is not one where artists are encouraged to clone the ‘guru’. Rather they are stimulated to find their individual voice. While experimentation is important, it is not approached in a superficial manner, rather after deep inquiry and reflection the artists have arrived at their individual expressions. Broota is the head of the department and studio at Triveni that was founded in 1950, by Sundari K. Shridharani. He has mentored many artists, the experienced and trained, the young and upcoming or even those who return to painting after many years.

At Triveni, artists join at various levels of their career. While the system employed at Triveni is not academic, there is a vigorousness with regard to the formal aspects of painting, sculpture and mixed media work. The studio environment within which these artists grow, observe and explore, is an organic one that is not separated from the process of daily living. The studio is open to their comings and goings, as they work around schedules of childcare, day-jobs and navigate the everydayness of life. Their aesthetic concerns are born out of the quotidian, yet these are distilled through artistic rigor till it reaches philosophical levels. 

In their piece “Bohemia: The Underworld of Art” (1939) George S Snyderman and William Josephs contend that the idea of Individualism is associated with artistic and bohemian interests and lifestyles where there is a tendency towards self-creation and experimentation as opposed to tradition or popular mass opinions and behaviors, [3] [8] as with humanist philosophical positions and ethics. [9] [10]

The Intimacy of creative activities required an individual to live a certain lifestyle that is free of the constrains of societal norms: The Bohemia or individuality of artists, is a theme that has been explored by Heri Murger, Du Maurier and Balzac…it is a literary tradition, a dreamland, an El Dorado of Youth, an intellectual pose of the artistic lamb, a philosophy composed by one part idealism, one part eccentricity, and one part opera bouffe heroics…” (Bohemia: The Underworld of Art,  George S. Snyderman and William Josephs, Social Forces, Volume 18, Issue 2, 1 December 1939, Pages 187–199).

The reason I use Snyderman and Joseph’s text as a prelude to this essay is because it has not lost its potency or relevance even 80 years later. In the modern context Individualism became an aesthetic project for the Modernist thinkers and artists, valorized by the writings of 20th century philosopher Walter Benjamin. In particular Benjamin theorized how the way in which one looks at objects and the manner in which one navigates urban geographies, becomes a marker of one’s individualism rather than societal norms and constructs of identity.  (Benjamin, Jennings (ed), 2006.)

The selection of Broota’s mentees if one were to use that term, given that each artist represented in this exhibition is highly individualistic and driven by a strong sense of self, reflects their individual nature that is born out of the higher-calling of the aesthetic mingling with the quotidian. Artists like Shruti Gupta Chandra, Vasundhara Tiwari-Broota, Valentina Churilova, Sanjay Roy, Meena Deora, Prathibha Singh, Vikram Nayak and Renuka Sondhi Gulati, belong to a tradition of figurative painting and an evolved sense of humanism underpins their primary concerns.

Satish Sharma, Neerja Divate, Surendar Kaur, Prabha Shah, Honey Pandey and Rubikat Vohra are Neo-abstractionists (https://www.theartstory.org/movement-neo-expressionism.html) who unleash the spirit of inquisitiveness through a quest for the deeper subconscious truth that goes beyond a narrative style. Anju Kaushik, stands apart from this loose grouping of stylistic concerns, since her approach is one of abstraction through reclaimed objects, a kind of Arte Povera. 

In her series of works titled Holding it Together, Vasundhara Tewari Broota approaches the female protagonists, a leitmotif that surfaces in her work out of the perception of women and the psycho-political existence of the female body. The female acrobat, a multitasking woman who balances the fragmented worlds of home and the world, spaces of interiority and the external, takes center-stage.  This plays out in a series of three small mixed-media works and one large painting, that are permutations and combinations of the same central figure. Despite existing in situations where we are often expected to perform even if upside-down, Tewari-Broota, speaks of retaining poise and confidence under these vicissitudes. The experience of constantly feeling threatened and surveyed in lonely spots translates into acts of defiance, where these spaces are re-negotiated through the repetition of the female form.

Tewari-Broota’s work forms an interesting foil to Sanjay Roy’s series of acrylic on canvas, titled Back to Earth, an aesthetic expression of the collision of chaos and spirituality. In the fast-paced world where economic, political and social concerns compete for attention, mankind often expresses a desire for a savior, whether it be Christ, Buddha or the Prophet. The work is a meeting ground of figurative and non-figurative expression and explores the idea of subjecting the self to rigors upon the anvil. The figure is incidental rather than the focus of the painting and appears almost camouflaged behind a busy network of lines and colours. The work is experimental and moves away from the traditional realism.

Shruti Gupta Chandra embraces vignettes of realism, although she creates an air of enigma around the architectural spaces, that is now bereft of the human form, yet hinting toward it. Staircases ascend into space and nothingness, although they appear to lead towards an unrealized Utopia. Working in the format of diptychs and triptychs in acrylic and oils, she orchestrates the space to convey a sense of contemplation and memory.  One of the paintings uses the device of the screen and plays with the idea of the viewer and the viewed, of perspective and shadow. It evokes a retreat to an era where latticed wooden screens defined personal spaces. In another painting, light upon a sloping wooden ceiling conveys a sense of repose and dreams.

Vikram Nayak’s work in pencil, ink and charcoal bring together the worlds of the organic and machine. He creates hybrid beings, as a result of chaos. A jumble of flowers, rivets and screws come together form a third being. While sharing his process, Nayak indicates that the forms that emerge from this spontaneous doodling are not pre-planned. We do see a recurring shape or circular form that is situated at the centre of each composition which may be a subconscious tribute to feminine energy. Nayak’s work is informed by his travels as he makes short films and also illustrates books.

Meena Deora uses rhythm and dynamism to represent the human body and perpetuates the idea of mobility and motion. The works celebrate the agility and plentitude of the human form. The vibrant colour scheme along with the musculature of active dynamic bodies becomes a narrative or testimony of vitalism realized in artistic terms. Her works are sensuous interplay of anatomy and metaphysics.

Pratibha Singh’s artwork pushes the idea of the human form further to incorporate the hybrid. Through the fusions of organic and inorganic, human and machinic, the works transpose into explorations of subjectivity. The Pratibha’s works explore an urban sense of the mythic in a post-industrial world, engaging with the idea of the post-human, or age of the machine. 

Valentina Churilova’s paintings are energetic and full of motion and movement, created by texture and brushstrokes. Each work involves an orchestration of many elements of earth, water and air, human forms in relation to objects that symbolize a moment in our life. She engages with realistic forms having studied the human figure while in the Ukraine, but now she transmits to them a symbolic meaning. The Id, ego and superego come into conversation with each other through the human form that appears at the center of all her compositions. Much of her work deals with human identity, our attachment to objects and then a renunciation of them as we realize a higher reality. Her process while painting involves holding back and allowing the painting to speak to her while she is creating it. The work usually indicates to her where it wants to take her. She invites viewer-participation and interpretation. Since her works are layered with a plethora of forms, many meanings and narratives emerge from them.

Sitting between the cusp of the figurative and the abstract Surendar Kaur, weaves a world out of colourful geometric forms with the woman at the center of her compositions. Works like, After Aman Ki Asha takes a tongue-in-cheek view of the condition of women in Indian society, and while they appear in a contemplative mode, bits of text, cut out from newspapers, indicates that their position in the hierarchy of a patriarchal society is all but ideal.

The subtle symmetry generated by rhythmic movements in nature is a strong source of influence in Geetanjali Kashyap’s work. She has been inspired by natural forms as they are awe-inspiring in detail, yet fascinating from a purely abstract perspective. The work is however entirely moving in the direction of abstraction.

Departing from the universe of imagery and human form, an artist like Satish Sharma, revels in pure colour and texture. For this exhibition Satish has chosen a set of small works that are intensely packed with texture and thick impasto paint. Impasto is a painting term that refers to the use of thickly textured, undiluted, paint that appears almost three-dimensional on the canvas. Through these works he is experimenting with various applications of earth shades, working in a manner that is less constrained by mark-making. He has now begun to work directly on the canvas with his hands, creating textures that are perhaps less conscious or controlled. He has abandoned recognizable forms in favour of pure abstraction. The painting transitions its source, becoming a being in and of itself.

In a similar vein of non-figuration is the work of Neerja Divate. Her minute pinpricks are on paper, usually white on white or black on black, where the mark making is a form of meditation rather than a display or call to attention. It is the labour of mark-making that characterizes the energy of these minimal works. In the world of manufacturing the skills of dexterity and consistency are positively valued as prized indicators of workmanship, and from repetitive techniques innovations in practice would emerge. In comparison these art studio acts of ‘sewing without thread’, where the labour of mark-making ends in points of ‘nothing’, there is a struggle to claim aesthetic or economic value. (Barnaby, 2013) Nevertheless, even here, with repetition comes the possibility of variation and difference. Repeated acts do not necessarily exclude creative agency.

Prabha Shah’s depopulated landscapes compel the viewer to look at the city differently, and creates new perceptual mechanism. Depicting everyday worlds, she de-familiarizes the ordinary. Her primary focus is on the inorganic world denuded of human presence, a life and agency given to these artefacts. Layers of light, deserted buildings and a slightly dystopic suburbia carry forth the narrative. The drama of life plays out through these deserted cityscapes evoking loneliness, fragmentation and displacement. Prabha is hearing impaired, and for her art serves as an alternative language of expression. To quote Amitava Sanyal “she has formed her own patios within the meta-language of visuals.”

Honey Pandey fashions a world of architectural objects that employ lines and geometrical forms. Her set of for 1×1 canvases create a sense of rhythm, and objects from everyday life acquire a graphic representation. Rubkirat Vohra works with metal and wood creating composite forms from malleable lead that has a low heat point. The abstract forms hint towards architectural forms and human existence and yet they exist in and of their own right. They are aesthetic objects, disassociated from the world of narrative. Born into a family of architects, where her late grandfather S. Gurcharan Singh worked closely with the French architect Le Corbusier, Vohra grew up being influenced by an architectural environment that consisted of lines, designs, layouts, sketches, and perspective-plans. This filtered into her work, brining to it an abstract quality. Her works are permeated by a sense of mystery, evoking thought and curiosity in the viewer yet leaving the narrative open-ended.

Visiting the idea of rebirth and recycle, artist Anju Kaushik tends to work in high-relief surfaces, embedding discarded objects into plaster of Paris and concrete surfaces. The act of reclaiming old, rusted and discarded objects and giving them new life is particular to Anju’s practice and ties up with the contemporary arte povera movement that sought to break down barriers between performance and everyday life. Anju’s relationship with the objects is however driven more by instinct rather than the ideology of the arte povera movement with which her association is an act of coincidence and not a conscious alignment. Grouping her works into clusters she makes a commentary on the environment where a fossilized fish shape is a poignant reminder of urban detritus and waste.

Alka Jhamb’s two works, Flow in Form, and The Space Without, demonstrate her ease with mixed media on Canvas. Alka’s works are largely non-figurative, evoking architectural spaces, objects and abstract forms. The works carry the hint of human existence, while the energy of the city is conveyed by a grid of towering buildings. Yet there is a sense of isolation and confinement, that is betrayed by the empty window frame which allows the viewer to look at the city without being viewed. It is trope that many women use to convey the sometimes-stifling presence of the domestic space.

Conversely, Renuka Sondhi Gulati’s figurative painting expresses freedom and flight. The mirror image of a woman, seated on a flight of steps is filled with positive energy, as it plays upon an often-used Surrealist trope of nature and the female form. As an eco-feminist she approaches the idea of the female form signifying mother earth, which is currently in dire straits.   

Neha Talwar, evokes the twilight world of dreams, sleep and repose in this intimate, yet large format mixed media work of her son and husband. Neha works with a variety of materials, usually discarded cloth pieces collected for the local tailor. Her paintings evolve to include the pattern of the fabric, creating layers of imagery that convey a plethora of emotions and psychological states.

Ritu Mehra, translates her fascination with everyday objects into three-dimensional form, with her mixed-media installations and assemblages. The bulb is a leitmotif that conveys several meanings—of modernity and light, of productivity and illumination, even as domestic objects like cutlery and crockery play a central role in her compositions, bringing to the fore these otherwise neglected objects that are taken for granted.

Manu Singh’s artworks are mostly figurative and draw their surrealist qualities from human anatomy. Her paintings are a comment on key human emotions. She experiments with different media and uses familiar imagery such as figures and everyday objects to produce the desired effect. One is left to introspect when confronted with her paintings that have elements of memory and fantasy in liberal doses.

We are finally brought to the works of artist Vipeksha Gupta whose sensitive nature is embodied by soft graphite works on paper. Through a maze of lines and grey shades she conveys natural forms like rocks and cave-like structures while situating her protagonist within the protective womb of these structures. In Ocean, Anoma, she evokes a surrealist language, by distorting scale: a young girl is confronted with her past that rises to the top of the water as a large fish. This could signify the surfacing of hidden emotions informed by a sense of personal loss.

This stunning array of artwork only confirms the premise that individuality as a concept is holding together well. While each work indicates a diversity, they are brought together under the rubric of the creative agency that Triveni Kala Sangam makes available to all its artists without creating hierarchies and dichotomies.

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