Illusion, resolution and rendition
Be it Probir Gupta's visceral energy on the brooding canvases at Rabindra Bhawan and Nature Morte or Amitava Das's newest body of work at Palette Gallery, Delhiites get a multiplicity of choice.
LOOMING IMAGES A work by Probir Gupta
At Half Mast, (Nature Morte and Rabindra Bhawan till this Sunday) an exhibition of paintings and installation works by Probir Gupta packs the kind of visceral energy that has generally evaporated from the more ironic, flamboyant imagery that characterises contemporary Indian painting in particular, and art in general. In the language of mythology, Mayapuri is the world of illusion, the web of enticement that Kabir laments in his poetry. Mayapuri, the Delhi colony, serves as a potent metaphor for Gupta, who sources his scrap iron objects from its wasteland of abandoned military junk. He then uses these objects - as both physical material and evocations - to virtually create a body of mutilated forms that serves as a dominating foreground-background within his paintings. The galleries at Rabindra Bhavan are dominated by his large brooding paintings of roiling limbs and metal objects that look like the aftermath of a bomb blast. More importantly, Gupta seeks to locate responsibility in his exhibition, by implicating power structures that loom like icons within this space. In the powerful painting, The White Man's Paranoia, the artist's indictment is sharp and inescapable. An apparently enfeebled Christ's figure is pushed behind images that loom like cinematic presences, figures drawn from a medieval west Asian world perhaps, that witnesses the expansion of churches, the construction of iconographies, the columns and arches of power that mark a triumphal spread of institutionalised churches. Like elements of paraphrase, there are scenes from European churches, icons in small niches now rendered in violent sexual acts.
The figures in this painting in themselves suggest an epic, cinematic dimension. A fat cat merchant, priest or women, one rich and conspicuously androgynous, the others as rough hewn labour. Together they witness the power of the church and upper European cities, the march of industry, financial and sexual control. The evocations of Abu Ghraib and acts of violence in the name of God are powerfully told. The recipients of such controls appear in works like Blue Print and the Dislocated Spine. Here, the waste of the army dump at Mayapuri becomes apocryphal for any such dump where mutating bones and crushed metal float into view. It is as if the back alleys of military detritus have made their way into an art gallery to shock you with their excess. These are images of an unspeakable desolation, no part of the canvas is free from the roiling metallic forms that seem to second best as mock phalluses, lending the notion of toxicity and dominance a deep and invidious dimension.
Probir tends to work on several issues - perhaps one more contentious than the other - into the exhibition. There is his installation with communication detritus, made up of old black phones, newspaper waste and transformers. The photo and sculpture installation Potato Eaters is about the potato eaters of the city, lower middle class residents whose sites of public movement and exchange are being erased by the avid power seekers of the city. There is also a canon that point menacingly downwards at a cluster of small images of drawings made by autistic children. The question here is of the framing of the works of the inter-relationships that the artist wants to set up, whether the viewer can absorb such a volley of statements without deflection. My own response was one of deep appreciation for the uncompromising language that the artist has chosen to develop in his paintings, one that insists on provocation, and a definite response.
A determined quest
Amitava Das has come to be known as an artist whose work has devolved around issues of existential enquiry and location. These have primarily been born out of his readings of poetry and cinema, of his sympathy with figures on the margins, and their determined quest even in the face of uncertainty. His newest body of work (Thorn of Blood, Palette Gallery) marks a conspicuous change in terms of both its rendition and its resolution. Man rendered massive, with an insistent presence even in the face of dire provocation and isolation appears as a familiar point of entry. However, here the scale of gladiatorial forms expands to dignify this struggle. Moreover, as in his last body of paintings at Shridharani Gallery, Amitava further investigates the anthropomorphic forms of lunar authority and implacable energy, the symbolic presences of Shiva, Kali and Nandi, sufficiently abstracted to present states of energy.
These evocations of awe and the contentions of darkness, its associations with energy, fear and desire is balanced by paintings that celebrate the insistence of new life and growth, or the movements into states of sattva and acceptance. Amitava's palette has expanded to accommodate colours of the daylight and the one of wonder natural world perhaps bringing to a primary sense of awe and delight.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu