Contours of form, space
In his on-going exhibition `Still life _ Redefined Pictorially' at the Dhoomimal Art Centre, New Delhi, artist R.B. Bhaskaran has recreated an aura for the genre as a subject. Concepts evolved through his artistic journey find fruition, says ASHRAFI S. BHAGAT.
R.B. BHASKARAN is a name to be reckoned with in the South. His exhibition "Still life _ Redefined Pictorially" is currently on at Dhoomimal Art Centre, New Delhi September 23 to October 4). A graduate of College of Arts and Crafts, Bhaskaran was present at those significant moments, which defined the Madras Art Movement, when it took shape under the aegis stalwarts like K.C.S. Paniker and Dhanapal.
Having initiated his career within the polemics of "Nativism" that Bhaskaran found difficult to accept, inscribed his persona primarily an Indian. Bhaskaran, in his painted expressions, has been preoccupied with the problematic relationship of form to space. Towards this he pursued his experiments in which the subject matter was incidental. And this perhaps explains involvement and versatility with diverse themes from "Evolution" to Cats" to "Marriage Photos" to the current "Still Life".
"Life", mixed media
Within the modern context, Bhaskaran is redefining the concept of still life through which he projects individuated experiences of forms and shapes to evolve his intellectualisation of space. Historically, still life has never been pursued as an autonomous subject its own right, or as the definite category of image making. Rather, it has always been part of genres that included portraiture or history painting. Still life is a category existing in opposition where the human figure is deliberately avoided. This genre was always at the bottom of the hierarchy, unworthy of the superior attention reserved for history painting. Talking about his works, his central preoccupation is with the problem of "how to adjust forms to space, how do I relate them that they juxtapose with equanimity?" Bhaskaran, in his present exhibition, has creatively explored the mixed media combining acrylics and oils to create the desired effects. It is his technical virtuosity, mastery in handling form, his intuitive understanding of space and their correlations and juxtapositions that enable him to create powerful compositions with minimal shapes and forms. In their juxtaposition and analogues, he attempts definition of space that remains true to its nature namely two-dimensional. He never loses sight of this dimension as he astutely disposes of his forms across the numinous space. A blend of geometricity and organic quality pervades his canvases. Bhaskaran has redefined the concept of still life according to his philosophy in which every form in life has a valency and invites equal emphasis.
In the present series, Bhaskaran exhibits naivet‚ and a primitive quality; simplicity borne out of jettisoning unnecessary details to create compositions that are calculated with mathematical precision. He intuits his placements of objects with mastery and confi- dence, allowing play of mannered cast shadows in the western tradition and simultaneously reinforces his position as an Indian with recourse to the flat space of miniature paintings.
" Still life with Doll" _ colours that are mainly oil.
Exploring his individuality and creative expression through what was once attributed as "low plane reality", Bhaskaran in his "Still Life" series transcends to give valency to simple objects without valorising them. However it is not Bhaskaran's mission to valorise the Quotidian subject matter; rather he confronts the diverse shapes and forms of his objects with authority to stress his individuation. And what marks his works as different and exceptional is that he does not insist on "setting up" the composition and then reducing or deducing the elements from it.
Moreover he redefines certain pictorial forms particularly the banana leaf from his early "Marriage" series to integrate with his composition. Fish as an element with its inherent geometric configuration plays in his compositions particularly the "Still Life" painting, which contains fish on a triangular platter. Also, interestingly, he mimics the shapes but individuates them in their placement and arrangement to create an ambience that is relatively different in each of his frames. The frame, which he deliberates upon to impress his aesthetics is the "Still Life" that has a mug with a triangular shaped face inscribed on it and white organic shapes placed within it.
"Still life with Family"
In this particular composition, Bhaskaran has masterminded his space formulation with objects that comprise the banana leaf, the fish and the vase with leaves. This incidentally appears as a horizontal band on the top of his canvas rendered in neutral colours, i.e. the dull gray greens brought into relief by his definition of the outlines with zinc oxide.
In a composition that is dominated by neutral grays and greens, Bhaskaran dynamically makes it agile with a vertical stroke of red orange to infuse the whole within a unitary totality. Bhaskaran enhances his pictorial frames by creating titillating effects with meticulously rendered textures that work in the background to enhance his boldly defined, yet simply represented, objects.
"Cat", 2001 _ reflecting the artist's own anima.
It is his craftsmanship and technical skills internalised through years of practice that allows easy versatility at intuitively manoeuvring his delineation of forms in space. The subtle sheen that he imparts is obtained by thin application of paint brushed on meticulously to obtain the desired build up.
Not many artists within the milieu of the Madras Art Movement have concentrated their energies in working or redefining the concept of still life. It is a terrain that allows for rich and diverse iconography to be arranged subtly at an artist's wit and will. In the tradition of the Madras Art movement, decorative patterning also marks and characterises his works. Bhaskaran has usefully deployed his stockpile of imagery from earlier series with the exception of the cat that seems to find no favour in his present mood. Undeniably, he has recreated an aura for still life as a subject and theme that could be pursued with equal enthusiasm in a manner as devoted to human figures or regional folk and tribal inspired imagery. The present exhibition speaks of this process eloquently. His deliberated and intellectualised concepts evolved through his artistic journey find fruition. It appears that Bhaskaran's prolific output will continue for a long time to come.
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