Monday 28 August 2023

Red Sky Blue Earth

Priya Suneel graduated from the University of Madras, attaining a Degree in Fine Arts with Distinction and the Government of India Merit Scholarship. Priya has been exhibiting her work since 1982. She has shown with the Society of Women Artists in their annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries in Trafalgar Square. Her work was shown as part of the Patchings Festival winners display Exhibition at Nottinghamshire and with the Society of Nigerian Artists at their annual exhibitions in Nigeria. Her practice incorporates painting, mixed media, and drawing with inroads into three dimensional works and is infused with the world cultures of London, India, Nepal and Nigeria where she has lived and worked.

Artist: Priya Suneel

Priya says that one of the reasons she makes collages is because the process reinvigorates or redirects her painting process. She studies the structure, palettes or the colors in the architecture, landscape, interior or the clothing and flesh of the model before her eyes, and searches for ways to depict them through placement of shaped bits. She captures the essences of these palettes by generating color fields or sensations entirely through juxtaposition of textile fabric, acrylic skins, paper or found objects. These collages are masterful displays of the cumulative effects of color. Priya focuses on the play of light and shadow across bare flesh, the ways in which skin tones are constructed, and the way volumes and planes come into being entirely through juxtaposition of colors. As the viewer takes in the work a sort of subliminal blending takes place because each bit of the textured material remains physically autonomous on the actual surface of the artwork, but we experience a flowing interrelationship of parts because of Priya’s profound understanding of color. Neighboring snippets of the found objects blend to form a unified field of color when the collage is seen from a distance or through squinting eyes.

In The Emergence, Priya creates bust of papier-mâché, wire and textile the artist describes shadowy concavities, fleshy highlights on rounded face, bone and muscle structure, suggestively the lovely tan and olive subtleties of flesh tones, with tiny, straight edged, triangular and rectangular snippets of fabric. The manner of the collages is meticulously self-effacing, allowing shifts in value and color to overshadow materials and process. Indeed, color is her true gift. Sophisticated modulations of closely valued tones make for rich and spacious pictures. In Tulips in a Pitcher, Priya offsets and enlivens a virtually monochromatic image with a range of yellows, greens, pinks and blues. It is, in its own quiet way, a bravura performance.

In the collages of landscapes such as Red Fox and Townhouse Chelsea, the sides and roofs of houses, the horizon line, the foreground and background, the earthbound natural and inorganic structures, and the deep space of sky, are flattened out. Priya does not flatten out three dimensional forms and present a surround view of them in a systematic way. Everything doesn’t add up. She chooses graphically striking indicators of particular objects and rhythmically locks them together, without relinquishing the sense of place portraying light and atmosphere. These collages explore the primary formal strengths of color. Depending on the tone, light and shadow are richly depicted; light wending its way through a landscape or still life. The collage elements play dual roles. They are formal elements in a strong flat array of balanced colors, and they also suggest three dimensionality. In the background planes, walls, or earth and sky are broken up into interlocking pieces, which push elements forward, the human figure, the house, still life objects. The tactile process entailed in this vacillation of compositional elements energizes these surfaces.

'Tulips in a Pitcher', mixed media collage on canvas, 44x54cms, Priya Suneel

In Street in Jodhpur the collage elements are centered, surrounded by blank space that also punctures the cluster of shapes. Certainly the individual parts add up to a particular place, but they are not as tightly interlocked or grounded in space. These free floating descriptive signs make us see a scooter, fence, trees, but they gently coalesce and resist being tightly interlocked, simultaneously. These shapes when combined with smaller shapes within the original large shape become distinct shapes. So you may have a shape that may be partly in the prominent and partly in the supporting. There is often one prominent shape in the composition that the eye goes to first and then travels on from there. You want to find a shape in the house, but not the whole house, and a shape in the tree, but not the whole tree, that together forms a larger more complex shape that the viewer sees first, before they see the house and tree. After that, more slowly, they will see this shape within the larger shape is part of a house and this is part of a tree. You are making the viewer read the painting, slowing down their looking.

The Biomes, Eden Project, Cornwall, one of the fascinating works in the exhibition, is a perfect example of the ways in which Priya can create complex color sensations using a minimal amount of colored pieces of paper that have been carefully cut in order to maintain the visual flow of the figure. The shadows and highlights and voluptuous folds in the structure are depicted with grey, brown and liver colored bits of paper. In fact the work was created live, au plein aire, during the televised recording of "Landscape Artist of the Year 2022" and was telecast nationally on Sky Arts (Sky TV Network). Priya was one of the privileged artists selected to participate as pod artist in the national telecast programme. Priya gets into the expressive essence of complex tonal ranges and under painting as she reconstructs the emotional content of the shapes and colors. Her path as an artist has been characterized by strikingly fresh work noted for its clarity and sensitivity thus defining Red Sky Blue Earth.


Abhijeet Gondkar

(Abhijeet Gondkar is an independent writer and curator based in Mumbai)


Priya Suneel

Red Sky Blue Earth

Mixed-Meadia Collages, 28th August to 3rd September 2023

Jehangir Art Gallery, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai – 400 001, Between 11 am and 7 pm daily


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Thanks for comment JK