Friday 15 December 2023

What Is Underneath?

Five artists create mesmerizing, dreamlike world in What is Underneath?, the five artist group known as Urge exhibiting at Nippon Art Gallery through December 12th; refer to things that exist underneath of nature which cannot be explained by conventional means. Each of the artists Santa Rakshit, Shekhar Bhattacharjee, Namrata Sneha, Sumedh Kumar and Jigna Gaudana create a representational world that has been twisted and turned in dreamlike scenes that fill one either with anxiety or sunlit peace. The artists are in uncharacteristic harmony with one another. For starters, they all embrace a saturated palette. Their works representational strangeness, which evokes the unconscious through deliciously skewed illustrations of concepts of things seen and unseen, relates them to Surrealist dream like images.

Recent artworks Shekhar Bhattacharjee

Shekhar Bhattacharjee paintings conjure the transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson in small figures within a lusciously abstracted, paranormal forest in the style of Paul Klee. Borrowing Klee’s language of abstraction, a charming and intense offshoot of his painterly vocabulary Shekhar turns Klee’s forms inside out in a spiritual landscape saturated with color and form, made with oil paste and ink on paper, unlocks a vision of a new landscape of dense forest that divides up the canvas vertically using trees outlined in a cerulean blue with the boldness of spray-painted orange and yellow. The painted forest is deep, dark and impenetrable. The mysterious forest is a mass of fantastically messy yellow, green and orange spray paint that defines a canopy held up by trees outlined in a luminous periwinkle moon; the work centers on a tree whose bark is a fauve masterpiece, with tiny flecks in a myriad of colors surrounded by the most intense ultramarine blue. His bold abstraction is overlaid with marks and images that have a graphic sensibility and presence; the drawings make one think he is tagging his own work. One can only imagine what narrative is at play here. That sense of being a privileged, silent observer in nature has to be one of the defining human experiences. As a teenager, he used to wander in the miles of pinewood behind his parents’ house, from the beginning the svelte and songful shepherds and nymphs don’t have a lot in common with actual agricultural workers they’re obviously projections of the poets into a fantasy of beneficent nature. Maybe what you’re up to is to insist on that powerful felt relationship between man and nature, whatever we may mean by that at a given moment without pretending that all is well and the genre can continue to operate in denial.

Recent artworks Namrata Sneha

In Namrata Snehas’ painting, twisted and playful compositional elements show her intense relationship to Pop Art and such representational artist as David Hockney. Spring is yet to come is a large and wonderful landscape of an abstracted form that has been distorted by the artist. Made up of nine small canvases measuring one foot by one foot, the wiggly line therefore is the beginning and essence of the painting: a trajectory through space and time. As if this were not enough, Namrata’s paint and color are rich and saturated reds, greens, and yellows as well as blues. It’s an expression of excitement in the discovery of new place and a fresh way of painting and depicting space that is so powerful and engaging. One of the largest paintings in the show, it anchors the canvas with an expansive spring-acid green, punctuated by dots that seem to have been made by placing the mouths of multicolor tubes of paint directly into the negative space of the composition, effectively kissing the canvas. These painterly passages are invented to palpably ground the auras she creates in her canvases. They mix optically over a cracked and milky surface to create a hovering presence in the center of the canvas. It’s the kind of mystical in terms of its formal transformation epiphany that Namrata anticipates throughout her canvas. She employs a wide array of paint applications. In this instance, such a painterly mixed bag helps to phenomenally ground her tree/subjects, and creates equilibrium with the explicit, sometimes illustrative pictorialism of their branching figures. As in her aforementioned dotting technique, Namrata actively embellishes different shifts of focus in her paintings with thick scumbling, translucent washes and dry brush of kaleidoscopic chroma, and dabbing and dripping of thinned oil paints. The assuredness with which she weaves these disparate approaches together into coherent visionary images is impressive. Accordingly, one gets the chance both to witness her transformative visions and to participate in the rituals of their making. Her work deploys a more generalized and perhaps more sober template of twining vegetal daemons similar, though much more brut, to those seen in decorative friezes in classical ornament. This interweaving syntax lends these paintings a compositional unity that can easily support the tension between pictorial symbol and painterly substance that seems to be the artist’s métier.

Recent artworks Santa Rakshit

Santa Rakshits’ Postcards from Post Box, oil on canvas, series is a lot more abstract than her: thickly painted black lines, outlined in white, dance around the canvas in an enchanting array of drips and dabs of various sizes and viscosities that hint at landscape. Representing the landscape feels urgent now because it’s under threat. According to Santa she used to attend these visualization meditations where one would be led through imaginary landscapes, actively using our minds to conjure what was being described by the trusted leader. One evening a few years ago she had a particularly vivid sense that the concept of landscape was her own skin, and there were roots and tubers growing beneath it, swelling and bursting through the surface. In her vision the earth bled and screamed. ‘I am in mourning, as a lot of us are, for damaged ecosystems and disappearing animal species.’ As with the paintings, where her toxic acrylics performed a kind of transubstantiation her forests are indexical floriations: sinuous strokes are branches; spills can be glitters of leaves; spray paint, fog; protruding paint-licks, thorns, ticks or mosquitoes. Santas’ experimental approach to mark-making thick or thin, macro or micro, tight or loose, brushed, sprayed or sponged goes for both forests and figures. The precisionist symbolism echo in Santas’ crisp ferns and fluorescent lepidoptera, scintillating against a nocturne of blue, yellow, red and black. Santa points out all the ways in which the land is both interpreted and shaped by the human mind. She talks about the Dutch origin of the word landscape and how wishful thinking has been embedded in it all along. The word first appeared in the late sixteenth century, and it meant painting or drawing a view of natural scenery. If landscape is a framing and representing of nature, it cements the idea that nature is an invention of the psyche, an illusion of tame and wild, leisure and threat, life and death. Yet rogue textures icky drips and thorny bumps interpreting the most beautiful passages of Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali reminding us that nature, just like art, is a messy and dangerous concoction.


Recent artworks Jigan Gaudana

These new paintings by Jigna Gaudana, like her previous bodies of work, arrive in a headlong rush of invention festooned upon a canny theme, in this case the female body in nature about the feminist reckoning with that moribund tradition as well as the post-feminist inversion of that reckoning the figures themselves can be all but incidental in Jignas’ overgrown miasmas of cactus, wildflowers, whiskery stalks and impenetrable leafage. A more occult art history comes to mind in these unkempt, unruly wildernesses, one which begins where the babes-in-the-woods tradition itself, after giving birth to modernism, withers away. Jignas’ everyday ecstatic includes luminous beings, spirits of the self whose spare, archaic profiles float among the flowers. Faces, flowers, birds and weeds are painted with a kind of folk-art zeal while the cerulean forest behind, solidly modeled then dematerialized by dancing layers of sprayed pigment, is appealingly contrary in color, scale and attack. In Grieving Woman, a lone woman in a classical pose is incised in white against the mottled background like a fading figure. Jigna, however, putting the brakes on such skillful seduction according to her restless temperament, encloses this exquisite scene in a dark, seething knot of numerous cactus plants that branches out of her body as brut as the figures are delicate. One of the most interesting things about pastoral poetry is that it is the fantasy of urban poets so fantasies of nature are a counterpoint to a more urban experience. There is a sense of nostalgia around that; and as you say, the characters and settings are poetic projections. The utopian nature experience exits the grasp of the poets’ minds just as it turns into words. The Stories Within in many of Jigna’s compositions is centripetally directed, often with a diminution of form, towards the center of the canvas, which has the effect of a vortex of maternal origin: a cosmic matrix of regenerative power. Such a symbolically loaded destination might be read as cliché if it were not for the artist’s ability to keep the association subliminal, as she does.

Recent artworks by Sumedh Kumar

Sumedh Kumar’s Blue Smoke Series, drawings in pastel on handmade paper, are self- portraits that have run amuck into abstraction. His paintings express a different kind of cross between figuration and abstraction, more related to the body. Although the forms that fill his paintings are not figures, they have an anatomical presence that calls up the Surrealists. When he is painting he is trying to build up irritating problems in layers of color and texture. He spills, puddles and scumbles to make atmospheres that range from tarry to luminous while being as emphatic as he can about the radiance and light sources that don’t follow any logic aside from the logic of paint and the rules the painting produces within itself. He feels like he is digging for the scenes, isolating forms to make figures, forms, and a sense of both encrusted surface and receding space. He knows vaguely what he wants to find, but he is teasing it out, searching for a story like a diviner reading tea leaves. Gestures become people; they are part of the swamp of marks that veer into the realm of things. Mess coheres into specificity and leaks back into mess. He knows when the painting is done when he thinks it might be breathing. A visual split in half with an intense blue silhouette of a smoker’s thought and pain his body feels due to atrocities. A man standing in a parallelogram of blue brushstrokes with legs tied to the pole, creating a tension that is further complicated by marks that delineate an architectural space on the painting a tonsured head of a man and a woman head or a torso not fully articulated by the rounded forms that fill out the composition. His forms evoke monsters within the body, as in Medusa, whose snake-like path also reads as a colon. It’s a scene you might see in pain. The risk of consuming the smoke is parallel to viewing Sumedh’s art; he creates works that don’t feel safe.

The inventiveness of these five artists’ works, in which they envisage their respective worlds on a small scale, is mesmerizing as they intentionally evoke such symbolism, yet captivating the viewer primarily in muscular, painterly compositions that flex their energies ecstatically outward toward the audience. A description can have the power to prospectively modify experience. To describe or name a previously unacknowledged beauty can amplify its possibility in the future for others; it can dilate the horizon of beauty and hopefully of the imaginable. To assume that experience is shaped by the evolution of our ingenious and unlikely metaphors is also helpful to these artists; it can enhance our motivation and cultivate enabling operational fictions, like freedom and power. We are provided another reason to thicken the dark privacy of feeling into art with What is Underneath?


Abhijeet Gondkar

November 2023, Mumbai


Their works representational strangeness,
which evokes the unconscious through deliciously
skewed illustrations of concepts of things seen
and unseen, relates them to Surrealist dream like images
- Abhijeet Gondkar
Show: What Is Underneath?
Group artist
Shekhar Bhattacharjee
Santa Rakshit
Jigna Gaudana
Sumedh Kumar
Namrata Sneha
Preview: 12th Dec 2023
Time 6pm to 8.30pm
Date: 12th to 18th Dec 2023
Time: 3to7pm / at Nippon
RSVP: Santa Rakshit M: +91 78742 14449
Flora Fountain, Fort,Kala Ghoda
30/32, 2nd Floor, Deval Chambers, Nana bhai Lane,
Flora Fountain, Fort, Mumbai – 400 00, India.