About My Work - Rahul Bhattacharya

Rahul Bhattacharya - A Magician and his offerings | Notes on Tambulam

I have been visiting Shridhar Iyer's studio over some years now, and every time I realise that it a very different kind of space, a kind we are not used to these days. Most established artists have a very clear home studio distinction, and in this distinction, their homes have become much sanitised spaces. However every time I visit Shridhar Iyer's studio, I feel as if I have walked into a magician's house where life, art and spiritualism come into one melting pot, and a spell is being cooked , or being imagined. The studio is an intrinsic part of his practice and his exploration of abstraction. Over the years, the artist has taken up studios, built them from scratch, lived in them, produced shows, and then just let it all go...moving into a new place with just a suitcase and starting all over again. This reflects an artistic philosophy exploring the journey of between the possibilities of assimilation and letting go. Over the last decade, Iyer has been working around the disconnect between nature and civilization, a disconnect which for the artist symbolises our inability to understand the forces of the universe and our place inside it. Tambulam, his new body of works is his offering to nature, as well as healing touch to the bonds which are on the verge of being lost forever.

Shridhar Iyer is one of the rare modern masters whose works have been trendsetters for postmodern and contemporary art practices in India. Known to be one of the greatest living abstractionists in India, Iyer's art practice has always gone beyond pictorial abstraction and he is one of the earliest artists from the subcontinent to embrace installation and video as an integral part of his practice. The artist explores pure contemplation on a spiritual level, almost as a window to the unknown energy and force of the universe. His ability to rasp philosophical abstraction is extraordinary and his works show his painterly deftness as he juxtaposes strong and fragile colours in complete harmony.

"The lines and forms of tribal art always play with the idea of meaning and reality; the forms invent their own geometry based on their context, play and rhythm. I realised that to be an artist, one has to go beyond mirroring reality and only through developing an extremely personal language, and one can generate new forms and meanings for the world.... what tribal art taught me is that through spontaneity and rhythm, lines could be transformed into something magical. You could say that since then, the 'line' has become key to my artistic practice; it helps me to explore and understand my own imagination. Over the years I have grown to realise that possibilities of new forms and ideas are deeply embedded in the exploration of 'line'."

Shridhar Iyer
In Iyer’s artistic practice, there has always been an attempt to propose an alternative to the contemporary fascination with the spectacular image. Since his early days at Bharat Bhawan, though his paintings, drawings, videos and installations, Iyer has been a part of aesthetic trajectories which nurtured painterly abstraction as a mode to develope languages different from the figurative, data dense visual culture with images that are designed to jump at you, craving for that attention that bounces off into the recesses of your overfed conscious. His works have explored between chaos and calmness with an emphasis on tactility and playfulness. This life, lived in an overdose of spectacles has numbed our senses forever. When we travel we are busy clicking and hardly ever just seeing. Our eyes cannot rest, and are constantly bored. In these times Iyer's works have offered us a different mode of seeing. This mode of seeing is not only operational in the viewer, but has had to be first digested by the artist. The painted surface is not just a residue of pictorial mark making and rendering, it is also a reflection of the artist own gaze, the way he engages with the world, and how images form inside our head.

The manner in which he mixes his media, the self-consciousness about the aesthetic values of Form and possibilities of play, and the manner in which he appropriates the spiritual and the political into the ‘painterly’; speak of a deep entrenchment into the history of visual vocabularies. Deeply influenced by modernism and tribal art Iyer extends awareness of the historical/aesthetic frameworks of social consciousness and the subversion of the spectacular. This consciousness is significant it a time when aesthetic consciousness become marginal in the globalised imaginations and desires. The works celebrate a resistance to the homogenization of the human condition. It is this postmodern critique of contemporary, which strongly marks Tambulam as an artistic intervention.

The installations in the show are layered with prayer, wishes, nostalgia and love. 'Still, I Love You' and Ámia and Champa Trees are steeped in a sense of deep loss and endless hope. This dialogue between hope and loss is a layering of Iyer's relationship with assimilating and letting go. Wood becomes an important metaphor and so do shadows. It is difficult to understand whether they stand in anticipation or in defeat, but both contain a prayer and a song. They are attempts of the artist to remind himself, stretch the envelope of his spirituality to be able to retain hope even as one remains a witness to the anthropocene. Yet, for the artist there are no gaps between the personal, the spiritual and the political, he seeks to negotiate the space through beauty, balance and hope.

Tambulam is a complex body of work, a lot of it is in continuation of the artist's explorations over last five to six years, yet in this body, there are also seeds of the new directions where Iyer's practice is heading towards. His art is becoming more conceptual and one can see a conscious attempt to experiment with pushing the boundaries of drawing and painting as separate forms. In his paintings, leisure and hints of boredom become fundamental to the experience of time and problems of meaning, creating that hint of tension between notions of existence, consumption and taste. The artist is able to arrive at visual language that goes beyond exploring the self with the paint and the line as the primary tools, here we see artist trying to communicate the thin, almost invisible state of interdependence and order that guides all transitions of life.

Abstraction, for Iyer is not just a visual language, but a strategy that initiates dialogue compassion and understanding. In this respect, 'Tambulam' is not just a body of works, but a space which the artist offers, pushing us to rethink our relationship with the Anthropocene. The show presents drawings, paintings and installations stylistically ranging from gestural to minimal. Iyer has always made art as a way of connecting to the cosmos, as an endeavor to expand his spiritual self. Yet nature is an integral part of the cosmos, and as the artist realises how fragile it has become, it brings out of Iyer a mellow, tender reaction, almost like singing a song to an ill parent, sad yet hopeful. A large set of very fine drawings, largely mono chromatic, aesthetically anchor the show. They are like gentle drifting, the marks on paper become a residue of the artist's process of seeing, hiding, masking, and preserving. The exhibition is carefully constructed through interplay of form, colour and media centered on the conceptual metaphors of nature and hope.

Rahul Bhattacharya
Spring 2019
New Delhi

Rahul Bhattacharya - Press release for Shidhar Iyer's solo 'Tambulam' - 20th Feb - 12th March Art Konsult Gallery

Shridhar Iyer is one of the rare modern masters whose works have been trendsetters for postmodern and contemporary art practices in India. Known to be one of the greatest living abstractionists in India, Iyer's art practice has always gone beyond pictorial abstraction and he is one of the earliest artists from the subcontinent to embrace installation and video as an integral part of his practice. The artist explores pure contemplation on a spiritual level, almost as a window to the unknown energy and force of the universe. Over the last decade, Iyer has been working around the disconnect between nature and civilization, a disconnect which for the artist symbolises our inability to understand the forces of the universe and our place inside it. Tambulam, his new body of works is his offering to nature, as well as healing touch to the bonds which are on the verge of being lost forever.

Tambulam is a complex body of work, a lot of it is in continuation of the artit's explorations over last five to six years, but in this body, there are also seeds of the new directions where Iyer's practice is heading towards. The show presents drawings, paintings and installations of fineness and sensitivity, designed to take us into zones of contemplation. Abstraction, for Iyer is not just a visual language, but a strategy that initiates dialogue compassion and understanding. In this respect, 'Tambulam' is not just a body of works, but a space which the artist offers, pushing us to rethink our relationship with the Anthropocene. The exhibition is carefully constructed through an interplay of form, colour and media centred around the conceptual metaphors of nature and hope.

Rahul Bhattacharya - Between the Lines of Abstraction -

Shridhar Iyer, is one of the most important contemporary exponents of abstraction in art. He has been exhibiting since 1985; having held several solo shows and has been participating in important groups globally. His works are part of some important collections across the world. Iyer's distinctive style explores pure contemplation on a spiritual level through which he explores the unknown energy and force of the universe primarily through the medium of painting and drawing. Highly experimental in life and work, Iyer has often made forays into installation and video-based art practices. He revels in the interplay of form and colour as his works have an urbane and sophisticated feel to them and their subtle elegance sets them apart. In this conversation with curator and critic, Rahul Bhattacharya.

Rahul Bhattacharya - Shridhar, I have been looking at contemporary art and contemporary visual culture quite closely, it is a content driven, information-dense, a hyper-mediatic society of visuals. In such a society, where do you see abstraction and its role?

Shridhar Iyer - Abstraction for me is a space which allows you to go deep within yourself and imagine a different 'new'. I have never consciously tried to be an abstract artist, I have always tried to explore various mediums and modes of representations. In my early years at Bharat Bhavan, I began working with theatre and then ceramics. I have also spent time producing a body of works which can be called figurative, yet I have not felt that connection with my self and journey which comes to me through abstraction.

For me Indian culture and thought have deep connections with abstraction and the formless, it has been with us for centuries, this is one of the things that constantly stay with me and influence the way I look at painting or any kind of creation. What you are saying is true, the world is saturated with visuals and almost everything that we see around us and is popular is mediatic and figurative. I have seen so many good painters, important exponents of abstraction in their own right, getting overwhelmed and sucked into this world of information and mediatic realism. For young artist too, abstraction is a harder journey to take, you have no external reference through which to judge if your work is trendy or fashionable, there are no information based references you can take. To be an abstractionist have a journey in non-representational art forms, one has to be extremely patient and centered, maybe that's why attracts me more towards abstraction today, it becomes a way through which I centre myself. I feel this expression is important cause it forces the viewer to forget his or her assumptions and learnings and look at a painting as a source of new experiences and meanings.

R B: Yes, I do get the essence of what your are saying, maybe if you talk about your personal encounter with abstraction, it will help us in getting a further insight.

S I: I feel I benefited from beginning my artistic journey in Bhopal. Though Bhopal is an important centre of art and is a complex meeting ground of modern folk and contemporary traditions, It has no art college and thereby no set pictorial tradition that is handed over to you. As a young artist, I had to figure out my language though just working and experimenting. It is by now well known that I began at Bharat Bhavan working as a staff in the museum, the overall environment of creativity that used to be in Bharat Bhavan at that point of time, pushed me into spending more and more time pursuing my own creativity. The legendary K Swaminathan, who was heading Bharat Bhavan at that time, gave me all the space and encouragement I needed, but even he never forced me to adopt any kind of style or visual language. I was fascinated by the freedom of lines and expression that I saw in the tribal and folk art at the Bharat Bhavan museum. Personally, I am very close to Indic thought the idea of nirguna. The atmosphere of Bharat Bhavan allowed me to experiment and seamless combine my influences into one visual language. The lines and forms of tribal art always play with the idea of meaning and reality; the forms invent their own geometry based on their context, play and rhythm. I realised that to be an artist, one has to go beyond mirroring reality and only through developing an extremely personal language, and one can generate new forms and meanings for the world.

R B: It is interesting that while talking about your formative years you visit the idea of lines so much, as someone who has been following your work for some time, I realise that the 'line' is a central element in your practice. Of course, their pictorial importance for you is more visible in your drawings, but your paintings too have always had a deep engagement with 'lines' and their interplay. Even when you shift mediums and work with coir, one can sense that Shridhar Iyer is exploring the compositional possibilities of lines.

S I: When I was in school, I used to be very bad in maths, it was a subject I barely passed. To be honest, numbers did not make much sense to me. I never understood (and still don't understand) why two plus two becomes four and four plus four becomes eight. When I encountered geometry, I began loving it. I used to spend hours doing geometry, not only doing my homework but moving on to engage with more complex geometrical problems. I was fascinated with the concept of parallel lines if they ever meet will they make a triangle, a square or a rectangle? Is it possible that they make all three? My teachers always encouraged this freedom I used to take, and apart from marking me for the homework or classwork, they would give me extra marks for the additional experiments I used to do.

Then years passed, and when I came to Bharat Bhavan and started painting, looking at the lines in tribal arts, revived my engagement and interest, what tribal art taught me is that through spontaneity and rhythm, lines could be transformed into something magical. You could say that since then, the 'line' has become key to my artistic practice; it helps me to explore and understand my own imagination. Over the years I have grown to realise that possibilities of new forms and ideas are deeply embedded in the exploration of 'line'.

R B: I have been visiting your studio over some years now, and every time I come, I realise that it a very different kind of space, a kind we are not used to these days. Most established artists have a very clear home studio distinction, and in this distinction, their homes have become much sanitised spaces. One finds it hard to recognise if one comes to an artist's house... However every time I visit you, I feel as if I have walked into a magician's house where work and life come into one melting pot, and there is a magician there cooking up and spell and working to bring out a new creation....

S I: I changed many studios for the last thirty five years of my art practice (about twelve studios I think). I have always felt comfortable living and working from the same space, which is why I always look for very large spaces. But, I always move into a new studio with very little things, with just a bag or a suitcase and my art material. For me, each studio has been a site for new journies and new beginnings. I move into a place and start setting it us according to my needs and finances. As I spend time and build my studio, I slowly start responding to space and its vibrations. This pushes me, gives me a new diction and the energy of the space and my life inside it slowly begins to lead to a new body of work. A big show comes out of it, maybe even two, but then things flow in a manner that I feel the need to move out, find a new cave. When I leave, I leave everything behind, give it away to my maids, assistants, or just simply leave it behind. For me this is intrinsic to my art philosophy, a constant relationship with assimilating and letting go. If you see the installations I have done, they have always been big and complex, very few artists in India have worked on such scales, yet once the work is done and shown , the materials and their values become meaningless to me, they are left behind or thrown away for other people to use.

R B: So what is cooking in the magician's pot right now?

S I: You are aware that I have an upcoming solo, it is a complex bodywork. a lot of it is in continuation of the work I have been doing over the last five to six years, but in this body, there are also seeds of the new directions where I can feel my practice is heading towards. over the years I have been disturbed about our relationship with nature and the resultant effects on the natural environment around us. You can say this body of works is my offering, an attempt to suggest healing of our relationship with nature and an offering of hope. This body of works is called Tambulam in reference to the traditional prayer/ welcome offering. I feel I need to work and explore this direction for some time now, to be honest...this is the need of our times, and our only hope for survival.

Rahul Bhattacharya - Journey through colour, lines, images, and objects (Yog Maya)

Empty spaces have the most energy fields than anything else in the universe; and all the object, matter, particles we know, constitute under ten percent of the universe....it is this eternal vastness and the unseen energy fields that is brought.

From within the gharana of contemporary abstraction from Bharat Bhavan, Shridhar Iyer has been exploring the unknown energy and force of the Universe primarily through the medium of painting and drawing. Highly experimental in life and work, Iyer has often made forays into installation based art practices, but it is in the last one and a half month, working at NIV center's basement studio, the artist has for the first time produced a body of work that shows a sustained engagement with alternative mediums and new sculpture.

Using mediums like coconut, cotton cloth, wood, iron, paddy and wood straw (khas), embellishments and dye, Iyer continues his engagement with the vast unknown...this time focusing on the energy fields that occupy the spaces between us and our known objects. He combines this representational quest with the love for the organic and the perishable. The artist has pledged himself to a spiritual connection with the universe, for him all the energy fields surrounding us are eternal, omnipresent, powerful, ethereal and friendly. In this show we will get a first look at a new and very important body of work in the context of the artist’s journey into sculptural abstraction.

Rahul Bhattacharya, 2013