About My Work - UMA NAIR

UMA NAIR - VOICES OF GENERATIONS

Pliable materials and meshed moorings

Shridhar Iyer is known as a pilgrim in search of the intangible.A silent vibration of a mantra emanates from his countenance and you think of discipline, simplicity and devout absorption that transcends the frontiers of experience to give us a moving moment.His photographs on his FB profile clearly unravel a quest for something that is not merely temporary but something that is ephemeral and indeed incandescent in its deeply tenured terrain. His paintings are Pollockian canvasses that are indeed not spectacularly beautiful—but they are indepth conversations about the spiritual leanings that are specifically sited within the compartments of his interior journey.

He comes to the ART BULL space 2 weeks before his show and carries a large coir matte looking piece that looks more like a makeshift rectangular piece of meshed netting.He starts talking in his minimalist mutterings: “ I have always thought long and deeply about space and I imagine I would like to make something that I can carry and keep because my experience comes from my journey. So, coincidentally and perfectly, I’m very happy that I am showing after a span of 5 years and in these 5 years I have had many journeys. I think art is something that comes with one’s own feelings and every time I create its about the penetration of my mind into the satisfaction of what I create. This coir piece is actually also about the supple little chants that we keep chanting when we build our own cloud of concentration.Its also about the journey of the coconut and man uses it for his own convenience.I have also written about how the coconut feels as it is taken on its journeys.This journey is about that solitary passage of time.”

In a quixotic way this fibrous coir installation is actually a subversion of thought of the whole cycle of the devotees multiple journeys that transcend time. The second set of installations are like cylindrical earthy meshed creations that seem to fill the spaces of the gallery almost like fiber pillars. Though it is sculptural, it doesn’t remain static because it’s a pliable material of dancing strands that the public, will inevitably want to touch and feel for its tenor of earthy tactility.The two coats made of coir have a certain fragile grace about them as much as their humble strength.

Tactility is central to Shridhar’s works.When I mention it he says: “ Yes it is the beginning and the end of the journeys that I take.After all my journey isn’t only going to a place of pilgrimage or Hrishikesh or any other place-it is also the journey that I carry in my mind after I have brought back materials to the studio. I want the desire to touch and the desire to breathe through creativity to be very much alive. I think thatfeeling is important, the wanting: the desire to hold it in my hands, to befriends with the coir –the khus, to see if it has that earthy fragrance, or if it’s compatible to my idea of existence, and in what way it sustains my ideas and notions of creating art for the moment-art that is transitory.I thought of the principle of Yog Maya. Its like at a temple the central pillar - certain areas where people have touched over and over and over again are shinier than other areas? I think that’s wonderful. You can look at— pattern of wanting and an expression of what is unsaid but felt. So the material is vital as I create these pillars of inquiry with the khus-but at the same time it has a quality of being porous and supple.”

The installations when added with the finished products like clothes/coat then take on another facet because it is born of a memory. When manipulating, pushing, pulling, and compacting the khus or the coir it retains its form— most materials don’t often do this. In many ways we realize that some materials have a memory, others don’t.And this brings us to the organic nature of the materials used. The intriguing part of this entire construction is thatShridhar is still figuring out what it can do because this is all part of a transitory journey. In the journey of what is partiallydoing and reconfiguring is that the artist becomes a veritable spinner who has created his own signature of techniques and sensibilities with a lot of effort. Everything has been brought to a certain stage and you can sense a releasing of the tension,in which there is a selective creation of the artist’s personal version. Shridharworks with three different entities of materiality to evolve this crucial construct.While the first seems lucid and simple these installations are filled with multiple dimensions and great depth of thoughts.

The installations then showcase an incredible range of humble organic materials that Shridhar has experimented with over the years.Interestingly both coir and khus stand up by itself actually .We are made to realize that it has so much internal stiffness and that when you cross the fibres at right/oblique angles they lock and hold and create an intricate mesh that almost looks like a natural carpeted tapestry of sorts.

These installations echo two roles of the artist in question. The artist is active: and in the front, he is aware of himself in his orbit of consciousness. There may be many people around him-maybe multitudes , but you don’t see them. They’re unaware of what’s happening within the artist but it is the evanescent feeling and emotion that feeds him something. In these installations vibrations ply back and forth-what ensues is multiple sensory images but the resultant view is very minimal, but it’s enough to enable you to develop your thoughts. The installations reflect the multiplicity of ideations and expressions in the spirit that are there all the time but they also unravel as nuances seen as façades.

In his own journey Shridharis always curious about what is going on behind the façade of devotion and the bhakti. Its as if he his journey is one in which he is also continuously searching-questing for what is deeper and mysteriously moored.
Travelling and watching people in so many different places is interesting because at the first sight, the first encounter, it’s like a film or a photograph, so how do you go into it? It’s by walking with people that you gain access to multiple layers of meaning and learn, like ethnographers, or archeologists or biographers.

Pliant strokes of colour and contour

Leave the installations and step into the world of canvasses.Here are a series of embedded thoughts that are made of narrow strips of fragile and pliant strokes that lay stretched in quadruple layers of warps and wefts on the different layers of colour that appear and disappear, bringing up the lower levels to the top, sending it back down the brims of the canvas, bringing it up again in a different way so that it looks like the fiber lines are meshing, tangling, and organically growing together. Before he takes them out of tension, they are aligned to certain gravitational forces that are unseen but hold them together in a lock in embrace that tingles in its minimal moorings.

In the series of buttercup yellow canvasses there is a resonance and a ripple of the suryanamaskar-emanating from the chants of the mantras that Shridhar recites when he is at his rituals-but we also see a subtle and sanguine thematic juxtaposition as the pliant strokes relax and waves of expression happen at intervals both known and unknown. And both the upper and lower reaches are equally balanced.The canvasses in many ways make us think of woven handloom- in traditional loomed weaves you don’t see the warp because the weft insertions cover it. We see that in all the canvasses that unveil as uncanny journeys all the expression is evident, almost like the threads of colour that seep and surge and culminate and clot like the prayers of the devotees that fill the air-all of them are actors on the stage of life and none of them are hidden or lesser-each one has their own role in the chanting of the mantras. They’re all part of the spiritual sojourn that unravels as the oeuvre of deepened esoterics.

We see that in all the canvasses that unveil as uncanny journeys all the expression is evident, almost like the threads of colour that seep and surge and culminate and clot like the prayers of the devotees that fill the air-all of them are actors on the stage of life and none of them are hidden or lesser-each one has their own role in the chanting of the mantras. They’re all part of the spiritual sojourn that unravels as the oeuvre of deepened esoterics.

The canvasses indicate Shridhar’s intention to go beyond formalism and to convey metaphorical meanings. They reference places he has travelled, people he has known and the gods and goddesses that dwell within and without. These works are as much about ancient citadels of rituals in the valleys and mountains. The weaving of chants and prayers into India’s spiritual culture has about it a humble yet indepth sophistication because it is about an awakening that cannot be put into words. The variety, the vocabulary, the language for constructing and imagining different ways to cross threads of devotion and rituals and connect threads of past and present is what makes the journey one of richness . You also think of simple rituals as a culture that is more than a written language- one that is handed down many generations in different forms. This is what interests me: in these canvasses- we are reminded of the devnagiri script that is written anywhere-everywhere –even on stones.

Playing with paper

The paper works structured in a grid are based on the curiosity of ruminations-of doodling in solace and solitude, they are pure and simple.Shridhar adds, “ I am an enthusiastic traveler. I amalso extremely curious and experience and prayer and ritual everything becomes one memory. For me travel, encounters, experiences—they feed my imagination and stimulate associations that bring the past into the present.”

The paper works are a reflection of how the artist keeps trying to expand his involvements in different challenges. Instead of using the word emerging in the journey of evolution, I would say eclipsing multiple memories. It’salmost like a solar/lunar eclipse that takes place. It disappears and then appears in another form, shape, and place, with another name. Shridharhasworked through many different expanding notions of form making. There has been an explosion of form making in different contexts, enriched by the discovery of unfamiliar areas and geographies. There is an integrity in his threads of thought.In some ways he is also cloistered in the privacy of his own journeys.

Videos: Amorphous materials-crystalline poetry

There is something in the vast complex of our racial psyche, from the austere, crystalline poetry of our Vedic forbears to the awesome pantheon of gods and demons, from the abstract metaphysics of Hindu thought to the threatening totems of the folk ritual, that bears its head against the wall of the Pseudoscience that our so-called intelligentsia has inherited from Modern Western culture.
It is only when Indian painters tear asunder the false veil of Western progressivism that he will be able to make the 'Numinous' image manifest and create art significant to us, and so to the world.

(J Swaminathan, 'The New Promise', Lalit Kala Contemporary 40, March 1995)

There is much to ponder over when you read JagdishSwaminathan's writings which linked art forms to Vedic leanings and learnings.The two videos reflect Swami’s ruminations and reflections as ShridharIyer the disciple and student and Bhopal Bhavan custodian of 10 years finds his own journey after the untimely passing away of his mentor Swami.

Entitled Madhurashtkam, the stills tell us that it is cosmic nuances that are Shridhar’s sense of canvas in what he wants to unravel.Energies rise and subside – there is a silent rhythmic pulse that is the point of rapture –and when hinged between Swaminathan's lucidity of thought and the depth of colour—it propels us to think of a thousand things.Shridhar’s journey is one that is built and moulded around Swami’s philosophy -and this is where he must be remembered as one of the forerunners of the abstract movement in contemporary art practices in India.

Through these ponderings one is sure that the artist Shridhar is reflecting over the paradigms left by Swami when he began combining elements from nature in the early part of his evolution.A meditative stillness becomes an evocative signature.The coir in the gallery space at ARTBULL takes on its own tenor and strength.

Years ago Swami borrowed the term "numinous image" from Philip Rawson to speak about his 'para-natural', magical and mysterious space that is not obvious but is inherent everywhere.It seems as if Shridhar continues that journey on his own trajectory.

It is interesting to note that Shridhar’s search is deeply elemental and it does not stop at colour but probes the hidden embers of geometric and cosmic expanses with a blending in of symbolism that is born of the spirit.
He transforms context and relationships , to create a confluence of traditional and contemporary, because his sensibility is born of a motivation that coerced a continuum.We could think of chants that are catalytic or rippled, these videos are about primeval stirrings that are vested with symbolic references and meanings. Like his mentor SwaminathanShridhar does not want to create a discourse but wants to formulate a visual language or "text" that lends itself to numerous interpretations.Madhurashtakam then is both the symbol and the metaphor — it is a metaphor of the flow of bodily energy and its state of silent intensity.

The two videos strategically refuse referential readings, we could think of painted objects whose compositional unity belies the complexity of their making. In Shridhar’s works even the most subtle adjustment is generative. Each shift in palette, variation in scale, or nuance of mark effects an incremental development within a broader scheme of experimentation born out of experience.

Transitory travels

Just like his installations he has created a series of works simply presented in interrelated groupings. Implicit in this body of work is a tension between the contrasting actions of ‘doing’ and ‘undoing.’ The exhibition oscillates between quieter, meditative works created predominately through the reversal or canceling of previous ideas, and bolder pieces in which vividly hued asymmetrical forms actively dominate the surface.The mixed media boxes with the khus are really about looking at raw tapestry-the weavings of woven ideas that stand on their own in limpid yet lucid stratas. This organic yet primeval give and take extends to the method of their making. Working flat against the studio floor, from a position of authority and control, Shridhar negotiates the pictorial plane as a zone of impact and reaction, working with resistance until the point at which the dynamic constructs of making are calmly resolved into tranquil renditions.

A recurring theme in Shridhar’s work is a preoccupation with the edges of the works he creates : a concern that is realized formally and pursued methodologically. What is at stake in these works, just titled as Yoga Maya series and otherwise left unnamed, is a pushing to the limits. Using the canvas/paper/khus/coir as a testing ground they question how far might the mark go in the artist’s signature of sensibility.

From the materials of painting, reconfiguring them, and setting a different priority we see a journey in which Shridhar replaces the canvas with an experimental construction of the threads of coir/khus and the location of meaning in that construction, then we also see the syncopation of the color theory concepts that he propels into a personal, evocative language of his own. There’s a merging of painterly thought and woven form which takes place during modernism’s fixation with separating all of the disciplines, seeking purity. Spiritual Sojourn is about the transitory epochs that fill an artist’s life-it is about what is seen within and without and only he can unravel and understand what the journey is.

UMA NAIR, CURATOR, APRIL, 2014 NEW DELHI