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A BLEAK, DENUDED BEAUTY

VISUAL ARTS

To go by its marginal presence at shows, print-making isn’t the primary passion of artists, barring notable exceptions. Fortunately, however, many painters and sculptors relish the way its technology lets chance variations slip into creativity and craft. That’s perhaps why Galerie 88 is able to present an array of artists — some 37 of them, including the notable exceptions — in their avatar as print-makers. To be seen till August 10, the show is called, appropriately enough, Impressions, for that’s exactly what the viewer sees: the impression, mostly on paper, of images created on metal, stone, in stencil and such.

Of the 56 or so works on view, a majority are in monochrome —which is less time-taking — mostly black but also in blends of matte brown. But this apparent lack turns into their strength as it refreshes the eye fatigued with the colour onslaught of the visual media. Indeed, the two frazzled landscapes of Dakoji Devraj with hefty boulders and spiky trees draw much of their bleak, denuded beauty from the exile of colour. The bent tree trunks in Ramlal Dhar’s black and white planographic print, throwing up windswept branches like anxious arms, gather an ominous shrillness, while the terrain of dense scratches in the tiny etching of Amina Ahmed Kar— whose works are hardly ever seen — reads like the nervous agitation of the mind. As does Sohini Dhar’s intaglio landscape in dull mud browns.

A wry squint peps up several monochromes. Like it does in K.G. Subramanyan’s prints. It’s with the breeziness of water-based sketches that the art elder invests two roosters with personality: one struts with overweening arrogance as the other is in wary retreat. Moutushi Chakraborty’s satire revisits an old theme in His Holiness, with its grotesque black form, but her portrayal of a man-woman relationship in Us is to be noted for the innuendoes teased out in the postures of the two figures and the fraught space between them which seems to archly recall David Hockney’s Portrait of Ossie and Celia. Santanu Bhattacharjee’s linocut period portrait spoofs an aspect of babu culture — its de rigueur, posed studio photographs of couples that also inscribe the gender equations in the family.

Talking of portraits brings up three remarkable ones, again in black and white but more black than white. Bikash Bhattacharjee’s Couple, with its masterly chiaroscuro, and Navjot Altaf’s gaunt, dark faces — that seem, verily, to have emerged from the damp, wintry interiors of some grim medieval monastery —are weighted with psychological insights. Jogen Chowdhury’s Wounded figure is doubled up the way bodies are in extreme pain, toes pressed into the ground. But the face, drained of all hyperbolic emotion, asks the viewer to distance himself and examine his blasé acceptance of the ubiquitous violence around him. In the tangle of lines in Suhas Roy’s serigraph of a mother and child, dated 2006, there’s a raw tactility not seen in his paintings in recent years.

Both Dharmanarayan Dasgupta and Shail Choyal — the latter known primarily as a graphic artist — mine the miniature tradition and mix fantasy and nostalgia for a prettily packaged past, leavened, in the case of the former, with humour in one work, Number 33. Paula Sengupta’s seductive Fairy Forest is the realm of fantasy and nostalgia, too. However, Jyoti Bhatt’s Ashwa Leela works up, through the image of a horse, a kind of frenzied agony. And Number 8 by Bhupen Khakkar is charged with the edgy eroticism distinctive of the artist.

The abstractions of four participants also hold the viewer’s eye. S. H. Raza’s serigraph from 1982 is, with its palpable textures, cavernous shadows, heaving browns and fiery orange-red, a world of tumultuous flux. On the other hand, Lalu Prasad Shaw’s prints from the 1970s are monochromatic and durable, with a geometric gravity in one and a Miroesque levity in another. Himmat Shah’s white on white embossed rectangles and orb speak of ascetic contemplation. And Palaniappan’s interesting balance of negative space and shapes approximating aerial maps yields rather clichéd musings incorporated in the scheme.

There’s one work by the master print-maker, Krishna Reddy, The Clown Juggler (picture), an impressive 40”x30”. It’s both technically and conceptually complex, as the core image takes on cosmic dimensions because of the tumble of ideas suggested by the intricate, multi-coloured layout. But Atul Dodiya’s 50”x40” print, though neat, lacks the subversive surprise one expects from him. While Manjit Bawa’s winning simplicity may remind the viewer of Matisse cut-outs, M.F. Husain, Laxma Goud and Sakti Burman echo the imagery of their paintings.