| Two of Bhargava’s canvases on view at the Cities Ideas & Icons show
Veena Bhargava, one of the city’s most senior and respected artists, used to be known for her powerful figurative drawing. Even in her paintings, her dynamic lines would define her works. In a new series which she has been painting for the past few years entitled Cities Ideas & Icons, she orchestrates strong saturated colours with the same bold effect.
Fifteen of her paintings, both large and medium-sized canvases, and 24 drawings will be exhibited from August 31 to September 15 at The Artery, a new alternative space created for art events at Himadri Apartments, 22 Ballygunge Park Road.
Bhargava seizes hold of an idea and builds up her works with the interplay of layers of images and simple geometric forms, memories and popular pictorial motifs. The casual viewer may feel this is a conglomeration of forms thrown together at random. But on closer scrutiny the association of ideas is revealed. “I borrow from several sources to suit my concept. I pick up an idea and then the symbols and metaphors begin to grow around them,” she says.
Telling a story, however, is not her intention, though the original concept does trigger off a chain reaction of images. It is her vibrant palette that is the focal point of her canvases and arrests vision. Attacking the canvas with great energy and verve she applies pigments with a flurry of brushstrokes. A large apple set next to a knife is seen against a hail of bright blue and black brushstrokes. The darker and brighter hues are played off against areas of white or ochre, the same way the triangles, and trapezoids are balanced off by the spheres.
Bhargava’s work is primarily city-centric. The starting point was the proliferation of shrines along the roads here. This led to the roots of the banyan tree framed in saffron and the sacrificial goat amidst a splash of gore. The pennants on such shrines is suggested through the kitschy reds contrasted with greens and soothing ochres.
Bhargava once used to be a sensitive photographer. She uses many of these images directly on the canvas as silkscreen print. Thus photographs of relics of the Raj such as the neo-Gothic arches of New Market and a junkyard, where jalopies are laid to rest, appear beneath the hoofs of charging horses, painted with the same vigour she used to depict the buffalo.
Silkscreen prints of the familiar faces of teen heart-throbs are juxtaposed with the photograph of an ancient tow truck, a bazaar image of a lotus and the silhouettes of tools used by a motor mechanic. Loud colours try to evoke the cheap and tawdry look of a paan shop or a gaudily-painted truck.
She also culls elements from Bengali almanacs and calendars and prints zodiac signs and whole pages from them straight on to her canvases in an effort to convey the hybridisation of our culture.
The now-familiar visage of Annanova, the virtual broadcaster, is cloned several times on the canvas. Alongside her is the sphinx executed with deft brushstrokes. Bhargava does not spare the Harappan finds either. She uses encaustic to simulate the appearance of the brick walls revealed by the excavations, once again to underline the fact that contemporary Indian culture straddles both the medieval and the modern. Hence the maddening medley of images.
But ultimately it is the artist Bhargava that triumphs over Bhargava the social commentator. The colours she uses are a force to reckon with and the extraordinary textures and surfaces she creates dazzle the eye.