The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Seductive and fantastic chairs

Faux antique chairs and loveseats have been arranged in such a fashion in the four rooms of the Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre that they create the impression of holding a dialogue with each other. Recent reverse paintings on plastic sheets by K.G. Subramanyan have been propped up on the seats. The works could have been human beings occupying the chairs. Spotlights are trained on the small paintings creating warm pools of illumination. Larger paintings from an earlier exhibition have been hung on the walls. The artist had held an exhibition of his enamels at the same venue not many months ago.

The organisers have hit upon a very theatrical way of displaying paintings indeed. Perhaps a little too dramatic, for such a device may detract from the seriousness of the works of this master. Even if one takes into account the levity with which Subramanyan has treated the theme of chairs.

Chairs gain a life of their own as the artist visualises them not as pieces of furniture alone but as sentient beings with limbs literally in the shape of hands and legs. Subramanyan uses brilliant colours in the media of watercolour, oil and gouache and he certainly does so with a lot of panache. Once the chair is a still life in blue and red. Next it is a smiling seductress with a man leering behind her. Sometimes it is a just part of an interior with its double facing it. These chairs are seldom loaded with the kind of meaning or associations of, say, a chair by Van Gogh. Subramanyan’s are sententious images built up with scraps plundered from diverse cultures. True, one suggests a face-off between a mullah and a mahant. But there again the feeling of light-heartedness is evident. This is quite clear from his treatment of the subject in Some Chairs, a tiny booklet on sale at the exhibition, where the delightful verse and the black-and-white illustrations are both by the artist.

The paintings at the exhibition, too, are fantastic. Feathered creatures akin to peacocks grow out of one chair. It has claws for feet which give it the look of one of those wonderful hybrids that Sukumar Ray had created.

Occasionally, chairs are just that. They come as accompaniments of dining tables groaning under the weight of crockery and food. Needless to add, the manner in which Subramanyan sets off contrasting planes and colours is nothing short of masterly. He balances dark, muted and bright primary colours with an assurance born of years of practice. Subramanyan seems to take a lot of pleasure in shattering preconceived notions.

But it seems that of late the answers come a little too pat. The protean nature of Subramanyan’s art has become a byword. Which is why viewers expect him to develop from time to time. But even then the wheat ought to be separated from chaff. Or else even masters suffer from over-exposure. Perhaps, before trying out novel means of exhibiting works, the exhibition itself should have been curated more tightly. Or else it becomes like a banquet where much thought has been given to the display but little spared for the menu.

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