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Master strokes

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TT Bureau   |     |   Published 09.10.11, 12:00 AM

It has been a while since someone has impressed me on the Indian Contemporary Art scene. In July last year I curated a show of five young artists called “Collective Metamorphosis” for Bestcollegeart.com as all their works touched a chord in me. Besides that, last year, I also liked Paribartana Mohanty’s oil-on-canvas works and Deepjyoti Kalita with his kinetic installations.

This has been quite a downhill year overall for the Contemporary Art world in India, I look at auction catalogues and none of the established Contemporary artists are selling. I have also looked around for younger artists who’ve turned out exceptional work but have not seen too many on the horizon.

So this year, I’d come up empty-handed in my quest for an artist who would really make an impression on me. I had visited some of the younger galleries such as Latitude 28 and Project 88 that have over the years introduced me to some quite exceptional artists. But no-one caught my eye in a significant way.

Silence please...Smile please...Sincerity please...!!!

I’ve been keeping an eye on the works of Balaji Ponna for over two years and was lucky to catch his solo show — Looking not is not seeing — at The Guild Art Gallery in Mumbai. Suddenly I had a feeling that I had found someone whose works I wanted to see more of.

Ponna’s art is witty, has a satirical edge and he uses the medium of painting to convey very profound messages.

His expert brush commands and the layers he painstakingly creates are amazing. He has a great hand and his use of colour is exquisite. His paintings are all finely finished and are accompanied by a line of text at the bottom — which adds to the work’s significance and the viewer’s experience.

I liked all of Ponna’s works in the show but one which stood out for me was Silence please... Smile please... Sincerity please...!!! depicting a photographer taking a group shot of a group of politicians. First he says: “Silence please,” and then “Smile”. Then comes the request “Sincerity please!!!” with three exclamation points asking the politicians not to merely to pose for the photograph for publicity but to also show some sincerity when doing so.

Ponna’s We make lot of ‘action painting’ daily is an oil-and-soot on canvas

Also, I was impressed with his work: “Birds express what people can’t!!! In this work, he depicts the statue of a political leader with bird droppings splattered all over it. It’s a satirical take on the feelings many people now harbour for politicians in the wake of the massive corruption cases that we hear about daily. Taking this forward, he also had a work of a politician on a sandalwood funeral pyre. The work is aptly titled “They are cremated on the bed of sandalwood...to avoid their stinking past”. Obviously, Balaji’s take here is that corrupt politicians and leaders have the money, so they can afford a sandalwood cremation.

The entire show is impressive with depth of thought and content on display. Ponna is able to infuse socio-economic commentary into all his paintings. A lot of artists want to convey one point but end up painting something that is quite different. Ponna succeeds where others have failed.

Then look at “We make a lot of ‘action painting’ daily..”. This is a comment of a different kind that compares art and less exalted workers like farmers in the fields. Jackson Pollock, one of the most influential artists of our time, threw tar on canvas and that became one of the important paintings of our time. This was called Action Painting and it refers to an artistic style in which the artist freely lets go and unleashes emotion — without too much thought or reflection. Ponna draws a comparison with farmers who spray seeds or manure like that every day on the fields without getting any financial rewards or being recognised for their work. Hence the title, “We make lot of ‘action painting’ daily..”.

Ponna captures the current mindset and mood of people well with his satirical works. This is a commentary on the times we live in.

To my mind, he could be a new star in the making. His treatment of colours, the shaded hues and the picturisation is better than most of the artists who are today seen as leading lights on the art scene. And the best part is that the pricing of his works is sensible with most of the works priced between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 3 lakh. For this quality and size, the prices are not exorbitant. Watch out for Ponna. He offers a take on the world that we live in — painted with heart and soul.

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