Sunday, April 27, 2008

ARTICLE 990 - Sotheby's Art Sale boasts of Indian works at exciting prices

[26 Apr, 2008, 0950 hrs IST] Uma Nair for THE ECONOMIC TIMES

Unique artistic expressions, an exploration of urban culture for less than 10,000 British pounds! Sotheby’s Indian Art Sale on May 2nd boasts of works by India’s greats and emerging talents at exciting prices. For a beginning take Riyas Komu’s canvas Tragic Day Optimist-XIII (2002) — a stupendous work created with acrylic oil and marble grain on canvas. Estimated at a mere 5,000 — 7,000 GBP, it has a softened hue that weaves within it a sensibility of both evocative and emotive possibilities even as the artist’s title suggests the paradoxes of perception and provocation in life as in art. The softened palette and the invisible brush are what always endear in Komu’s portraits, inviting the viewer to hunt for a hint of a brush stroke. T.V. Santosh’s Terracotta Head executed when he was a student at Kala Bhavan in Shantiniketan is yet another work of intriguing proportions. Estimated at a reachable 4000-6000 GBP, this work has the raw and rustic edginess that the red earth of Shantiniketan inspires. Far from the cybernetic forms and post-modern political inquiry, this work has about it an energised feel of angst perhaps in the way the teeth seem to gnash in the mood of intense fury or irritation.

Sudhir Patvardhan’s Girl With Nose Ring estimated at 4,000—6,000 GBP is a work belonging to 1998. Known for a moral tone in the language of urbanism his vast acrylic canvases may seem like a faithful depiction of the specific area, an ordinary and quite typical part of Mumbai with its uncomfortable symbiosis of the rich and the poor. This portrait, however, exudes a strangely bewitching atmosphere — soft and disturbing, roughly literal and poetic in a delicate manner, which attains grandeur for the sense of gravitas on the face of the subject and her etched out jaw line and sagging skin. The urban universe encompasses the study of the stage by stage reality in Bhupen Khakhar’s pair of works that are entitled River and belong to 2003. Estimated at 4000-6000 GBP, it is the human symbol and the ambience that becomes at once the narrative for human drama. The entire structure of the composition looks like a comment with both works contrasting in terms of composition. As the next panel looks forlorn with a premonition of desolation and loneliness, the next one clarifies the mood, as though cleansed by the redeeming forces of nature and the fertile green filled earth.

Exploring India’s abstractionsists: Most exciting perhaps for abstract collectors the world over is Biren De’s 1981 oil on canvas — a tensile orchestration of Prussian blue and black with the concentric bindu bringing in the element of symbolism in the realms of metaphysical momentousness. The tantric elements in his work have a mysterious edge. The deep blue that permeates is the colour of tantra and mystery. This work is a heady translation of blue into a translucent and bright hue. The mystic vortex of suffused intensity is what lends it a meditative mood. This very aspect of his works makes them remarkable. Estimated at 5000-7000 GBP, this is indeed the leitmotif of a maestro in abstraction. Perhaps the abstract world is deftly handled in this sale with a rare work by Badhan Das which is estimated at a humble 3000-5000 GBP. Indeed this work looks like a mountain with the clouds becoming a maze of moody moorings. Interestingly in Badhan Das’ hands abstraction was treated as an unchartered territory, where more anxieties/eventualities awaited in terms of space and colour.

At Art Today more than a decade ago his two works that came for a show were unforgettable. Even at that phase, some of his works had some semblance to nature, like the barks of trees or a rocky landscape. To get rid of this likeness was never difficult for him. But what remains as a magical moment is the handling of context and the translation of the tenor. Two great abstractionists Rajendra Dhawan and Velu Vishwanadhan’s oil on canvas again at 2,500-3500 GBP each is yet another steal. Dhawan was christened India’s Rothko with a karmic echo by this writer years ago. Paris-based Dhawan is indeed an undervalued artist who is yet to be discovered. This work is a paradox, and of course, the numinous, almost by definition, is something we expect to elude us. But this is where Dhawan’s attention to dispersive qualities of light comes into play, acting as a counter-balance to his interest in the ethereal. His early unConstable-like clouds, with their invisible actualities, aren’t replaced by a fabulous, billowing brightness of colour.But they are set in a place that is recognisable and palpably mute and mountain-like. Although the scale is skewed, everything has a magnificent solidity, a compressed burliness, which keeps sentimentality at bay.

Bose Krishnamachari who is now in India known as the Malayali Messiah for his robust activities in putting Kerala artists on the global artistic graph is represented here in a work craftily named Mind the Gap. Estimated at a comfortable 4000-6000 GBP, this work was exhibited in April 2003 at an exhibition called Roots en Route, at the Forum Art Gallery, Chennai. ‘Mind the Gap’ is a familiar utterance in London Underground stations. Bose lends a fresh meaning to it by sandwiching it between two portrait heads of Francis Bacon differentiated only in the years revealed by the lines on the artist’s face. Portraits of artists were a path breaking project that Bose ventured on years ago. But the blend of the time frame — the past with the present — is what attracts in this work. The great motif from the underground station is indeed , the most singular visual drama, in all of that was the spiky, faceted, looming form of London’s mass transit system itself, seemingly endless in its variation and self-replication. In some ways the works in the base of the monetary grid in the Sotheby’s Indian Sale gives us the basic — though not the only — subject of the movement known as ascent from a kind of precisionist to a set of practices that embraced urban undercurrents and its aftermath. It eschews the inherent moorings these Indian draughtsmen had delighted in; indeed, recognisable human beings and human emotions become an intrinsic part of this sale’s pure and realised urban surfaces. It will be interesting to see how the bids go.