Art News & Views

Speaking New Discourses

  Sagar Bhowmik

A photograph can pull a fast one just as easily as document the truth. A just-bereaved person can be snapped in neutral moment if the cameraperson decides to highlight an inconsequential nanosecond between immersive griefs. An editor can choose to print a photo of a grinning President in the wake of a national calamity. What they are doing is using or abusing their freedom to manipulate, and by doing so, projecting a vision or whimsy that is personal, perhaps motivated. An artist of course has to go beyond mere manipulation of moments, or tinkering with the infinite tools that technology affords, in fact, has to overcome all the cheap tricks, to convincingly pitch a private response to a reality. It becomes even more difficult when the reality itself is a simulated digital reality, a blown-up, graphed, morphed and photoshopped reality.

Confronted with Sagar Bhowmick's zoom mode world, such random surface-thoughts scurry across like so many ants. His hyper-real works in oil are large, effortlessly spilling across tenderly-cultivated acres of canvas. There's no getting away from Sagar's lush visual language, where the sun-kissed metallic handle of prescription glasses and the strong planes of cheekbones assume an alluring solidity. For a second, the high level of technical virtuosity, his dazzling felicity with both brush and pencil, dismissed as plebian toil in exospheres of modernity, or slandered as giant photo copies in meaner clusters, threatens to draw an opaque curtain on everything else. The touchy-feely cups and teabags, the thick-ash cigarette tip blow away and boggle. On occasions, sharp contrasts, and on others, subtle lighting and shading effects fill the landscape of face and coffee table with possibilities.

The artist, like the rest of us, lives in a world of unending triviality. To suddenly magnify a speck in this continuing conscious stream is to straightaway haul it to a status of dignity, even grandeur. Also, to compress something is to artificially intensify it, forcing it to become more than it was when it existed in the real world. Sagar's contemporary-looking trilogy, 'The Wait', tries to do that to stacked cups and saucers, tumblers, sudoku and cigarettes, scenes that bring to mind a Jim Jarmusch film. Grey and sepia notes subdue the original colours in these brilliantly composed, magazine-perfect, urbane frames.

Hyper realism has been described as being photographic in essence, but also entailing a softer and much more complex focus on the subject depicted, presenting it as a living tangible object. These objects and scenes in hyper realism paintings and sculptures are meticulously detailed to create the illusion of a new reality not seen in the original photo. “The eloquent silence of these common objects resonates within me and it is this spirit or the inert bonding that emerges as the inspiration of my paintings,” says Sagar.

Besides inert symbols of sociable patience and longing, Sagar also trains his angled eye on the human face. In a more recent work, 'Shaving', the slightly grotesque male face, distorted because of the camera angle, bursts out of canvas's boundary, grabs the eyeballs. The visual violence is paradoxical, as the soapy man has the gaze of someone who's seeing without looking, an abstracted look of a person comatose in the mechanics of morning lathering. Shorn of the emotive or narrative seams of the Wait series, this work revels in the very flatness of its milieu. It contrasts with Freedom to Stop, an earlier work, depicting a man aiming a gun far ahead, vainly trying to control, negate the blur of relentless motion.

With the kind of giga-dexterity at his disposal, Sagar's challenge lies in reining his objective correlative in a fashion that defines what is actually real in a world where a multitude of media can radically shape and filter an original event or experience… restraining himself from fizzling into touching and photogenic depictions of innocence.


Shoma Bhattacharya

  Vivek Sharma

Observation is the key tool for a visual artist. Examining physical attributes of his subjects or studying the events in the surroundings, an artist must grasp the essence of what he wants to portray. Mumbai-based Vivek Sharma has a sharp set of eyes which he trains on people as much to portray them photo-realistically as to capture the human condition.

Wherever he is, in Mumbai or traveling anywhere in the world, Sharma takes in the imagery of his surrounding and turns these physical observations to create visual metaphors to comment on a gamut of subjects. “I employ images to make metaphors. Sometimes I engage more than two or three sets of images to make a gestalt,” says Sharma.

His gaze shifts to varied groups of people and locations. It could be middle class women at a laughing club in Mumbai (Laughing Ladies) or them going to work in crowded a local train (The Agony and Ecstasy). Or he could be portraying an office-going woman in shiny stilettos in Germany (Kaliyug). In one work he portrays Mahatma Gandhi and in another there's President Barack Obama upside down on a chess board carried by the deity Hanuman. “I look at everyday experiences and news to convey messages whether personal, social or political,” he explains. He also uses references from myths, historical events and well-known works of art by artists in his scheme.

Some of his earlier works portray happy street children as they look at a congregation of pigeons ('Art of Life'), and in another work 'Under the Inverted Bowl' he paints an overview of slum roofs in Mumbai where a bird is about to prey on a mouse. Most of his imagery does tend to be based in Mumbai, a rich haven of inspiration for an artist. But his messages transcend the geographical boundaries. “The human condition remains the same wherever I go,” he says. In selecting what or who to portray he says: “It (the subject) should touch me like a lightning and strike me like a thunder bolt.” The truths of human behaviour, emotions and experiences are universal. His paintings set out to capture them and so that a wider audience can relate to it.

Sharma passed out of Mumbai's Sir JJ School of Art in the year 1994. This art school is known for the emphasis it lays on technical expertise. As it happens Sharma, 42-years-old, excelled in the figurative/portraiture. His proficiency was such that in the initial years of struggle as a young graduate he earned his living making portraiture for various patrons and he was really good at it. So much so, Sharma says that the Mumbai police employed his services to makes identity sketches of law offenders. He was even rewarded a prize for creating a portrait leading that successfully led to a culprit.

His journey as a practicing artist started with the mandatory search for an idiom, as it did for any other beginner. For a while he painted in the abstract genre too while constantly honing his vocabulary that he describes as photo-realism. He kept sharpening his skills in the latter until 2004 when he finally decided to exhibit his work. He says, “I did not want to exhibit or even show my work to gallerists until I was sure of what I did very well. I exhibited my first painting in 2004 at the annual Harmony show when I was confident of my work, and it paid of. My work was noticed and my journey began.” He's been showing all over India and has gallery representations and frequent invites for art residencies in Europe and USA. Now his trajectory forward includes creating installations for forthcoming exhibitions.

Commenting on what inspires him to paint Sharma says, “My key position is my angst against the dreadful world in which we live. Yet art is as beautiful as quiet and serene nature. This is why we artists try to make the earth a better place to live.”


Jasmin Shah Varma

  Saptarishi Naskar

Saptarishi Naskar received his education in fine arts at Shantiniketan and is presently based in Delhi. He entered the art scene in Delhi in 2005 and quickly got recognition for his firm grounding in visual grammar and the high level of engagement with contemporary socio-politics. Since then, Naskar's art has managed to constantly touch a chord. His subjects mostly deal with the problems faced by the 'common man'. Looking at same old laments with a new perspective, Naskar manages to find the elements of positivity in situations where none seem to exist.

Naskar attaches a lot of importance to the medium and its handling. Since his works deal with human nature, and the lived experience of the 'public', it has to be realistic and relatable to the people who are his inspiration. He employs mediatic realism to recreates what he observes, and often adds a twist to guide his viewers towards his intentionality. In the artist's own words “Here is another extension of my organic-inorganic fusion concept. I happen to believe that we can go from photorealism to real abstraction feelings. When art work is related to human nature, the primary language is realism. It comes very close to society.”

Taking inspiration from what he sees around him, Naskar manages to juxtapose elements from many worlds and ease them onto a canvas, where suddenly they stop seeming disjointed and one can understand the story the artist wants to tell. His work transforms an observation of a middle class urban world into a statement of an artist who aims to capture the beauty in the mundane.

What strikes one about Naskar's work is the attention he pays to details that, though seemingly unimportant, come together to cement the visual effect of his works. The various elements together harmoniously creates an image that is highly contemporary in nature. The work entitled “Overflow” is a good example of his artistic practice. The painting shows a buggy filled with school children dressed in uniform. One tends to notice the manner in which the children's hair is combed and how their socks are worn pulled up. There are too many children for the vehicle, yet they appear content despite the crowdedness. Naskar explores Indian urban society through images of daily life experienced by the middle-income citizens in India but his execution brings forth a visual language which transcends to a global quality and understanding.


Ravisha Mall  


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