Artist Gayatri Shantaram’s paintings celebrate the universe

Black is a defining colour in artist Gayatri Shantaram’s work. The other predominant colours are white, red, blue or purple. Her ongoing exhibition Mandala at Contemplate Art Gallery is a celebration of the universe. “Mandala represents a circle or the universe. It showcases a little bit of my universe. All my paintings have a focal point, a circle often represented as the sun or the moon that encompasses a square (the canvas). In our Indian temple structures, a number of squares lead up to the garbagraha. The Tibetan Mandala comprises of a square within the circle. The Mandala collection constitutes what I am,” she says.

The use of blue in her works, she says, comes from Chennai where she grew up by the sea. “I use a lot of whites as well because it suits my linen canvas which I often work on. But my work is incomplete without black. It represents the duality of life,” she says.

The various paintings on display capture the artist’s progression in abstract work. At the entrance is a portrait of ‘Pilgrims’ in a play of themes. It is a figurative expression in shades of golden yellows and of course, black. There’s a series on guinea fowls. “I noticed these little creatures huddled together during visits to a friend’s farm. I found them extremely funny. You laugh at them but there is sadness too, as they cannot fly. I look on them as children, people or adults in a family with their own set of curious expressions.”

There are more birds as she points out her African crane and the Japanese crested crane. In one of the paintings, a plain peacock looks away while its plumage forms the backdrop like a screen lit up by moonlight. In another painting, there are shades of purple as the moon settles down and a bird is in flight.

Gayatri uses acrylic colours, a lot of Indian, Chinese and photographic ink, and water colours. She draws inspiration form just about anything that catches her fancy. “I click a picture when something strikes me and go back to the spot after two week’s time to see if the impact is the same. Then, I work on it. Though I look at subject matters for outward inspiration, I look a lot more inwards while working.”

While some of her paintings are vibrant, others are calming and meditative. A painting titled ‘Fly’ is her tribute to aviation. It has blue clouds, a red sun and a bird. “The idea of taking off and to be there among the clouds is liberating,” she says. Another portrait inspired by Japanese art has just a splash of red on white and black background. The artist has also done guinea fowls on rice paper, inspired by Japanese art. “When you draw a line of colour the paper absorbs it and the crinkles add texture to the work.”

‘Indus’ is a work in black ink. It has a mix of crackles and flow effect. When you point out what look like faces on the canvas, she says to her it represents a flowing water body. Some of her other abstract works include the elements, air, earth, water and fire. Gayatri describes art as a way of life. She says, “Though it doesn’t promise you an assured monthly pay check, it’s been very fulfilling emotionally and intellectually.”

The exhibition is on till November 29 at Contemplate Art Gallery, Avanashi Road.