Beneath the simplicity of Tanmoy Samanta’s art lies a dense world where personal history meets the politics of our times

When you have so much chutzpah around in the art world, it’s possible for a frill-free affair like “All I have learned and forgotten” to go unnoticed. In this raging hullabaloo over all things new and experimental, a quiet series of work like this — uncomplicated (though only seemingly, otherwise it is heavily layered) that too rendered in traditional mediums like gouache can get eclipsed but those who remain concerned with the ingenuity of art wouldn’t have the slightest doubt over such works. The faith is further reinstated when S.V. Gaitonde’s minimalist landscape is sold for a whopping Rs. 23.7 crore at the Christie’s inaugural auction in India.

It is Tanmoy Samanta’s third solo show at Renu Modi’s Gallery Espace where the Delhi-based artist displays 20 works like gouache on rice paper and recycled 3-dimensional books. “I think I am a prisoner of my own sensibilities…I am still not bored with painting,” says Samanta in response to a question about whether or not he felt tempted to choose the medium of installations for his discourse. Though, there are recycled books but they lack the drama and absurdity of so many of installation pieces one comes across.

He dwells on the idea of memory in this show with maps, clocks, books, keys and locks occupying the centrestage on his canvases. And these objects have travelled via the route of artist’s personal history as Tanmoy is a collector of objects like broken toys, old keys and globes etc. Now when he places them on his canvas, shifting their purpose, the personal history comes to have a new narrative. “A new story is created by subverting the object,” says the young artist. For instance, a padlock, with slight alterations to its form, comes to assume a different identity, a butterfly is turned upside down, evoking the wonder of magical realism. “It is because I read a lot. With both my parents belonging to the world of literature, I was exposed to classics in my childhood and I continue reading them. So influenced am I by writers like Kafka and Marquez (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) that I take directly from them and interpret it visually. So there are a lot of literary influences, allegory and metaphors,” explains the recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award, New York in 2003. Within the plot of his personal history are the sub-plots of politics of our times for instance in “Cartographer’s Paradox – I” in which he subverts a map, reimagining it completely, he blurs boundaries or when he brings two unlikely things together — a bird perched on a gun in “At Dusk”.

Other influence on his artistic vision is Santiniketan where he formally studied art. The Oriental feel of his work — the lyricism and minimalism with definitive lines further accentuated by the use of gouache and rice paper also comes from the Santiniketan tradition. “Yes, Santiniketan is definitely an influence. I take inspiration from the Japanese prints that I came across in its library. Also, Far East is an important part of the art history taught there unlike other art institutions. As for rice paper and gouache, the usage was also determined by their alignment to my artistic practice. I like to linger on one work for a long time and ordinary paper doesn’t reciprocate so well when you apply layers after layers. And watercolours get totally absorbed which is why I chose gouache,” says Tanmoy.

(The exhibition is on at Gallery Espace, New Friends Colony, Community Centre, till January 12, 2014 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)