The paintings of five artists, on show at Cholamandal, tell powerful stories about Nature being a silent witness to human suffering and strife.

‘Earth', the ongoing exhibition at the Indigo and Labernum Galleries in Cholamandal, is one of mystery, its artworks filled with secrets that seem to reveal themselves slowly, as you look and look again at them.

Featuring the work of five artists spanning generations, this exhibition isn't instantly appealing in a purely visual sense – no bursts of colour, no easy-to-relate-to imagery. The tone is muted, dull green, tan, brown and black abounding, and the images depicted, often spare and stark, are cloaked in metaphor and allegory.

But the power of this collection lies in the stories these paintings tell, their multiple interpretations, and put together, they become an ode to the strength and resilience of Mother Earth.

This theme comes through powerfully in the digital collages of senior artist Gulam Mohammed Sheikh. These fascinating works are filled with multiple elements and references to our histories (Mughal paintings, for example), our mythologies (Noah's Ark re-imagined in ‘Ark') and our troubled present (a burning car symbolising communal unrest in ‘Speaking Tree'). What emerges is a portrait of Nature as a silent witness to our history, supporting and nurturing humanity in all its strife.

N.N. Rimzon's gorgeous, starkly symbolic works — all neat, strong black lines and ovoids — seem to speak, on the other hand, of Mother Nature's role as a giver of life. This is possibly captured most eloquently in the deftly textured, charcoal-on-paper work, ‘Birth of a River'. Whether in his whimsical landscapes or in his immense outdoor sculpture, the egg features prominently, representing the beginning, the birth of life.

Sudhir Patwardhan's works are the most eclectic of the collection, featuring everything from evocative black-and-white portraits of man set against his everyday environment to smudged, soft-focus images of our urban landscapes — industrial estates and trees by the expressway — and rustic bronzes set on wood, with imagery of rocky mountains and homes etched beautifully on the textured metal.

The artist who takes the most wide-lens view of the subject would have to be Sujith S.N. His vast work ‘Map is Not a Territory' depicts a map dotted with temples and houses, industries and monuments, criss-crossed with airplanes, seeming to speak of the human dimension of the impersonal geopolitical representations of ‘territories'. In other works — small, delicately-hued watercolours — he represents the relationship between fragile humanity and a vast and often turbulent Nature.

The most visually arresting works in the collection would have to be those of Rajan Krishnan, massive canvasses devoted to wide blue skies and large plants that fill the foreground with their leaves and branches. This isn't a softly pleasing imagery of greenery; these plants are wildly, almost aggressively sprawling, all spines and long finger-like leaves, set incongruously against restrained paddy fields. The look is real yet otherworldly, the message unsettlingly dystopian.

The exhibition is on till December 19.


Art-to-heart talkDecember 8, 2010

Putting life in perspectiveDecember 9, 2010