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Soaked in reality

Anjolie Ela Menon's works, on display at the Apparao Galleries till March 10, reflect her intense involvement with life.

A RETROSPECTIVE exhibition of Anjolie Ela Menon at the Apparao Galleries showcases her four-decade artistic journey. In India today, women artists lead the vanguard in many ways and internationally recognised Anjolie exemplifies this quest.

Her tryst with art began at St. Lawrence School in Lovedale (Ooty), when her art teacher allowed her to use his palette knife and Anjolie decided to become an artist and not a doctor as ordained by her family. Her Paris sojourn in the early 1960s was not only intellectually stimulating but also artistically rewarding as she discovered an affinity with surrealist imagery. This period essentially was one of assimilation, exposed as she was to a tradition not only of canonical European art but also the modern masters that in many ways privileged the intensification of her artistic formulations.

Her oeuvre beginning in the 1960s marked the first signpost of her style with `vigour and brashness of extreme youth', followed by an exploration of techniques, and an expressionist phase that deflected knowledge of formal qualities. As she chartered her trajectory, the works almost mapped her life conflating with the representation to become autobiographical, manifesting melancholic introspection. But as she moved ahead with conjugal bliss followed by the birth of her two sons, her creative expressions became more interpretive and challenging.

The period of 1970's revealed nostalgia, with empty canvases sans human figures, languid nudes, metaphorical portraits and metonymic identity. This was the decade when she lost her father, reflecting the glaring lacunae in her life as she translated her feelings and emotions onto the canvas and marking it the most prolific phase with numerous shows held nationally and internationally.

This was also the time, when she was preoccupied with the subject of woman and they vibrate with experiences that were intensely personal. As a matter of fact, the female principal that she incorporated suggested various levels as purity (Madonna), maternity and the sexuality (erotic). And not surprisingly, the preoccupation with female nudes became fetishistic.

The decade of 1970s also introduced her to a transparent mode of working oil glazes that today has become her signature with iridescent colours complemented by informal designs and subjects rooted in a cultural matrix. Her figures are frontally rendered in the iconic mannered styles of Christian and Medieval art with body elongation reflective of the modern Italian painter Modigliani.

An artist known for her experimentations and innovations, Anjolie has inflected her creative expressions in a variety of media including glass. Her sensorial dictates are grounded in the everyday reality of a lived existence and it is this dimension, which informs her works dynamically. As she says, "I live in an extremely peopled world, my days and weeks are replete with events — journeys, happenings, children, food and all the preoccupations and trivia that fill a large house-hold''. Not surprisingly then Anjolie with her haptic sensibility can playfully articulate an architectural piece like doors and window frames to be a metaphor mediating to `look in on secret interiors' or perceptually looking out onto mysterious landscapes that frequently are sullen and inhospitable populated occasionally by birds (crows especially) and animals.

Anjolie in recalibrating the calendar art, a genre created by Raja Ravi Varma takes a detour to loop back into mainstream art with subjects of epics, myths, goddesses and gods to create her Postmodernist formulations (Gods and Others, exhibition held at New York in 2000). Besides the `kitsch' of the calendar art, she explores a new medium namely computer, and it manifests her attempts to domesticate the technological apparatuses for creative ends.

From a sensibility that is so strongly grounded in human imagery, Anjolie in 1997 turned to abstraction where she effectively explored space and forms. Anjolie is an extremely articulate artist not only visually but also verbally. What effectively gives valency to her works is her intense involvement with life as she lives through it with her different roles. And if she inflects a restlessness it is because she says, "I inhabit a place which I can share with no one for any length of time."


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