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Painting the town red

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Life as it is Image from the artist’s Bali trip.
Life as it is Image from the artist’s Bali trip.

RANA SIDDIQUI

Amit Ambalal is back with his trademark humorous and satirical artworks blended with his experiences in Bali.

From art to business to law and back to the arts, veteran painter Amit Ambalal’s artistic journey has been quite eventful. With several group and solo shows in India and abroad, Ambalal has made quite a name for himself, especially with his satirical works followed by semi surrealism and those with lot of human emotions.

Ambalal has been among the most ‘different’ of his contemporaries. His works are recognisable for their frequent use of animal imagery. Often steeped in humour, his works fascinate both seniors and children. If children draw some funny tales out of them, those who know his imagery do understand the hidden context.

Amabalal is back after three years with his solo show of recent works inspired by his visit to Bali at Gallery Espace. The exhibition also includes an installation of his bronze crows. These works are on display till August 12.

Satire and humour colour the works. In one painting, “Peeping Tom”, a lady is seen bathing while being watched by some smiling jungle animals. In “Jacuzzi in Jurassic Park” a lady in a pool enjoys the company of a dragon. In one, Hanuman is dancing like Shiva, and he has named it “Nat-Raj”. There are many such images like “Painted tigers don’t bite”, “Kaun Hai”, etc., that bring a smile to the viewer as well as trigger a desire to know the secret behind their making.

An entertainer

Reveals the 65-year-old artist, “I see myself as an entertainer. I don’t work for myself, else I would be an exhibitionist. While I paint, I imagine a character watching me with curiosity. And I feel like entertaining him with my work.” He narrates the story behind some of his works. “I had gone on my third trip to Bali. It surprised me with its perseverance of culture despite industrialisation. I went to see the Ramayana in a temple there. And I saw the entry of Hanuman through the temple stairs. His gesture, his body language and the rhythm was much like Nataraja. This image haunted me. So I made Nataraja. In the Bali Ramayana, it is Hanuman who kills Ravan and not Ram. So the figure became all the more important for me.”

He adds, “We stayed in a jungle area surrounded by animals who would peep into our washroom. That gave rise to ‘Peeping Tom’ and ‘Jacuzzi In Jurassic Park’.

Amabalal, who used to pursue law and business for the income they brought because of family pressures, has several works with blank, emotionless faces. He agrees, “Law wasn’t my cup of tea. Nor was business. So my works showed those crude businessmen. These images were a sort of catharsis for me. I wanted to release myself from the burden of such images in my day-to-day life. Some of my works still have surrealism but I don’t want to be categorised as a surrealist. I never painted according to the established norm, so I have not been, thankfully, categorised.”

Ambalal is floored by Vaishnavite theology. “Nathwara images of Krishna are so simplistic. It playfully exerts the messages of the Divine. I love the concept and have tried to work on them,” he says.

This time Amabalal has experimented with oil on canvas, though so far, gouache and watercolours have been his favourite. “They are a friendly medium. Water for me is quite generous and helpful. But I don’t want to stop there. So I decided to work on oil which I found difficult to handle.”

Ambalal’s exhibition also saw a well documented book with essays by art critic and curator Gayatri Sinha.


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