Art

Memories in graphite

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asdada   | Photo Credit: Jean-Louis Losi

For her fourth solo show, artist Maïté Delteil goes back in time to reconnect with work more than three decades old

To someone who has lived all their life in a city by the sea, the figures in artist Maïté Delteil’s pencil drawings might at once be reminiscent of the tetrapods that line promenades like Marine Drive. Chipped off from places and emerging from the water as solid shapes, invulnerable to drowning, these are typical of Delteil’s surrealist dreamscapes where natural and man-made worlds collide. Only here, in this series of intricate pencil drawings from the 1970s, currently on display as her fourth solo show The Secret Sea, she conjures up a world in grey, as opposed to her usual palette of delicate colours.

Rich imagination

One would regard pencil sketches to be more like drafts or a prelude to the completed painting. But the precision and craftsmanship of Delteil’s work, which resembles more etching or prints, owing perhaps to her training with engraver Robert Cami, gives it the credibility of an accomplished hand. One, with which she reveals a rich imagination that combines personal and social history with myth and fantasy. “In the 70s, I was influenced by the surrealism, specially [René] Magritte and [Paul] Delvaux. And in literature, by Joseph Delteil [not a relation]. I felt the need to experiment it. Now, as a viewer, I like very much that period, but of course,I shall not be able now to work in the same way”, she relates. Alongside the fantastical, part auto-biographical renderings are illustrations chronicling childhood scenes from the life of Louis XIII as well. One sees the same focus and fondness towards indulging in the finer points across the two bodies of work.

Fruits and gardens are recurrent symbols that hark to the ideas of the tree of life, Eden and via that to the concepts of birth or re-birth, growth, transformation and the cycle of life itself. It is often said that work that requires time, patience and details is a kind of meditation or devotion in itself, where the artist or the maker, unknown to herself and lost in her dedication might be on a path of self-discovery. One wonders then, is Delteil’s secret sea, a secret to herself as well? Is the work then a path to decipher meanings by way of expression or articulation? Like one would attempt to make sense of a dream. Or is the secret sea a space within? Like a belly or a womb, a fertile hollow susceptible to endless regeneration of all kinds.

Transformative period

“It was the time when I gave birth to my daughter Maya (1971). Then I was quite busy with my family. Also my flat was not so big. So for sometime I stopped oil painting and did only drawings, with reduced materials: small cardboard [sheets], small pieces of papers, and a range of pencils from HB to 3B,” she recollects of this “minimalist way of expression”. She adds how the smaller scale also gave her a lot more flexibility in terms of movement and adapting to her environment as a new mother. A time of transformation of the self and the body that comes with motherhood – also perhaps desired this sense of easy mobility and mutability – where her work could be quickly wrapped up should the baby wake up. It only follows then that Delteil’s figures display modifications that one could realise only in literature or art. Where arms extend or truncate to branches, heads are nests for bird eggs and hair flares into wings, ready to take off at free will.

The Secret Sea is ongoing at Art Musings, Colaba until December 29

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 6:57:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/memories-in-graphite/article25745702.ece

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