Metal and mind inspire art at this exhibition in Chennai’s Lalit Kala Akademi

Lalit Kala Akademi hosts two contemporary art exhibits that meditate on familiar objects and intrusive thoughts

Published - May 16, 2024 12:02 pm IST

A view of G Gurunathan’s sculptures

A view of G Gurunathan’s sculptures | Photo Credit: special arrangement

At Lalit Kala Akademi today, the works of two contrasting artists who wear the city’s influence on their sleeves stand witness to what thoughtful curation can do to art. 

G Gurunathan‘s Looking Back is Looking Forward; a series of large format abstract works created over eight months that lends the space a redefined character. Wrought iron panels that carry grids of solid blocks of bright colours narrate a story that remains rooted to the artist’s lived realities. Hailing from Chennai’s industrial capital Padi, he attempts to map an urban city on materials he is familiar with, iron and steel. 

The sheer manpower that goes into each panel speaks volumes about Gurunathan’s fascination towards the medium, a deviation from his past work in painting and sculptures on wood.  Each panel, weighing close to 50 to 60-odd kilograms, is erected with a specific design in mind. A lot of 11 panels make up this display which also comprises previous ceramic, wooden and painting work from the personal collection of his peers. 

Gurunathan with one of his creations

Gurunathan with one of his creations | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Gurunathan’s series chalks the efforts of Indian craftsmen. “India’s craftsmanship is not talked about enough. In every medium, we see exceptional work. When I approached them for help with the series, they were happy to do it. The precision with which they did their work was very inspiring,” says the artist. This included the skilled labour that went behind rolling out the metal, flattening out irregularities and polishing. “In Madras, every street will have a metal sheet, with a wide range of utility. Many dismiss it as industrial waste but for me, these are beautiful components that could become art.” 

Each panel, though abstract, is inspired by Gurunathan’s observations from his travels. Every colour gradient and combination is inspired from natural sights.   

A searing look 

Sometimes rushed and heavy, sometimes languid and almost invisible, Maanas Udaykumar’s blacks, whites and surprising greys over pristine white sheafs of paper lend a glaring view into his intrusive thoughts. At times, one may see a figure take shape only to fizzle out as an amorphous block of colour. At others, visceral memories dotted by sights and sounds from his adult life manifest through heavy abstract brush strokes. Created over the time when he was under medication after being diagnosed with clinical depression, the artist almost flaunts this series’ inherent darkness. The paintings are immediate, almost too quick. The sense of urgency that jumps out of the canvas is unmissable.

A view of Maanas Udaykumar’s sketches

A view of Maanas Udaykumar’s sketches | Photo Credit: special arrangement

The artist who is currently a high school art teacher in Bengaluru speaks of this series,“This body of work happened around the time I was abusing my anti-anxiety medication. In a week, almost 120 pieces of work came to be. Each of the pieces on display has at least five to 10 variations.” Spontaneity and speed has always been Manas’ strong suit.  He points to fragments of memory, past loves, childhood influences, all of which remain scattered across his canvases. “The usage of black and white emulsion paints is a very conscious choice, purely because of how fast it dries. I would just dip the brush in the paints and start painting. Sometimes, I did not clean the brush which resulted in a very interesting shade of grey,” says Maanas. These unexpected greys contribute to layering, lending depth. 

Maanas with his creations

Maanas with his creations | Photo Credit: special arrangement

There are some canvases that are even left unfinished. The immediacy of the process is what singlehandedly defines this delightfully thoughtful series. 

Maanas adds, “To be in a space where Guru’s work is also displayed, is a dream come true. I used to go to all his solo shows, and deeply admire his work. Coming from the same school of art, I am sure there are even latent influences.” 

Inarguably, both bodies of work curated by Ashvita Gallery display a promising facet of Indian contemporary art that Chennai can proudly call its own. 

Both shows are on view at Lalit Kala Akademi, Egmore, Chennai till May 22.

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