Portraits to ponder

Atul Dodiya’s “Girlfriends” are a proverbial flashback in time

March 04, 2017 04:33 pm | Updated 04:33 pm IST

AESTHETIC AND AUTHENTIC “Ghatkapor” by Atul Dodiya

AESTHETIC AND AUTHENTIC “Ghatkapor” by Atul Dodiya

Atul Dodiya’s passion for authenticity has been the undercurrent of his aesthetic. The grandmaster of contemporary Indian art calls his new show, ‘ Girlfriends : French, German, Italian, Egyptian, Santiniketan, Ghatkopar.’

Universal Female Form

“These are portraits of women – I believe the female form is universal, it mirrors emotion and is the best benchmark of human expression,” affirms Dodiya at the Vadehras.

“ I have been wanting to do this body of work since the past 10 years, I have created six bodies of works in multiple media and in many ways I go back to my fascination with the French, Italian, Flemish, Dutch and even the Indian master Tagore to create a set of female portraits that are diverse and overlap because they belong to varied historic and geographical zones, ” he elaborates.

Resonant and deeply evocative, the images are a proverbial flashback in time - Francis Picabia’s portraits, Albrecht Durer’s early 16th Century drawings of female figures, Piero della Francesca’s Arezzo Frescos of 'The Legend of the True Cross', Rabindranath Tagore’s 1930s watercolour portraits, Fayum mummy portraits from ancient Egypt, and an intervention with found drawings of an unknown artist from Ghatkopar, the abode of Dodiya’s studio.

“Olga Hidden” a work by Atul Dodiya

“Olga Hidden” a work by Atul Dodiya

Ornate floral Candour

The Picabia and Tagorean tributes are the piece de resistance of the show – the viewer is confronted by abstract gleanings of striking women, the canvasses don an ornate floral candour, a hint of a head covered in a lace mantilla,or flowers falling, a face peering out of an arch, stoically observing the world as it passes her by. In a distinctly modernist fashion, reminiscent of the Masters, the paintings tell no story or anecdote; the protagonist is frozen, as if isolated in an interior dream.

These works reveal Dodiya’s complete artistic freedom, he has no hesitation in utilising popular yet dated imagery, in opposition to the aesthetics of the avant-garde. But Atul engages a new challenge: he presents an academic provocation by returning to formal academicism. The many portraits reinforce Dodiya’s personal attachment to the subject of women, while maintaining the individual stance with which he approaches his art

The paper works are a suite of subtle visages – contrasting the aged matt look of a church fresco by Piero della Francesca with the use of market-bought synthetic laminate. The translation of time and the weaving in of abstract domains is something Dodiya has worked upon for years. The central focus of luminosity and the pastel plane that surrounds the portrait is a study of subjective silhouettes. In the next room, the series of American Hollywood faces have a dreamy air of romance about them. While perfection of expression and features entice, it is the thick black tear drop that catches your gaze. “These could be tear drops, they could also be the drop of ink that falls and takes on its own path in gravity,” adds Dodiya.

Atul Dodiya’s “Egyptian”

Atul Dodiya’s “Egyptian”

Wife Anju as muse

Dodiya’s employment of traditional figural language creates a matrix of multiple instincts – it is as if he quotes all the Masters and gives us a vivid reflection through histories and mythologies. A single room at the Vadehras filled with portraits of his lovely wife Anju Dodiya is a personal yet deeply emotive dedication of the Egyptian Fayum tradition.

“I used Anju as my model for the Egyptian series. In this series, one is looking at a portrait that talks to us not just of the mummy but of the past, ” says Dodiya. “ Anju’s experience of living with vitiligo brought forth different imageries – sometimes it was if there were “floating clouds on her body”. I felt these were petal-like, the abstract shapes would move and transform over time.”

Dodiya addresses art practices and discourses through methods in the portraits. In many ways the show serves as a mapping of the past – it echoes the fact that art history can shape and inspire us. Francis Picabia was not just a Dada pioneer he also greatly influenced the works of Picasso. It has also been established that many of Picabia's portraits of Spanish women were, in fact, derived, and then modified, from paintings by Ingres. Picabia employed this method of seeking inspiration from culture in works to enter into a dialogue with canonical art of the past. Atul Dodiya’s Girlfriends addresses canonical art in a modernist mood and unveils fluent, tactile ability to unfold social milieu through the prism of the past.

(The show runs at Vadehra Art Gallery, D 53 Defence Colony till March 4,2017.)

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