Grazioli's zeitgeist

HE IS young but intensely philosophical. He is an artist who believes in destiny, and puts this faith to test as philosophy of `accident and chance' as integral to his life's journey. This perhaps explains his presence in Chennai. An aura of serenity abounds around him. He is not concerned with the material benefits that he can accrue from his art; rather he is more interested in expressing the `zeitgeist' or the spirit of the place and time. He is Davide Grazioli, the Milan-born artist who is currently showing his artworks at the Lalit Kala Akademi, Greams Road, till August 14.

His media and techniques are photography, digital collages, coloured pencil drawings, oils and water-colours that are textured with sand, gum and pigments to allow him to express the intrinsic dimensions of his powerful thoughts with clarity and strength.

Within the rich cultural fabric of Asian civilizations, the esoteric and mystical content of their religion has made a deep impress upon the artist's young mind. This is strengthened by his philosophical approach to life. He is enchanted by the manifest aural surreality of the mantras chanted in Buddhist and Hindu temples.

Grazioli's zeitgeist

Grazioli intervenes to transcribe the repetitious tumbling down of the mantras into visual images. And the morphing of this is wrought through delicate curvaceous lines implicitly design-bound and ubiquitous as integral sign on almost every visual that he has delineated, be it digital, or hand painted. The artist believes that in the West the logical-rational-intellectually centered activities made the culture materialistic making it the very mantra of their existence. This attitude created conditions of mind, which disallowed experiences of the mystical and romance to be privileged or have valence in life.

As a young journeyman from Italy, he feels the need to intervene and break the age-old notion of the east as `mystical, exotic and esoteric' through his keen perception realised as artistic statements. He is concerned with `romanticism' (an inward journey of the mind, dictated by the heart), emphasising that the artist must be able to strike a balance between intuition and logic, spiritual and material. This happy blend allows for a balance of human personality. Grazioli stresses that the artist needs to express the zeitgeist, which is the expression of the spirit of time and place, a concept explicated by Hegel. And this spirit according to him is in Asia. A spirit so vital that it allows boundaries to dissolve and allows a commonality of experiences as they would emerge from the west and the east to come together in a simplistic realization of `identity'. Grazioli's working method involves not so much the physicality of creating on a canvas as much as he explicates that `power of the artist is his idea'. He believes in the totality rather than in parts. It is the individual as a whole and not as a part that interests him. And this underscores his philosophy of absorption into the whole or the atman into Brahman. They are canvases but not to communicate any formal ideas rather they are `expressions', which the artist says are his ways and means of intuiting his inner spirit.

Presently stationed in Chennai, Grazioli spent his time travelling in and around the city to capture the prevailing spirit and chanced upon the billboard painters intensely engaged at their task of creating huge film and other advertising hoardings. He settled on working on hoardings as his `subject' or rather to mediate through this process to allow his concepts, which he terms `invisible' and make them have their existence as experiences into artistic statements. It is in this manner that he enables the spirit or the zeitgeist of the place and time to be realised. Also subsumed within this particularised subject was his concern for the gradual dissolution of the profession of hoarding artists since computer created designs have invaded almost every site.

Watching these billboard painters mechanically carry out their task of reproduction on a maximized scale, set Grazioli's thought process into motion, which allowed the possibility of him becoming an intermediary between the painter who mechanically reproduces and the final image, which would create another dimension by his silence and hence make invisible visible. This `invisible' is his non-presence within the activity of the billboard artists who realizes his ideas and finally he transforms them to make his own. Says Grazioli, "In this procedure, the artist actually disappears in the work itself. His own identity loses importance." His process in interacting with the billboard artists required that he give them photographs from which they would reproduce the image.

His travels throughout Asia and India allowed him to capture significant/insignificant moments on his light sensitive medium to build up an iconography to be translated later to his requirements. And the artist puts to constructive use the images captured especially in temples of South India particularly the votive offerings of cradles, in certain temples termed by him as `instant installations' for those aspiring motherhood. The artist mediates through these photographs with the billboard painters who recreates the exact replica of it on metal sheets — a simulation of hoardings — and hands it back to Grazioli who then inscribes it with his signature prayer motifs of cascading curly arabesque lines in either ghost colours as black on black or with primary hues. This hence becomes his personalised iconography and likens the process to photography in which the brand of the camera is not important but the eye, which arbitrates in capturing the lived moment of the reality. On show are digital collages of auto rickshaws and ambassador car floating in a surreal ambience with `Asian zeitgeist' inscribed on them, huge metal sheets worked with oil colours which are collages of Nature, god and man, each of which transcribes the persona of the artist as a `totality' in life's experiences.