Images from the past

Mysterious and delightful figures encased in sepia tones  

AN INTERESTING exhibition of rock paintings by Mary Ann Gage is currently on at the Mahua art gallery. The unusual theme chosen by the American artist compliments her zeal and fervour to promoting rock art.

Messages From The Past brings together a set of painted images of original rock and cave paintings/carvings, the artist has glimpsed in the northwest and southwest America, as also in the caves in France. Connecting with the beauty and mystery of the incredible images, Gage is also concerned about their rapid weathering, deterioration, and destruction. In order to preserve these images to posterity, the artist first took up to photographing the images and later on, to reproducing them as paintings in watercolour.

As one goes through the exhibition, it is quite easy to be taken over by the mysterious and delightful animal and bird figures encased in the sepia-toned paintings. The antiquated look is deliberate and goes with the overall mood of a distant past. Moving animals — some of them with two legs and elongated horns — are seen within long stretches of vacant spaces.

Similarly, long-necked birds can be sighted perched on their three-legs (!), when they are not parading their playful bodies and outstretched wings.

The variety of featured animal forms is quite interesting — horses, snakes, cattle, spiders, and so on. There is the odd bison with its powerful presence and in another, a charging rhino-like animal holds the viewer's interest. The human form is also seen in some of the paintings.

The rendering here is minimalist but even in these silhouetted figures, one can sight their varying moods as in the case of a group of armed men with long sticks and ornate hairdo. In some works, a touch of humour is rendered in the way men carry themselves and animals are positioned. Besides the brownish tint, the artist also uses brighter shades and colours with reddish and greenish hues to highlight multiple earth tones she has seen in the original rock paintings.

The artist also uses uneven, and in fact, jagged borders that, in some works, tend to somewhat distract the viewer's attention.

Mary Ann Gage is reportedly a self-trained artist, who has taken to painting mainly to display her fascination for the rock art as also to showcase her valid concerns about the elusive and vanishing art. She also confirms that the images have not been changed in her works, except for the size, which are accurately to scale of the original paintings. The unusual art form she brings to light and her own enthusiasm to recreate the cultural symbols by aboriginal ancestors, make this exhibition worth visiting.

The exhibition concludes on March 6.