Review by Georgina Maddox
November 15, 2017


Sudhir Patwardhan
October 27-November 24, 2017
Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi

By Georgina Maddox

Artist Sudhir Patwardhan’s solo show creates a liminal universe that navigates the private space while addressing the public arena of the gallery

Sudhir Patwardhan’s solo show titled ‘Spectres’, is likened with a world of ambivalence, where the world appears as we know it and yet there is something more lurking within the paintings, waiting to be discovered. The exhibition, featuring around 81 paintings, opened at Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi, on October 28 and is distributed across the gallery’s three floors. Unlike his earlier exhibitions that have dealt mostly with the proletariat, the bustling city of Bombay/Mumbai and its eternal cycle of construction and demolition, this exhibition, engages mostly with the private world of the painter and the people he encounters along his life’s journey.

Inner Room one of his key paintings that acts as a fulcrum upon which to base this exhibition, is a good point to begin to unravel this ambivalence. The painting comprises of four perspectives. Beginning on the left-hand side of the painting, a woman looks out of a window her back turned to the viewer, her connection with the outer world is established through the glimpses of a pleasant landscape, through the window. The next part of the painting reveals an inner bedroom where four people lie together on a bed. They are enveloped in an eerie green light and it soon becomes apparent some of these people are perhaps ethereal creatures, or ghosts from another world. The third plane reveals a child in a cradle, thus evoking new life and birth while the fourth depicts a man in a wicker chair, his face lit by the light of a television that brings him in touch with yet another realm, the world of news and disaster.

This complex painting is a palimpsest of a typical Patwardhan narrative that unravels the private world of the painter. “The painting essentially looks at life and death, of the tangible and the intangible. Home as the enclosed space is the embodiment of all these tensions,” says Patwardhan, 68. He draws our attention to a painting on one of the walls within his painting itself. It is a reference to Emil Nolde’s landscape, an Expressionist work done while Adolf Hitler rejected all Modern art as degenerate. “The painting and the way the wall is distorted also feeds into the sense of tension and builds it up,” explains Patwardhan.

Another work that merits a close reading is Self Portrait with Mirror and Camera. It depicts the artist, though an older more febrile version of himself, looking inquiringly at his reflection in a mirror, with a paintbrush in one hand and a camera in another. “In this work I am stating that one becomes conscious of these layers of representation. In an age where there is so many ways in which to create a self-portrait, one is left with the question, where does one locate ones-self? Does it lie somewhere between all this imagery? How is one able to say ‘this’ is me?” says Patwardhan.

In a parallel work, he refers to Erase, where the painter is once more looking at his canvas as if it were a mirror. He appears to be erasing something from the canvas while in the background the studio and home-space unfolds. A woman, presumably his wife Shanta, sits on the bed with her back to the viewer, another spectre, a shadowy figure lurks in the doorway of that leads into the far interiors of the house. The painting is mysterious, nuanced. Is Patwardhan erasing himself out of this narrative? Or is he talking of his subjectivity and ability to tell the story with certain erasures? “I leave it up to the viewer to decode this work, but my intention is indeed to evoke these questions. It is difficult to grasp the meaning, you think you know it and then it slips away,” says Patwardhan.

In another segment of the show, a series of 6x8 inch canvas reveal intimate portraiture of the people Patwardhan encounters outside the space of his home. They are a variety of folk, essayed in a diversity of mediums. While some are fully-fleshed out portraits, others are sketchy line drawings. While some are rendered with acrylic others are essayed with the strong drawing-like strokes of an oil stick. The signature style, despite this variety, remains quintessentially Patwardhan’s.

“I came upon this series of works right after I painted a large 28 x 7.5 feet canvas as a commissioned work for the Mahindra Office in Bombay. I wanted to do smaller, intimate works. Something I could hold in my hand. It was in complete opposition of the panorama of the city that I had just painted, and it gave me the freedom to experiment,” says Patwardhan. “I also like to work on portraits of people after a cityscape since its always been a sort of pendulum between these two,” he adds. The works read like an intimate diary of the artist, while still representing the people of the street and the bazaar. There are also intimate sketches of men and women engaged in ‘wounding and tending’, the dual process of hurting and mending that is intrinsic to most relationships.

One could say that overall this show is about intimacies, but it’s difficult, to quote the artist and one-time radiologist, ‘to pin things down to one interpretation’. “I would say that as a radiologist and as a painter, you have the power of representation. With power comes great responsibility and I think in each field, whether as a painter or as a radiologist, it has always been important to me to represent people with a sense of responsibility and not to sentimentalize them,” he concludes.