Review by Subhra Mazumdar
March 15, 2017


Ether is all that is
G.R. Iranna
January 19-March 30, 2017
Gallery Espace, New Delhi

An artist and his work are intertwined in terms of ideas executed through the conventional tools of art. In the case of artist G.R. Iranna, and his recent and ongoing exhibition on view at the Gallerie Espace in Delhi, the elements used to create the artwork on display is generated from a primordial thought process centred around the significance of ether and executed with ash, charcoal powder, powdered pigment and acrylic. The surface on which his ideas have found expose, are off the beaten track, far removed from the everydayness of canvas and paper but harnessing tarpaulin, a mirror frame, and handmade paper. The entire exercise therefore brings forth a realization of human vulnerability, contained into an artistic creation, using the vocabulary of ash and burnt wood, to sum up the Upanishadic thought: ‘all that now is and all that is not.’

Manipulating ash as a tool of expression in art for this artist is not an euphemistic thought but basically a means of divine communication with “God, Man, king, kingdom…. Something old, a forgotten monument a silent witness to power, religion…” he surmises, leaving his viewers bemused as they stare at a large diptych where the various fingerlike extensions from a central columnar focus seem to suggest an aerial view of a leafy canopy on a tree top, seen from a height. Explaining the unusual choice of a leitmotif from nature to express high-end philosophy, the artist enlarges: “When I started constructing the idea, I took it as a landscape an aerial view of a tree. I placed bits of silver metal, to enhance its abstract character and then I started connecting with it as a bridge between You and the work, till a soul seemed to emerge from within it. It is the soul that we keep searching and which powers creativity and when one finds an answer to that soul, then that is the moment to step back.”

With a hands-on tour on how to view his paintings so as to get the full import behind its meaning, Iranna, marries the technique and the tools in an integral relationship particularly when one stands face-to-face with his work, ‘Mirror’. The work is a hark back to the ritual of his childhood lifestyle where wearing one’s identity outwardly by the smearing of ash on the forehead, embedded the idea of mortality into his subconscious. “The ash is completely nameless but by packing the blocks of ash into a mirror frame, it gives form to the formless idea behind the customary application of ash,” he states. The mirror reminds us of the ego inside us and by seeing the ash within it, comes the realization of ourselves as mere ‘ash’, the formless imagery.

Besides the task of conjoining his materials into a construed pattern of sorts within the mirror, Iranna has furthered his referential findings by formulating what he dubs, ‘The Ethereal Tree’, wherein the canvas surface is layered with broad brush strokes in blue, followed by brown and yellow overlapping virgules. On this pristine colour palette Iranna then paints what he has called ‘a carpet of ash’, ebbing and flowing movements across the space, resembling the crescendos and descents of a musical overlay. ‘I am fascinated by the layers of sound in the human voice’. The central figure of the tree in this aura of musical sound becomes a silent witness of the goings-on in its surroundings.

While still mulling over this profundity, one reaches a rather mood enhancing lighting of the gallery space where identical glazed framed depictions, share a corner at right angles to one another. Termed ‘Ethereal Beauty’ between its glazed front is a patterning of sorts created in ashen hues with heightened charcoal powder accents to depict ‘Ethereal Beauty’. While ideally the artist’s first choice of procurement had been ash from thecremation pyre, he reined in his instincts and chose instead the smouldering remnants of a ritual ‘havan’. He faint pencil lines behind the ashen silkiness of these works provides the idea of containment, while the charcoal blackened dust-and-acrylic medium of the paired work, expresses the in depth thought evoked by a spent moment of our existence.

Yet the piece de resistance of the show does not end with a patterned tracery of ash, and instead takes another leap forward in the work ‘Heaven on Water’ where the sanded-over paper surface is etched with fine parallel lines much like telephone wires stretched across the aura, with the distortions playing naughty tricks of distraction on the serenity of the mind. ‘It is a work that is made to excite the mind and uses and points out to us that more than the finished product it is the process of making it that is important.’ The buried presence of the thread-like lines seem to echo the very nature of this exhibition.

But it is the conclusive installation, of burning ash that has titled the show ‘Ether is all that is’ which is the masterpiece revelation depicted through its slow smouldering across the text. It sums up the artistic reflection that the show sets out to map for its viewers and which the artist deftly defines saying: ‘Ether is the whole show delivered with the fragrance.’